A tank built in Berwick during World War II will be the main attraction in Mountain Top’s July 4 parade this year.
Last year, the “Bring Stuie Home” campaign brought back to Berwick one of the tanks built at American Car & Foundry between 1940 and 1944. More than 9,000 people worked there during those years, including about 270 from the Greater Mountain Top area.
The Berwick plant, which normally manufactured railroad cars, shifted to producing tanks for wartime. The plant rolled out more than 13,000 Stuart Light Tanks during World War II. The Stuarts were the first tanks designed to function independently, reaching top speeds of 35 mph. Previous tanks were for infantry support only and could reach speeds of only 10 mph. Stuarts were used throughout the Allied theater in North Africa, Europe, Asia and the Pacific.
The particular tank that will be pulled in the parade was built in 1942. The British army used it in Italy, and it was returned to the United States after the war. It became part of a group of Stuart and Sherman tanks that were then sold to the Brazilian government. Interestingly, when the Brazilian government retired the tanks, some of them were sold to plantation owners who used them as farm tractors.
A British military vehicle broker bought 16 of the retired tanks from a Brazilian plantation and shipped them back to England. Last year, the Stuart Tank Memorial Association in Berwick bought the very last one and brought it home.
The Mountain Top branch of First Keystone Community Bank –a bank based in Berwick –helped to secure the tank for Mountain Top’s parade.
Todd Ayers of Ayers Towing will pull the trailer that hauls the 40,000-pound tank.
“When I asked Todd Ayers if he could do a pickup in Berwick, pull the tank in our parade and take it back when we were done, he responded, ‘Sure, Not a problem,’” Parade Chairman Gene Haverlak said. “He made it sound like he pulls tanks every day.”
Haverlak knew his uncle had worked at the Berwick foundry, and while making arrangements to bring this tank to the parade, Haverlak realized his uncle may well have laid his hands on this very tank. Many longtime Mountain Top residents might have family connections to the tank.
The Berwick plant was the largest American producer of armor plate at the time, producing at least 10 percent of the U. S. military’s armor plate supply. Every armored vehicle made in the U. S. during the war used at least some armor plate from the Berwick plant, and one of every eight armored vehicles made in the U. S. for World War II was produced in Berwick.
The parade starts near Curry Donuts at 10 a. m. and proceeds nearly a mile up Route 309. About 100 bikers from the Mountain Top American Legion and the Wyoming Valley Motorcycle Club will lead the parade with a variety of groups following behind, including the Marine Honor Guard. Burger King will loan its large American flag for the American Legion baseball team to carry, and Coldwell Banker will distribute flags to the crowd. Dignitaries in the parade will include Miss Keystone Outstanding Teen Katie Fitzgerald of Mountain Top; Stephanie Grazio, also of Mountain Top, who later this summer will bike 500 miles to benefit cancer patients; Grand Marshal Kathleen Nork Button, a local philanthropist; and State Representatives Gerald Mullery and Eddie Day Pashinski.
After the parade, the tank will be parked near the Wright Township Municipal Building for public viewing. A 20-minute ceremony will be held at the building starting at 11:30 a. m. with the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America, the Beautiful,” raising of the flag, short speeches, the playing of taps and presentation of a wreath at the war monument. Free drinks and hot dogs will be served.
This is Mountain Top’s 30th annual parade, and Haverlak says it’s been rained out only once. He haschaired the parade for about 20 yearsbut hopes to retire after this year’sparade.
The Stuart Tank MemorialAssociation is building a Stuart TankMemorial in Berwick and planningto build a museum as well. The tankwill also be showcased July 22-23 in Berwick’s WWII Weekend, which will feature living historyencampments, military vehicles, battle reenactments, weaponsdemonstrations, live big band musicand vendors from 10 a. m. to 5 p. m. both days at Riverfront Test TrackPark in Berwick.
For more information about thetank and the fundraising efforts, go tobringstuiehome.org.