In early 2003, both of my parents unexpectedly passed away. I found that I wanted to know more about their wartime experiences. I suppose as happens with many children and their parents, I never asked them many questions about their past and experiences when I had the chance. I was stupid then and now it was too late.
However, the photo collection was still there, so I decided to do some Internet research into Dad's wartime unit and B-24 Liberator, "Dauntless Dottie", which he had named after my mother. I found a website dedicated to information about the units, crews, and missions of the 380th Bomb Group, and a couple of other websites with information and message boards about WW2 B-24 aircraft and crews. On one of these sites I posted several photos of "Dauntless Dottie", with Dad's name & unit, and my name and e-mail as contributor.
I had often wondered what became of the A-2. Suddenly, out of the blue, in January, 2004, I received an e-mail from a collector in Dallas, Texas. The following is a portion of his e-mail:
"Wow, what a small world! You don't know me but I have taken the liberty to drop you a line and just say hello. I collect WWII militaria and about 2 years ago I purchased a WW II US A-2 flight jacket that once belonged to your father! ....a wonderful example of a wartime A-2 with his leather name tag, a 5th AF patch, a blood chit on back and a large colorful chenille 528th patch of "Herky"*. I was fascinated with finding out about the original owner. I eventually found a great book on the 380th and read about his squadron's brave exploits on missions such as the Balikpapan raid. I was researching various military things today on the Internet and just came across the photo of Dauntless Dottie you posted on the B-24 site. I nearly fell out of my chair when I saw your name at the bottom!"
*("Herky" was the nickname of the mascot of the 528th BS: a human clown-like airman character riding a bomb, which was prominently displayed on the 528th Squadron patch).
Needless to say, this e-mail completely floored me - I couldn't believe it! I responded to his e-mail and we began corresponding about the jacket. I sent him photos from my father's collection, to give him some "history" of the A-2. He told me that its condition was pretty rough when he bought it on eBay. He had then debated for some time but had decided to have the jacket conserved as much as possible, as he didn't feel it would survive without some help. He sent it to a company in Scotland called Aero Leather Clothing. They replaced the fabric waistband, cuffs, and lining with as close a match as possible, reinforced the seam stitches (through the original stitch holes), and treated the leather. This was all done before he ever knew I existed. Aero Leather did a superb job. Without this conservation the jacket would eventually have literally fallen apart and into dust. He sent me photos of the restoration process at Aero Leather and of the jacket afterward in his collection. I totally agreed with his decision and the results. He then generously offered to send the jacket back to me. I told him I felt that the jacket had been meant to come into his possession and that he should keep it in his collection - I knew it would be valued and protected there.
We didn't correspond for some time after that, both being busy with work.
In August, 2004, he contacted me again. He said that while looking through his own father's WW2 uniforms he had come to a decision which had been growing in the back of his mind for some time. He said he now believed very strongly that the jacket should "go home" and wanted me to have it back. We reached an agreement and he shipped it to me.
Now, incredibly, after a 5 year journey, my father's 62-plus year old flight jacket has returned home. When I actually touched it again, I felt that a circle had closed and something of my father's spirit had returned. Emotions?? You bet!
Something had puzzled me from the first e-mail I received from the collector in Texas. He had said that the jacket had a "blood chit" on the back when he purchased it on Abbey. Growing up with the jacket, I did not remember ever seeing anything on the back. The "chit" patch was made of layered, colored, sewn leather, with an American and Chinese flag and Chinese language message. Many versions of "blood chits", usually made of silk or fabric, but also of leather, were used by flight crews in WW2, both in Europe and in the western Pacific (China and Burma). Since the 380th BG did not fly missions to, or over, China or Burma, I wondered why they would wear a Chinese language patch. The populations of the island groups they flew to and over did not speak Chinese. I contacted an individual who had been stationed in Fenton with the 380th BG around the time my father left. He confirmed my suspicions, saying that the squadrons there had never used these (or any other types of) blood chits and had never had any on their crew jackets. The patch obviously had been added between the time it left my father's possession and reappeared on Ebay. I have removed it (and found it had been fastened on in 3 places with adhesive, in order to hold it in place for sewing - thus adding insult to injury). I have further treated the jacket with a recommended Pecard antique leather conditioner and it looks great - 100% and better than the last time I saw it in person!
I am not superstitious, nor am I overly "spiritual", but this incredible event, or, I should say, chain of events, has utterly convinced me that some "higher" power meant for my father's A-2 to come back to me. I am eternally thankful to the collector in Dallas for his care and devotion to preserving this piece of history, to Aero Leather Clothing for the conservation and to Geoff at Oldnautibits.com for his generous advice on the removal of the afore mentioned blood chit.
And, oh yes, just in case anyone is curious - my Father's A-2 is definitely NOT for sale!