The Bomber Jacket

by Anita Pappas-Raposa

My father was a big man in a small town, well-known as a Veterans Agent and local politician. Brassy and bold, funny, and high-spirited; everyone seemed to know “Peter, the guy who got things done.”

In the first eighteen years of my life, there was little talk of World War II and none of his role as a gunner’s mate in the war. His leather flying jacket was just a cool relic packed in the basement with a case of medals. Dad literally breezed in and out of town, leading a bustling salesman’s life far removed from his years of military service. We didn’t start fighting about the jacket until I entered college in 1968 and thought it was chic to wear around campus. So began our history.

It is a rich brown, crusty, wrinkled bomber jacket that he wore while serving as a flyer from 1942-1945 as an Army Air Force Sergeant. The insignias are everywhere. On each shoulder are small detailed flags, red, white, and blue patches that still hold their faded yet strong colors. Over each breast pocket are large round badges and on the left is a bronco-busting cowboy waving his hands in the air. Very appropriate for my dad.

Inside the jacket is a tattered Asian flag with Chinese characters that identify his squadron and country. Across the back is a large, faded American flag of silk, tattered and toned to a creamy shade of coffee. The jacket now hangs between outdated party dresses and coats.

I have worn it on and off since 1968. At 18, as a college student, it was part of my uniform for demonstrations at Westover Air Reserve Base. It was a perfect, authentic symbol completing an outfit of faded jeans, flannel shirt, and moccasins. I remember the disapproving glances of older, wiser vets as I marched around demonstrations casually wearing the jacket. Dad was mortified when he learned his tail-gunner’s mate jacket, which had flown more than thirty missions in the China-Burma Theater, was donned for anti-war rallies. In anger, he said, “Bring my jacket home.” It went back in the closet.

Ten years later, I convinced him to lend it to me to share with my students as I taught the poems of Randall Jarrell. I would again dramatically wear the jacket, and the young men in particular, would marvel at this historical artifact from a war of which they knew little. A colleague informed me that my father flew harrowing combat missions. “He’s a hero, ya know?” I didn’t know.

Over time, I came to understand my flawed, complicated father and all the jacket represented. Forever marred by war, his life was spent pursuing the integrity achieved in those years. He’s gone now, but I treasure the mystery and adventure woven into the bomber jacket.

""Anita Pappas-Raposa is currently working on a memoir about her coming of age and small-town life in Palmer, Massachusetts. She is a nonfiction writer and retired English teacher who attends The Museum School. An excerpt entitled “My Mother Wore Chanel” from an earlier memoir was published in the Palmer Journal in 2017.

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