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Daughters, granddaughters don flight jackets to honor WWII flyboys

They got their jackets with no pomp; circumstances didn’t allow all that. A war was going on, and the boys were needed up there, in the sky. And so the pilots and crewmen donned their new jackets, still smelling of fresh leather and squeaking.

Both — man and jacket — got to work.

The scuffs on the upper sleeves? Came from sliding in and out of a tight cockpit. That hole in the lining? Snagged it on a .50-caliber machine gun. And that dark spot on the collar? Uh, blood; there was a disagreement in a London pub that — well, not all battles took place in the air.

If any single item of clothing represents the armor of 20th century heroes, it is the flight jacket — each as individual as the guy who wore it. If you think it looked good on Dad, wait until you see how it looks on his daughter.

Atlanta resident Harriet Adams is making a calendar to honor our nation’s military flyboys and the jackets they wore. She calls it the Buckhead Bomber Girls, and she is recruiting the daughters and granddaughters of veteran fliers to grace its pages while wearing the jackets those men wore.

They’ll sell for $18 apiece, or two for $30. Proceeds from the sales will benefit the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, which honors the aerial division that made bombing runs over Europe during World War II. Adams, a member of the museum’s board of directors, hopes to have them on sale by June 6, the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

“Those jackets carried them through a rough time, a time of life and death,” said Adams, a North Carolina native who grew up hearing stories of fliers, and whose dad was a lawyer in the military. “This calendar will honor the men who fought for our freedoms.”

It’s an appropriate combination, flight jacket and women. The 18-month calendar will highlight the apparel fliers wore; the women donning those old jackets will be reminders of why those men fought. Each calendar also will feature a shot of the man who owned the jacket and a description of his service. The calendars also will have a “short-timer” pencil, attached to a string — a reference to veterans counting down their remaining days of service.

Henry Skipper, president and CEO of the Mighty Eighth museum, thinks the calendar is a great idea. The museum, located in Pooler, near Savannah, would like to attract more Atlanta-area visitors.

“I think the calendars will help people learn more about the 8th,” he said.

The museum, a four-hour drive from Atlanta, honors an aerial unit founded in Savannah in 1942. About 350,000 pilots, crew members and others served in the 8th Army Air Force, which dispatched bombers and fighter planes on runs to Germany, the Netherlands and other northern European locations. It lost 26,000 and suffered 72,000 combat casualties — more casualties than any other aerial unit.

The jackets those Army airmen wore had a distinct emblem, a winged 8. Karen Schille of Tuscaloosa, Ala., has one. It belonged to her dad, Paul Suer, 88, of Dunwoody. Seventy years ago, he was a tail gunner on Nobody’s Darling, a B-17 assigned to the 457th Bomb Group.

When he returned, Suer went to college, married, got a job and put his jacket away. When his daughter went to the University of Georgia, she took the old jacket with her. One Christmas, about 20 years ago, Suer wrapped it and gave the jacket to her.

When Schille learned through Facebook contacts that Adams planned a jacket calendar, she filled out an application to model her dad’s old coat. In it, she noted that her sons, 16 and 19, are already squabbling over who’ll get Granddad’s jacket. It’s that big a deal to the Schille family.

The jacket remains in pretty good shape, considering its age and the fact that the German air and ground forces regularly shot at it. It’s also worth a lot of money; genuine World War II flight jackets routinely fetch prices in the thousands. And it’s worth even more to her.

“It’s the best present I ever received,” she said. “It means a heck of a lot to me.”

Renee McPhail understands. An Atlanta resident, she has her dad’s jacket. It’s made of leather, with a fur collar, and still bears her father’s name: Lt. Macon Core, USN. He flew a Corsair over Korea during the 1950s, landing the machine on the heaving decks of aircraft carriers.

The jacket, McPhail said, is a tangible reminder of her dad, “a disciplined man, a smart man, a man of the world.” A retired textile executive, Core lives in Dublin.

When she heard about the calendar, McPhail posed with her dad’s jacket at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. In the photo, the old jacket gleams; in the background is the burnished fuselage of a P-51 Mustang. Her image, and a handful more, are part of Adams’ presentation and recruiting pitch.

Adams has created a PowerPoint presentation and has lined up a couple of sponsors to underwrite the calendar’s production, which she estimates will cost $23,000. She’s still looking for more models, and their jackets, to grace the calendar’s pages. She’s received inquiries from as far away as Connecticut and expects more.

That’s hardly surprising. A calendar is a tangible reminder that those old veterans, like the days themselves, are slipping away.

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