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Reader’s Viewpoint: Exhibit Brought Stories to Life

By Submitted Report
The Tube City Almanac
August 02, 2023
Posted in: Commentary-Editorial

Vickie Babyak of Dravosburg says her great-grandfather served in both World War I and World War II. Seeing historic WW2 aircraft last month at Allegheny County Airport brought his service to life, she writes:

Last month, the Commemorative Air Force brought its national air tour of World War II aircraft back to the Allegheny County Airport. The tour was designed to give people an opportunity to get a glimpse of history and what it was like to be on a bomber. Ramp access fees of $20 or $10, depending on age, gave people an opportunity to tour the cockpit of a WW2 aircraft.

Seat tickets started at $150, depending on the aircraft chosen and flights were scheduled at different times during the exhibit.

Attending aircrafts were the B-29 Superfortress FiFi, B-24 Liberator Diamond Lil, P-51 Mustang Gunfighter, Boeing Stearman, T-6 Texan, and RC-45J Expediter.

“FiFi” is one of two B-29s that continue flying. The Superfortress was the most advanced bomber of WWII and is the world’s most famous flying B-29. The iconic bomber helped bring an end to the war. It was designed to fly higher and faster than enemy fighters.

Liberator “Diamond Lil” is the only B-24 of its kind that still flies and is one of the two remaining B-24 Liberator survivors. Over 18,000 of the legendary planes were built back in the days.

I found the exhibit interesting because my great-grandfather, Charlie Simeral, served in WWI and WWII. Great-grandpa would tell war stories about the Red Baron, dog fights (aerial battles at close range), the 1914 Christmas truce on the Western front between British and the Germans, and stories about No Man’s Land.

He also told stories from World War II, including about D-Day — June 6, 1944, when troops from the United States, Canada and United Kingdom invaded the beaches at Normandy in Northern France. Nazi Germany armies occupied France at the time and despite the successful landing by Allied troops, some 4,000 were killed by German soldiers who were defending the beaches.

Charlie told me that the last words of a dying soldier often were him calling for his mom, and that soldiers who started off as non-believers in God said prayers when they were trapped in a foxhole with bloody battles all around him.

When I think about it, I’m almost positive great-grandpa never talked about his real-life experiences as a soldier of war. He didn’t sleep well and had nightmares where he dreamed he was back in battle.

During his service in the Army, great-grandpa was exposed to mustard gas and went through the rest of his life with severe health issues. He passed away in 1969.

(All photos: Vickie Babyak)

Tube City Community Media is committed to printing viewpoints from residents of the McKeesport area and surrounding municipalities. Commentaries are accepted at the discretion of the editor and may be edited for content or length.

To submit a commentary for consideration, please write to Tube City Online, 409 Walnut St., Suite 200, McKeesport, PA 15134, or email tubecitytiger at gmail dot com. Include contact information and your real name. A pen name may be substituted with approval of the editor in those cases when revealing the person’s true name would jeopardize their safety or welfare.

Originally published August 02, 2023.

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