Bomber Boys: WWII Flight Jacket Art

John Slemp

Publisher: John Slemp Pages: 398 Price: (hardcover) $129.95 ISBN: 9798986516905 Reviewed: June, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

John Slemp’s beautifully crafted, fascinating coffee-table book highlights the leather bomber jackets worn by aviators during WWII.

Featuring stunningly crisp photographs (color and black-and-white) and an artful layout, the book is divided into sections offering the jackets’ history, profiles of men who wore them accompanied by contemporary photographic portraits, the garment’s fashion influence through the years, information for collectors, and tips on how to care for the jackets.

Slemp notes that bomber jackets were introduced in 1927, and were initially issued only to officers but later to all flight crew members. During WWII, they were often painted with illustrations, many that served as “mobile sign posts reflecting the distinct mortal challenges every flyer faced.” The number of bombs painted on a jacket, for example, correlated to the number of missions the flyer completed. Symbols, like a swastika painted on the bomb, indicated where the payload was dropped. An open parachute showed that the flyer had to bail out, etc.

Illustrations were sometimes reproductions of nose art painted on the planes. Women depicted in the classic Rita Hayworth calendar pose, Disney cartoons, and tigers all served to promote a sense of unity among men who were unlikely to survive the war. Larry Goldstein, a former WWII B-17 radio operator, recalls the first time he walked into the barracks of his wartime unit: “We…we’re full of swagger—we’re airmen!” Then he noticed that only 6 of the 30 beds were occupied. When a fellow airman inquired about the missing men, they were told: “Oh, they were all shot down the last few days.

In addition to the vibrant paintings gracing the flyers’ jackets, Slemp uses letters, flight logs, wartime photographs, military badges and more to recreate a portion of the flyers’ lives and to honor their poignant memories.

Reading this offering is like opening an old chest forgotten in some attic and finding unexpected riches inside. General readers and military aficionados alike will find this a book worth cherishing.

Author's Current Residence
Tucker, Georgia
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