Coincidence: a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection. This definition is restated here as it is central to the story I’m about to share.
Originally, the goal was to photograph 50 “bomber jackets.” I figured that if I had photographed 50, that would be enough to create a solidly researched and beautifully illustrated book…one filled with unique, never before seen artwork, captivating personal stories, and portraits as possible. World War Two flight jackets, otherwise casually known as “bomber jackets,” are the subject of my first book. By the way, to date 59 have been photographed, with more to come.
More properly, they are known as A-2 summer-weight flight jackets. During the war, flight crews painted their coveted jackets with depictions of their aircraft, the nose art of their plane, missions flown, patriotic scenes, and of course, pinup girls. Wildly popular with the airmen, they were the envy of many tankers, infantrymen, and others who wanted one, and many often traded, wheedled, bought or outright “pinched” a jacket. I’ve heard first-hand from an Eighth Air Force veteran that the jacket was often the first item “liberated” from an airman’s footlocker, when it was determined that the crew was missing. Such is life in the military.
As part of the project, I was referred to a fellow here in Atlanta that had his father’s flight jacket. Walter Thomason had been a B-17 pilot, and the crew named his ship “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which was not unusual as the pilot often had some influence on how the ship was named. His son Mark was kind enough to bring the jacket to my home the week before AirVenture 2015, which I photographed along with several other personal items and mementos. The files were quickly processed and loaded into my iPad, just prior to departure.
During AirVenture the following week I met a fellow named Tom Lymburn regarding some photography I was scheduled to do of an aircraft for the Goodyear Aviation tire calendar. The following day I ran into Tom again, and the jacket project came up. Being an aviation historian himself, he quickly mentioned that his dad had been a B-17 crewman, and the pilot’s name was Walter Thomason. Without saying a word, I immediately opened my iPad and showed him Walter’s jacket and asked “This Walter Thomason?”
Of course, we both got very excited when he confirmed that indeed it was the same Walter Thomason, and we had goose bumps for five minutes talking about this amazing coincidence. Tom also mentioned that he still had his dad’s jacket and indeed it had been painted with the same artwork as Walter’s. A plan was then hatched to have Tom bring his dad’s jacket to AirVenture 2016, where I would photograph it too for the book.
I’m happy to say that with the willing cooperation granted by the fellows in the EAA maintenance hangar, I was able to set up my gear and photograph Tom’s jacket as well during AirVenture 2016. Although it is in much worse shape (his dad wore it a lot after the war), the artwork is still visible and clearly they are a matched pair.
Never in my wildest dreams when this process began did I think I’d have two jackets from the same crew, and the plan is to put them side by side in the book.
Only at Oshkosh…