Sunday, July 15, 2012

Reading Airport--Where my Dad Served In World War 2

After dropping off infantry soldiers at the Reading Armory, we flew to Reading Airport. This small municipal airport has very little passenger traffic. During World War 2, the place was bustling. The airport served as a transhipment point for P-47 and P-51 fighter aircraft and B-24 bombers going into combat.

According to the poster in the display case, the northeast corner of Reading Airport also served as a Prisoner of War camp. The last commandant of that camp during the war was 1st Lieutenant George Gussman. The POW camp housed 600 mostly Afrika Corps German prisoners captured in 1942 and 43.

Dad was the third commandant. In one of his many war stories about the camp, Dad said those prisoners had driven the last two commanders nuts with Geneva Convention complaints.

The previous commandants were young officers wounded and in charge of the camp while they recovered their health. Their heart was not in it and they got out of there as soon as they could. Dad came to command of the POW camp after commanding a black maintenance company. He was very old (almost 40!!!) so he was not goign to be sent overseas. He was Jewish, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants who escaped the pogroms of late 19th century Russia.

He was a middleweight boxer before he joined the Army and not inclined to take crap from German prisoners.

At an early meeting with the prisoners, one of them made a remark about Dad being a Jew. Dad knew Yiddish and enough German to know understand the remark.

Dad laid him out and let them know this was his camp and would run by his rules. Elsewhere on this blog I have written about The Engagement Present--600 chocolate bars Dad confiscated from the prisoners and gave to his future bride--and my Mom.

I haven't been here for almost 30 years. There is not much evidence that the camp ever existed. But it was a big part of my Dad's life, and the subject of many stories I heard as a kid.

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