Original U.S. WWII B-24 Liberator Three Kisses for Luck Named A-2 Flight Jacket - Flying Eight Balls 44th Bomb Group

Item Description

Original Item: One-of-a-kind. Original Item: One of a kind. Technical Sergeant Joseph R. Rodriguez was the radio operator aboard the Consolidated B-24 Liberator Three Kisses for Luck #42-95193 which was assigned to the 67th Bomb Squadron, 44th Bomb Group from June 6th, 1944 to February 14th, 1945. You can learn more about the plane on the American Air Museum in Britain website at this link. Rodriguez flew 34 missions and finished his tour on 5 November 1944. On September 13th, 1944 he was part of First Lieutenant James Holcomb crew when he was seriously wounded in flight having been struck by flak in the leg. He was the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf clusters as well as a Purple Heart. An interview transcript of the events of that day can be found below and at this link on pages 362-364.

44th Bomb Group Roll of Honor and Casualties
13 September 1944
67th Sq., #42-95193 I-Bar, Holcomb, THREE KISSES FOR LUCK, Injured Crew Member, Page 362

HOLCOMB, JAMES C. Pilot 1st Lt.
HERMAN, BERNARD. L. Co-pilot 2nd Lt.
SMITH, L. A. Navigator 1st Lt.
FISHER, BERNARD Bombardier 1st Lt.
RODRIGUEZ, JOSEPH R. Radio Oper. T/Sgt. New York City ASN 12083655 Seriously Wounded
WHITING, CLAYTON C. Eng./Top Turret S/Sgt.
RHODES, JOHN L. Tail Turret S/Sgt. Note: Lt. Herman was KIA on 18 October 1944. T/Sgt.

Rodriguez stated, “My diary shows that it was a Jet Aircraft airfield at Hall, Germany that we hit, and Major William Cameron, 67th’s Squadron’s C.O., was Command Pilot that day. Lt. Herring had been our first pilot, but he completed his tour and our co-pilot, Lt. James Holcomb was promoted to take his place that day. Our aircraft was #42-95193 I-Bar, THREE KISSES FOR LUCK, one which we had flown since our 19th mission – this was our 29th, all in the 67th.

"I had the distinct privilege of serving as radio operator on Capt. Charles (Chuck) S. Herring’s crew from its inception in December 1943 in March Field, California. On the day of the mission in question, then 1st Lt. Herring was not flying as he had finished his tour of 30 missions whereas the rest of us on his crew had only 29 missions. He had gone one jump on us due to the fact that he had flown his first mission as an observer on someone else’s crew – as a combat orientation mission. Our co-pilot, 1st Lt. James Holcomb, having checked out as a first pilot, was in command."

"We were carrying 500 lb. general-purpose bombs and flak over the target was reported to be heavy at the briefing that morning. We were hit by very heavy flak before we reached the target and lost our #2 engine – all fuel tanks hit and damage to our hydraulic system – I, myself, was wounded by flak through my left thigh and it was touch and go for awhile as to whether or not we would have to bail out. Since we were losing fuel and altitude, the order was given to lighten the ship and everything that could be moved and wasn’t bolted down, was thrown out."

"We were alone and vulnerable and a decision was made to try to make Switzerland, however, shortly after two P-38s responding to our distress calls joined us and escorted us to an airfield used by artillery spotters very close to the then front lines. We made an emergency landing there and I was taken on a stretcher, by ambulance, to a field hospital very close by after preliminary treatment at a first-aid station. My crewmembers came by that afternoon to visit me after I had been operated on and left me all of their “C” rations, which I eventually traded off. They told me they had counted over 200 holes on the ship, which was left there at the artillery observer’s field."

They then took off for Paris, which had been liberated only a few short weeks before. They promised to fly back and fire flares to advise me what my wife, Marie, who was pregnant with our first child, had delivered – red-red if a girl – blue-blue, if a boy.  

"They spent close to a week in Paris before they were flown back to England. I spent about a week at the field hospital in a tent that I shared with eight men from a bomb disposal squad who had been injured while disposing of German butterfly bombs. We had constant visits from French farmers who brought us fruit and spirits. There seemed to be daily artillery duels between both sides as we could hear the rumbling of cannon fire in the distance."

