Updated: May 7
Explore the rest of this website about my dad's B-17 crew: www.rumboogiecrew.com
The label's the thing; it
guarantees an A-2 bomber jacket is authentic.
Above are pictures of Charlie Goyette, Rum Boogie Crew waist gunner, in two different types of military uniforms. On the right, he’s dressed for a mission wearing a two-piece flight suit made out of leather and lined with sheepskin for warmth. On the left, he’s rocking an A-2 leather jacket, possibly the most badass clothing item ever used by the military. Before 1940, A-2 jackets were only given to commissioned officers, but early on during WW2, they became standard issue. During the war, it was reported that when German soldiers captured American airmen, they would take their A-2's and wear them because the Nazi’s never issued them anything that cool.
At the beginning of WW2, as bomber crews were assigned and formed up, they began to add painted artwork to the back of their A-2’s. Some airmen painted the designs on their jackets themselves, while others hired gifted European street artists. It’s likely that most flyers hired the guy in the squadron who knew how to paint.
The paint scheme for the back of the jackets followed a pattern. Across the top was the name of the crew’s B-17 (on Charlie’s A-2 you can see “Rum Boogie” painted in an arc). As crews began flying bombing missions, they then painted a bomb for each mission they completed until reaching the magic number of 25. Again, on Charlie’s jacket, you can see four rows with six bombs each and the 25th bomb larger in the middle. (Note that the RBC missions were some of the first ones flown by Americans using B-17’s based in England, and they were extremely fortunate to complete them pretty much unscathed.)
In between the airplane name at the top and the mission bombs on the bottom, an image decided upon by the crew was added. The average B-17 crew member was only 26 years old (many were younger than that) and they chose images that reflected their interests. The RBC chose a completely naked woman helping herself to a glass of rum. John Conway, author of American Flight Jackets, explains it this way: “I’ve talked to people who, when they got back from the war, hung their jacket up in the closet because they wouldn’t dare ever wear it in public again. When you’re a teenager and you’re 3,000 miles from home, having a naked lady painted on the back of your jacket is not that big a deal. All it took was one accurate shot and a plane full of ten guys was gone, so the officers’ thinking was if this guy wants to paint a naked lady on the back of his jacket, what good is it to try to stop him? He could be dead tomorrow morning. The main objective was winning the war, not enforcing minor regulations and rules.”
A funny family story about Charlie's bomber jacket: In the late 80’s, his granddaughter wore it to middle school for a few years when they became fashionable again. Apparently, a patch was strategically sewn on the back to cover up the topless young lady and render it "legal" to be worn to school by an early teenager. The patch was removed with little damage several years later.
When I first saw pictures of Charlie’s A-2, I thought it was possibly the coolest thing I had ever seen. I thought about my dad having this A2 and could easily picture him wearing it. God only knows what happened to his jacket, but the art on the back would have fit him to a tee. When he arrived back home from the war, though, it probably ended up hung in a closet.