MILLVILLE — Patricia Witt remembers the streets of her hometown coming alive the day word came that World War II ended.
“Everybody came out and they were all up and down the streets,” she said. “It was a joyous night.”
Not long after, the Millville Army Air Field, which brought 10,000 men and women here to serve the war effort, started to fade from memory.
Twenty-five years ago, the Millville Army Air Field Museum was created to preserve the history of the base it sits on, and on Sunday more than 100 people came to the Levoy Theatre to celebrate that effort.
“Preserving the Millville Army Air Field story is our mission,” museum President Chuck Wyble said.
Witt, a USO girl who volunteered at the base, was one of several people in attendance who served or was involved at the airfield that trained P-47 fighter plane pilots. Also among them were former mechanic Alex Damiano and pilot Charles Osborne.
Osborne still lives in New Jersey, while Damiano and his wife flew in from Florida.
Damiano, who was 19 when he first came to the base and is now 89, said it was only a few years ago that an old friend contacted him and told him about the museum.
His wife, Margaret, said that when they arrived recently, they pored over the museum’s historical artifacts.
“We looked at every little piece of material in there,” she said.
Sunday’s event consisted of an informal gala with hors d’oeuvres and drinks on the theatre’s second floor and a presentation that included short speeches and two films.
The first, “Thunderbolts of Millville,” is a brief documentary film that debuted in 2004 on NJN and recounts the history of the airfield’s role in both WWII and in the city.
The second, a tribute to veterans titled, “What We Live By,” was written by Stephanie Terista, of Vineland, and produced by Darrell Martinelli of Code 3 Films, which has an office in Absecon.
Evidence of the celebration was also visible outside the theater, with military trucks parked on the street. The City Commission declared the day “WWII Day in Millville.”
Part of the museum’s purpose is also to remember the 14 pilots who died training at the facility during its four years of existence from 1941 to 1945. The wreckage of some of their planes remains hidden in the woods surrounding the city, and the effort to preserve their memories was one of the purposes behind founding the museum.
With fewer and fewer people alive today who served at the base and lived in the city when it functioned, the people at the theater Sunday said its role in preserving the history will only become more important.
“When you visit the Millville airfield, you experience this rich history,” said Russell Davis, chairman of the museum’s board of directors.
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