Stories Unfold in New Book about Flight Jacket Art of World War II


The most comprehensive visual record of U.S. Army Air Corps A-2 Jackets

Bomber Boys – WWII Flight Jacket Art by John Slemp is the most comprehensive visual record of A-2 jackets ever produced. Slemp, an award-winning photographer, has captured, in archival quality, the tactile beauty of the leather and the artwork that adorns the jackets. Over 100 jackets representing all World War II theaters, from both museums and private owners, plus artifacts and personal accounts, reveal a visual diary of men’s service in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

The coffee-table book captures the imaginations of those unfamiliar with this seldom seen genre of military folk art.The highly individualistic art depicted on World War II bomber jackets continues to fascinate, educate, and entertain to this day. Painted on the back of leather A-2 work jackets, these collectibles depict the attitudes of young airmen subjected to the vagaries of modern warfare in the sky, the successes, failures, and eventual triumphs of surviving 35 missions over stubbornly defended enemy territory.

“I’m not sure anyone ever sits down and consciously decides to write a book about the leather jackets worn by American aircrew during World War II. Yet, that’s precisely what happened after I began photographing A–2 flight jackets in 2014,” stated Slemp. “As the number of jackets photographed grew, the stories of their owners began to weigh more heavily on my mind. I began to realize that the jackets were mobile signposts reflecting the distinct mortal challenges every flyer faced. Initially, I was drawn to the artwork and symbology, but as I more fully understood their cultural and historical implications, I became more engaged. The emotion these jackets engender has been nothing short of astounding. To illustrate that point is the case of the daughter of a WWII flyer who, during an early exhibition of the work, stood in front of a print of her dad’s jacket for almost two hours. As we were leaving, she pulled me aside and said in a quivering voice, ‘You have no idea what this means to me.’ It was a telling moment and has provided continuing incentive to bring the work to fruition.”

Slemp photographed over 160 A-2 jackets for the project, including jackets from the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the 390th Memorial Museum, 475th Fighter Group Museum, Allen Airways Flying Museum, Indiana Military Museum, The Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum, Lowndes County Historical Society Museum, March Field Air Museum, Minnesota Historical Society, National Naval Aviation Museum, San Diego Air & Space Museum, and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Additionally, 37 jackets are from private collections that can only be seen in this book.

In addition to jackets, like actor Jimmy Stewart’s, readers will find jackets and portraits of pilots, radio operators, Women Airforce Service Pilots, and even a member of the original unit that dropped supplies behind enemy lines. All their stories inspired the art.

Given the highly collectible nature of the jackets, Slemp has also included information on care for the jackets by renowned professional conservator Rachel Waters; information for collectors on how to find them, what to avoid,and how to establish provenance provided by Jeff Shrader of Antiques Roadshow fame; and their influence on fashion over the years by subject-matter expert, Laura McLaws Helms.

To help the novice understand the experiences of airmen from pilot to ball-turret gunners, Slemp has included six beautiful aircraft illustrations from artist John Mollison. In addition, a surprise from Mollison awaits the reader on the inside of the dust jacket. Mollison is famously quoted as saying, “When an old man dies, a library burns”.

This sentiment lies at the very heart of why this book is so important. Slemp commented, “While photographing Brigadier General Charles McGee of the Tuskegee Airmen, I asked him why (at 101 years of age) he was still at the AirVenture airshow meeting kids. He simply replied, ‘It’s important to tell these stories.’ I felt like I got marching orders that day.’”

This type A-2 flight jacket belonged to Darwin E. Arnold, a co-pilot attached to the 568th squadron of the 390th Bomb Group. On the front left of the jacket is the 568th squadron insignia patch, a panther riding on top of a bomb. Above the squadron patch is a name plate that reads “D.E. Arnold”. The name “Hazel Ann” is painted on the front right breast of the jacket close to the collar. The back of the jacket contains original artwork, a B-17 flying against the backdrop of a mountain and blue sky with scattered clouds. Below the artwork there are 25 yellow bombs painted on the jacket to signify each successful mission that Arnold flew.

Bomber Boys – WWII Flight Jacket Art by John Slemp is available on and in select museum gift shops. Everyone is encouraged to visit history and see these beautiful jackets in person.

The book was designed by Fournir, LLC of Houston, Texas, and was printed in the U.S.A. Privately published in November 2022, a total of 5,000 copies comprises the first edition. ISBN 979-8-9865169-0-5

SOURCEAero Crew News, February 2023
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Born in Japan, award-winning photographer John Slemp was a world traveler before he was a teen. After attending college on an academic scholarship, he served in the US Army stationed in Germany, and out of curiosity spent many hours visiting well-known museums throughout Europe. Little did he know that he was preparing for a life in commercial photography, with the world’s best art being a spellbinding tutor. Fast forward twenty-plus years, and his extensive photography experience allows him to create a wide variety of images including environmental still life, portraits, and lifestyle images. Light, shape, and composition are the tools used to create images for a wide variety of editorial, corporate, and advertising clients worldwide. Easy to work with, his goal is to create the best images possible for each assignment. A great sense of humor is an added plus, which keeps everyone on set loose and lively. As an aside, he’s a big fan of dogs, fly fishing, and a good cheeseburger. Oddly, he likes cutting the grass too, as it offers time to think..and we cut a lot of grass in the South. His work has won several industry awards, including three times being selected for the Best of ASMP competition, and as a 2020 Editor's Pick in the annual Aviation Week photo contest. His fine art work hangs in a number of private and public collections, which he continues to actively exhibit.


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