Rain dampens crowd, but not appetites at air show

Andy Verostko cooked for an army, but only a couple of platoons showed up at the Festival of Freedom on Sunday at Manassas Regional Airport, so Verostko had gallons of stew left over.

Verostko, a re-enactor who convincingly portrays a World War II Army mess sergeant, wasn’t discouraged.

He captured and fed unwary civilians who were lured to his WWII mess tent by the smell of El Rancho stew, which he cooked following a recipe from a 1941 “Manual of the Army Cook.”

“I’ll have to throw it out if someone doesn’t eat it,” he called out to people as they passed the open flaps of his olive drab tent.

The civilians who had come to see the air show gladly ducked out of the rain, sat at folding tables, warmed themselves over bowls of stew, and talked to strangers who had likewise found refuge in Verostko’s kitchen.

Verostko said his vintage military kitchen, with authentic army mess kits, utensils, cutlery and cookware and gasoline-fired stoves evolved over time and out of necessity.

He and several re-enactor buddies of the 51st Combat Engineers initially put the kitchen together so they could eat well. Eventually, as they gained experience and proficiency, they fell into feeding all of the re-enactors and aircrew members who attend air shows around the region.

“It was just one of those things,” the Reston man said. “We were out in the field every weekend … It’s just something we kind of needed, so we put it together and it just got out of hand.”

He likes the re-enactor’s life and visits 10 or 11 weekend shows per year.

“I enjoy the camaraderie and I love the history,” said the 42-year-old soils consultant.

Meanwhile, out on the flight line, faithful air show visitors seemed unperturbed by the drizzle and wandered around looking at modern armored personnel carriers, WWII, bomber, cargo and fighter planes.

Brian Bonham brought his daughter Megan to the air show and made straight for the hot dog stand once they got past Prince William County Sheriff’s deputies who were conducting a security check.

The Bonhams found a sheltered spot beneath the wing of a silver C-54 cargo plane.

“It’s the only dry spot in the whole place,” Bonham told his daughter as they sat down for their impromptu picnic.

Bonham said the rain didn’t matter. The air show was the thing, and he was glad for the opportunity to attend while his wife visited with relatives.

“My wife is with her sister, so we needed something to do. We enjoy going to air shows,” said the doctor from Hagerstown, Md. “But it’s kind of a ground show today though.”

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II and a P-51 Corsair did manage to get off the ground and circle the air field late in the day, but poor visibility from low cloud cover prevented much fancy flying.

Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.

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