Even in the middle of a global war, Emmett Lang was determined to have as much fun as possible.
Lang, now an 89-year-old resident of Johnstown, served with Company H, 334th Infantry, 84th Infantry Division in the European theater of operations during World War II.
Among his escapades, he once played a game of craps while hunkered down, with the Germans very close across the combat lines.
"We're weren't firing, and they weren't firing, so I started a game," Lang said. "I did my duty, but my goal was to enjoy myself, if it was possible. I did things my way."
That attitude led him to title the book he recently authored as "Always a Soldier But Never G.I." The book recounts his experiences as a soldier in the war.
Lang will be present at the "World War II Comes to Altoona" weekend this Saturday and Sunday at Baker Mansion. The weekend will feature re-enactments each day, with the mansion playing the role of a French chateau, as well as author presentations and veterans sharing their stories.
The event is free of charge.
Former Staff Sgt. Lang will recount his war stories in a panel discussion from 3 to 5 p.m. Satur-day, then he will sign copies of his book.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity. I think it's a story that needs to be told," Lang said. "It was a different atmosphere. Everyone wanted to do their part. We were fighting a two-front war, and everybody wanted to do their share."
Despite his goal, Lang's tour of duty obviously was not a rollicking adventure. His outfit saw combat across Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge, where he was wounded as he had his friend shot directly out of his arms.
"I was trying to save his life," Lang said. "He may have frozen to death if I had left him where he was."
Lang also received wounds later during action in Hanover, Germany, wounds which finally sent him back home.
"I've had somebody looking after me, and I know it's God," Lang said.
Lang will be joined during this weekend's event by John Nevola, author of "The Last Jump," and Dr. Joseph Rishel, who wrote "Pittsburgh Remembers World War II." Nevola will sign his books during the day on Saturday, while Rishel will autograph his books on Sunday.
The stories of Lang's generation must be told, said Jeannine Treese, the executive director of the Blair County Historical Society, which is hosting the WW II weekend.
"They grew up in the Depression, where they had nothing," Treese said. "Their families were torn apart because the economy was so bad, and just as the economy was getting better, they were thrown into this war, and it was all-consuming for the country.
"After that, with all the horrors of war, they came back and built modern society. That generation changed our country. We're losing them, and we're not getting their story. They can teach us. We can learn from their mistakes and what they went through. If we don't learn from the past, we are condemned to repeat it."
The battle re-enactments will take place at 2 p.m. each day. The re-enactors - who, Treese said, will come from all over the East Coast - will portray Allied and Axis soldiers and will be encamped on the lawn with military equipment on display.
The event also will feature an automobile show, with vehicles from the 1930s and 1940s, and a viewing of the 1942 classic film "Casablanca," starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. The movie will be shown at 8 p.m. Saturday on the Baker Mansion lawn.
"[The film] demonstrates how the war was affecting the entire world," Treese said. "Even people who didn't want to be involved became involved, because it was the right thing to do."
Other family activities will be held during the weekend, including a tent where visitors can pose with famous World War II-era posters.
Mirror Staff Writer Cory Dobrowolsky can be reached at 946-7428.