"From this field hospital, I was sent by ambulance to a hospital in Paris where the signs were still printed in German and I wore German pajamas. I stayed at this hospital for about ten days, was then sent to a hospital near Cherbourg, and then by boat hospital (this vessel the “Nile” belonged to the king of Egypt and had been donated by him for this use) to a tremendous-sized hospital in Southampton, England from where I was discharged on the 14th of October. I was supposed to return to Stone, England, but I wasn’t going to take any chances on being re-assigned to some other outfit, so I took off on my own back to Shipdham to the 44th Bomb Group where the first sergeant at the 67th [Robert Ryan] fixed it all up."

Rodriguez returned to combat status and flew his next mission on 2 November, and completed his tour of 34 missions on 5 November 1944.

Frank Gerbe provided this account: “On our way to target area we flew over the Rhine River and got hit with a heavy contingent of flak. The first hit knocked out our #2 engine and ripped open our fuel cells. The next burst of flak hit our oxygen supply tanks and Rodriquez was wounded in the leg.

"Our vacuum gauges on #1 and #2 engines were hit. Gas was pouring into the bomb bays from the holes in the tanks. We literally fell from the sky, with a loss of 7,000 feet altitude. Holcomb was our pilot this day and we had a rookie co-pilot. Our air speed dropped to about 120 mph. Our #3 engine was hit as well as the fuel cells, which were leaking, #3 engine was sputtering and missing. Holcomb used the radio to inform the rest of the flight of our predicament. "

"In a few minutes, two of the most beautiful P-38s came alongside and gave us close support and guidance to a friendly field. Bandits were reported in the area and you cannot imagine our feelings with those two P-38s on our wing tips. Little friends were what we called those two P-38s and they guided us toward an airfield in Laon, France."

"We started our approach for a landing and #3 engine cuts out. Then set the selector valves from #4 to #3 engine and started fuel pumps; #3 engine started right up again. That was not the end of our problems. As we got above the runway, we found that the Jerry’s had bombed it two nights ago. It was too late now to change our minds about landing."

"As we hit the runway, the nose wheel gear broke and the main landing gear on the left and tire were ripped up. Immediately, we cut all engines off and old I-193 rolled to a stop. Luckily, she didn’t catch fire. During this hectic ride, we had been throwing all extra weight, such as ammunition, flak suits, guns and etc. overboard, just to make the ship lighter."

"An ambulance took Rodriquez to a hospital. Later on we hitchhiked to the hospital to see Rodriquez. He was coming along okay. Then decided to head for Paris. Stayed overnight at Chauny, France and spent a while in Paris. We got good and drunk while in Paris and went sightseeing when we were not drinking."

"Flew I-193 on this mission and she has had it. We ain’t got her no more. She was shot up too badly and we had to abandon her. Our hearts were broken to lose our favorite, “THREE KISSES FOR LUCK,” but in our memories, she’ll always be part of us." [Editor’s note: She was repaired and completed the war with 83 missions.]

This incredible hand painted Type A-2 flying jacket in brown leather from World War II in size 38. Manufacturer data tag inside neck reads:

Type A-2
DWG No. 30-1415
A.C. Order No. 42–16175
Perry Sportswear Inc
Newburgh, N.Y.
Air Force, U. S. Army

The reverse of the jacket is hand painted in full color with the legend THREE KISSES FOR LUCK over a scantily clad female astride a silver B-24. On the left front chest is a hand painted 44th Bomb Group The Flying Eight Balls leather patch and on the right chest 30 silver bombs indicating missions flown. Stenciled in the lining of the jacket below the data label reads J.R. RODRIGUEZ. The cuffs and waistband are period authentic modern replacements. Zipper is by CONMAR and functional. Overall condition of the jacket is very good to excellent.

Also included with this magnificent jacket are the following item:
- 14 wartime photographs including on of Rodriguez wear this very jacket which shows the silver bombs on the right chest but was taken before he had the 44th BG Crazy Eight Balls patch sewn on the left chest.

- Pilot and Crew Member Physical Record Card named to T/SGT Rodriguez with his ASN.

- Award Card named to T/SGT Rodriguez with his ASN. which names the Air with 3 OLC (Oak Leaf Clusters) on July 2nd, 1944. DFC November 5th, 1944. Purple Heart October 20th, 1944 and the ETO Ribbon with 4 Bronze Stars.

