By John Slemp, EAA 837033
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.
A while ago, I set a goal to photograph 50 World War II bomber jackets. I figured that if I 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. To date, I have photographed 59 with more to come.
More properly, these iconic jackets are called A-2 summer-weight flight jackets. During the war, flight crews painted their 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.
As part of this project, I was referred to a fellow in Atlanta who had his father’s flight jacket. Walter Thomason was a B-17 pilot and the crew he belonged to named his airplane Uncle Tom’s Cabin. His son Mark was kind enough to bring the jacket to my home the week before EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015. I photographed the jacket with several other personal items and mementos, and quickly processed and loaded the files onto my iPad, just prior to departure.
During AirVenture the following week I met a fellow named Tom Lymburn regarding some other photography I was scheduled to do, and the jacket project came up. Being an aviation historian, Tom mentioned that his dad was a crewman on a B-17 whose pilot’s name was Walter Thomason. I immediately opened my iPad and showed him Walter’s jacket and asked, “This Walter Thomason?”
We got very excited and had goosebumps for five minutes when he confirmed that this was the same Walter Thomason. Tom said he still had his own dad’s jacket, painted with the same artwork as Walter’s. A plan was hatched to have Tom bring his dad’s jacket to AirVenture 2016, where I would photograph it for my book.
The next year, 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 father’s jacket. Although it is well worn (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.
John Slemp is an aviation photographer in Atlanta, Georgia. His work and more information about the book can be found on his website at www.aerographs.com.