“Who Won the Second World War?”: Getting to Know a Flyer through his Jacket

mulceber

Well-Known Member
Here’s a jacket I’ve been holding back, because I wanted to research it. Back in early March, Vic (@Silver Surfer) posted a named, original Cable 27753 for sale. The owner had been shot down three times in the CBI theater, and was a “piece of work.” I held off for a while, bought a couple jackets in the meantime (the buyer’s guilt lingers, but not too much), and didn’t forget about this jacket. Partly it was because @Grant has said a couple times that the Cable A-2s are some of the most comfortable he’s ever worn, but more because I wanted to see if, through the jacket, I could get to know this guy who’d been shot down three times and kept flying.

I waited for it to sell, but that never happened. Then in late May, I started a new job, and bought it. Since then @Nnatalie and I have been digging. In truth, most of the credit goes to her, with her incredible talent for unearthing information from Ancestry.com and sundry sources. Vic also provided some documents that got us started and pointed us toward some information we wouldn’t otherwise have found. I've done my best to get everything right, but if you spot any errors, let me know and I'll happily correct them. Mostly though, I just hope you all enjoy getting to know Rip DePascal as much as we did.

In order not to make this a slog, I’ve split this project up into three sections: the jacket, DePascal’s service, and his life before and after the war. The first of those is where most of the pretty pictures will be. Feel free to skip around, if there are some parts that don’t interest you.

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mulceber

Well-Known Member
The Jacket: No-Name AC 27753 (Cable), contract let on 29 April 1942

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Condition: The jacket is holding up well, given its age. The leather still pliable, apart from one or two small places, where it’s started to split. Much of the surface of the leather has a speckled quality where the pigment has worn away. This is no doubt partly due to the hard wear it saw in the war. The owner also spent the later part of his life in the Southwest, however and so the climate is probably also to blame.

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The knits are generally in great condition. The cuffs in particular could be almost new, and although moths have gotten in a few nibbles on the bottom knits, they’re still tight.

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The zipper teeth have started to separate from the tape about 2/3 of the way up, but this can be reinforced and doesn’t pose much problem, since I almost never zip my jacket above the half-way point.

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Special Details: The shoulder patch has the logo of the 5th Air Force, which was stationed in the China/Burma/India (CBI) theater of the war. The larger patch on the chest depicts a bat chucking bombs, which was the logo of the 498th bomber squadron in the 345th bomb group at the time. There’s some dispute on this point: a book written in 2013 by Robert Watkins (Insignia and Aircraft Markings of the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II, Vol. 5, pp. 94-5) claims that this logo was actually the logo of the 499th bomb squadron (also stationed in CBI), but Mission Reports from the war list the owner of this jacket as a member of the 498th. Both patches are made of embroidered wool, which seems common for units stationed in Australia. On the opposite chest panel, in faint red and yellow letters, the name “Rip” is still visible.

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Overall: I’m really excited about this jacket. I love getting to wear a memento from an ordinary person’s experience of the war. Seeing as it’s summer here in the states, I haven’t had many opportunities. Tried it on in the cooler hours — the last thing I want is to break a sweat while wearing it. The pics below are from a walk on one of the few days recently when the mercury barely cracked 65 F/18 C.

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mulceber

Well-Known Member
Military Service

When the attack on Pearl Harbor happened, Carmine “Rip” DePascale (he had not yet dropped the ‘e’ from the end of his surname) was 25 years old. He had submitted his draft card, per the requirements of the Selective Training and Service Act, in mid-October of 1940, and so was immediately a good candidate for the armed forces when the U.S. joined the war. He did not enlist, however, until April of ’42, probably so that he could finish the school year at University.

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It was over a year before Rip was sent into a combat zone. In addition to basic training and flight training, he had evidently been marked out for office candidate school, because he first appears in military records that I’ve seen as a 2nd Lieutenant. Much of this time was spent running fuel consumption tests in California so that they would be able to fly bombers, which were only meant to fly 7 hours at a time, all the way to Australia. Doing so involved putting an extra fuel tank in the bomb bay and refueling in Hawaii. He joined the 498th bomb squadron in CBI at the end of July of 1943 as a bombardier/navigator. He would later quip, “we were replacing people who forgot to come back” (Tucson Citizen, hereafter abbreviated ‘TC,’ 14 Aug. ’85).

Rip during the war:
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Rip was fond of a joke, and many of them, like the one above, seem to put an upbeat face on situations that were scary or traumatic. He was also a great storyteller. Local interviews with him are filled with accounts of flying up and over the mountains in New Guinea, “like a roller coaster” in order to strafe Japanese bases on the North coast of the island at very low altitudes: 100-150 feet in one mission report (330J p. 1); Rip recalled flying as low as 50 feet (TC, 14 Aug. ’85).

By late November of ’43, he had flown 13 missions. On the 27th, the 498th flew a particularly difficult one in order to bomb the Boram aerodrome. To judge by the mission report, no mistakes were made (330J p. 1). Enemy fire was just unusually concentrated, and Rip may have had this mission in mind when he later spoke of “flying through walls of fire.” The CO for the mission, Captain Kizzire, was shot down after hitting his target (330J p. 2). Other members of the squadron report seeing crew members standing on top of the wreck of the plane (named “The Impatient Virgin”), and Radio Tokyo later claimed them as prisoners of war, but they disappear after that point and are still MIA (Pacificwrecks.com/aircraft/b-25/41-30046.html).