- Period newspaper article which reads:
Luck Saves B-24 Crew On Last Reich Mission
Special to the N. Y. Journal-American
ATLANTIC CITY, Jan. 16.—It was their last mission over Germany before going home on furlough, and Tech. Sgt. Joseph R. Rodriguez, 23, of 123 W. 62nd st., New York, today recalled how eager the pilot, co-pilot and two gunners were to get back quickly, in their, B-24.  "Karlsruhe was our  target," he said. 'The weather was foul, and we got lost. The fuel gauges showed us out of gas, and we were circling the channel. "Finally, our navigator got his bearings, and we made a field in England. We found the gauges were defective—but on the lucky side. They should have registered one hour of gas left". On the preceding flight, the B-24 was hit by flak and Rodriguez injured in the thigh, but there, too, luck favored them, and two P-38's picked them up and led them to a French airport. Rodriguez holds the DFC. Air Medal with three clusters and Purple Heart.  A radio operator-gunner, he is here at the AAF Redistribution center, awaiting reassignment.

Overall a wonderful A-2 jacket with hand painted art named to a well documented Navigator-Gunner of a B-24 Liberator that bombed during some of the most difficult days of the war.

The 44th BG is among the most famous of all WWII Bombardment groups and is notable for the following achievements:

- First 8th Air Force Bomb Groups to be equipped with B-24 Liberators
- Operated from England for a longer period than any other B-24 Group
- Sustained highest losses of aircraft of any B-24 Group in 8th Air Force
- Claimed more enemy aircraft than any other 8th AF B-24 Group 153.
- First Bomb Group to be awarded a DUC for 14-May-43 Kiel
- CO Col Leon W. Johnson awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor 1-Aug-43 Ploesti.

History of the 44th Bomb Group

The 44th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was activated 15-January-1942 at McDill Field, Florida and equipped with B-24Cs. The Group moved to Barksdale Field, Louisiana and acted as a training unit for the 90th 93rd and 98th Bomb Groups and flew anti-submarine patrols over the Gulf of Mexico; the Group claimed 1 U-Boat destroyed. On 26-July-1942 the Group moved to Will Rogers Field, Oklahoma to prepare for overseas deployment. The Ground echelon sailed for the UK on the Queen Mary on 4-September-1942. The air echelon moved to Grenier Field, New Hampshire and in late September was re-deployed to the UK.

Assigned to 8th Air Force at Cheddington from 11-Sep-1942 to 28-Jun-1943. The Group was known as the 'Flying Eight-Balls' and each B-24 Liberator it flew was decorated with a winged bomb cartoon of an 8-Ball (pool ball) over which were superimposed eyes and the nose of a bomb in the squadron colour. The Group received a Distinguished Unit Citation for an extremely hazardous mission against naval installations at Kiel on 14 May 1943. This mission involved drop incendiaries on the target from an unprotected position behind B-17 formations that had dropped high explosives. The Group lost five of its seventeen Liberators in the target area.

The group was transferred TDY to the 9th Air Force at Benina Main, Libya from 28-Jun-43 to 25-Aug-43. They provided support for Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily, during July 1943. They also participated in the famous 1-Aug-43 raid on the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania dubbed operation TIDAL WAVE. The unit was awarded another Distinguished Unit Citation for this action in which 11 of the 37 B-24s it despatched were MIA. Col Leon Johnson, Group Commanding Officer was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his leadership in this action. Afterwards the 44th returned to Shipdham for a very short respite from 25-Aug-43 to 17-Sep-43 at which time the Group was again sent TDY to North Africa at Oudna, Tunisia where the they shared the base with a B-17 Bomb Group, the 99th to support the invasion of Italy. On 1-Oct-1943 the 44th participated in a mission to bomb the Messerschmidt plant a Weiner-Neustadt, Austria where they met intense anti-aircraft fire and hordes of German fighters. The Group lost 8 B-24s of the 25 they sent to the target. On 4-Oct-1943 the Group was sent back to Shipdham for the remainder of the war.

Between October 1943 and June 1945, the Group flew strategic bombing missions over occupied Europe. These were daylight raids that put the bomber crews in great danger from enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft fire. In all the 44th flew 343 missions in 8,009 sorties and dropped 18,980 tones of bombs. The Group lost 153 aircraft MIA.

First 8th Air Force Bomb Groups to be equipped with B-24 Liberators
Operated from England for a longer period than any other B-24 Group
Sustained highest losses of aircraft of any B-24 Group in 8th Air Force
Claimed more enemy aircraft than any other 8th AF B-24 Group 153.
First Bomb Group to be awarded a DUC for 14-May-43 Kiel
CO Col Leon W. Johnson awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor 1-Aug-43 Ploesti.

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