A military buff like John Dodds could tell right away the leather bomber jacket wasn’t just any old coat hanging on a rack at a Washington, D.C., Goodwill shop.
His daughter had noticed it and called him over, and Dodds began to examine it. The leather was a a bit stiff, but it was in good shape, with that perfect vintage patina. On the back was a red-bearded man in a winged helmet, the words “Red Raiders” and “22nd Bomb Group” emblazoned above and below. The jacket had lieutenant bars, a pricetag of $17 and a pretty big clue as to its original owner.
“Robert G. Arand” read the name tag on the front breast, according to Stars and Stripes, which first reported the story of the World War II relic’s strange resurfacing at a thrift shop, and its pending return to the 90-year-old Arand, a former B-24 pilot who is alive and well in Cincinnati.
Dodds, assistant general counsel for the Air Force and an amateur military historian who once helped a friend research his brother who was shot down during the Vietnam War, plunked down the $17. Within 24 hours, he had reached Robert Arand by phone.
They chatted about Arand’s time in the 22nd Bombardment Group, a predecessor of today’s 22nd Operations Group at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. Arand recalled a commander with red hair, Col. Richard Robinson, from whom the group took its nickname. Arand, who flew more than 40 missions in the South Pacific and remained in the military until his retirement in 1983, figures the last time he wore the jacket was in San Francisco, well before settling in Ohio.
“I remember my wife asking if I was ever going to wear it again, and I said I didn’t think I would, except for a veterans’ parade,” said Arand, who believes that his wife may have donated it to a charity in Cincinnati in 1950.
Arand, a father of five, grandfather of eight and great-grandfather of two, told Stars and Stripes he isn’t sure how the jacket wound up in Washington, but he “would love to know.”
Dodds recently shipped the jacket to Arand, who said it still fits — if maybe a tad snug in the chest. He’s ready to show it off to his family.
“My children and grandchildren are anxious to see it,” he said.