Capt. Kizzire's B-25, before and after
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Rip’s plane, A/P 188 fared better, but was still chewed up:

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(330J p. 2)

Rip’s account is rather more colorful: he described looking down and hearing himself say, “Red! That’s blood! It’s me!” Decades later he was able to quote the time as 11:31 AM, because the shrapnel had stopped his wristwatch. Rip was able to fashion a tourniquet for himself, and A/P 188 made it back to base (TC, 14 Aug. '85). The plane itself, however, does not show up again in mission reports for several months, and, when it does reappear, it’s being flown by a different crew. The damage was apparently severe.

The Tucson Citizen reports that Rip went on to fly another 50 missions, but it’s not a direct quote and so it’s possible that the reporter misunderstood him and the number was 50 missions total: we know that he was allowed to go home about a year before the end of the war, and 50 missions is a more credible number at which the brass might send a man home than 64. Either way, he had a lot of combat experience when he was eventually sent home. Much of the time he was on milk runs or recon, but the mission of 27 Nov. ’43 was not his only dangerous mission. It is just the best documented. There were at least two times when Rip’s plane returned to base with a crash landing. He called them “no wheels, Mom” accidents (TC, 14 Aug. '85).

When interviewed, one of the memories that came back to him was a moment from his time in the hospital while his arm was recovering. He encountered and counseled another flyer who was almost incapacitated by fear and by shame about his fear. “I told him that if my hand didn’t shake when I lit a cigarette or hoisted a beer, that didn’t mean I wasn’t still scared…and I said I just control it during the time I’m up there in the plane” (TC, 14 Aug. '85).

On August 4th of ’44, Rip came home, with a purple heart and an Asiatic Pacific Theater Campaign Ribbon Air Medal in tow. He spent much of the rest of the war playing football for the Army, before receiving an honorable discharge on October 20th, 1945.
 
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mulceber

Well-Known Member
Life and Career

Rip was born Carmine Ralph DePascale on April 13th, 1916, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was the son of a barber, and his parents had immigrated, independently of each other, from Naples in the late 1890s. He was a middle child in a household of ten, but the oldest of three sons. An older sister had died in the epidemic of 1918-1919. Both of his brothers would also serve in World War II: one in the AAF, the other in the Navy.

Since he was born about two decades after his parents had settled in the states, it is not totally surprising that he does not seem to have been very attached to his Italian roots: he was divorced twice, when there would have been a lot of pressure among the Italian Catholic community to keep families together. Likewise, by the end of World War II he had Americanized his last name by dropping the ‘e’ from the end, and he went by ‘Rip’ for his whole adult life. Many of the newspaper features on him after the war show no awareness that ‘Rip’ wasn’t his legal name. One even treated it as his first name and gave him another nickname: ‘The Grin’ (Tucson Daily Citizen, hereafter abbreviated ‘TDC,’ 11 May '54).

He probably got the nickname Rip as an athlete in grade school. A late-19th century textbook on English slang provides the following definition of ‘Ripper:’

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A quick Wikipedia search of people nicknamed ‘Rip’ turns up a lot of athletes.

When the United States entered the war, Rip was 26 years old, already married to his first wife, Katherine, and a student at the University of Wichita (later renamed Wichita State), where he played football. He would earn a Bachelor of Science degree there, but his path was meandering. He shows up in the 1942 yearbook, shortly before he enlisted, as a sophomore. He finished his sophomore year, but then took a break to fight World War II. Before being sent abroad, however, he married a classmate from Wichita, Betty Colin, in November. Katherine had filed for divorce in July (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 22 Jul. '42).

When he was discharged in October of 1945, Rip did not return immediately to finish college. His time playing football for the Army had attracted the attention of the hometown team. Instead of finishing school, Rip spent the end of ’45 playing football for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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For whatever reason, Rip decided not to continue with professional football after the first season. Instead, he and Betty moved back to Wichita, where he finished the two remaining years of college. He shows up in the years following his return to Wichita as a sales clerk at a local store, and as the head coach in football, baseball, and basketball at a local high school.

1952 saw a change for Rip, as he and his family (he and Betty now had two children, with a third on the way) moved to Tucson, so that he could earn his Master’s at the University of Arizona. He finished his Master’s in 1953 and immediately began teaching in the area at Amphitheater High School (TC 04 Apr. ’02). He had by now added social studies to his repertoire, and he would spend his career as both a coach and a social studies teacher. He probably stuck around because of his love of the area. He called it “God’s country” and one of his obituaries notes that “he was constantly amazed at the beauty of the mountains and desert.” Betty likely felt the same, since a profile on their family’s move to the Tucson area mentions that she liked to write and publish pulp fiction westerns as a hobby (TDC, 18 Sep. ‘52), and the landscape probably helped her creativity.

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It is as a teacher that Rip is most remembered, and where his personality leaps off the page. The Tucson Citizen began its 1985 profile of him with the following anecdote:
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This anecdote is repeated by at least one former student: “he won World War II by himself, that’s one thing we learned very quickly.” The student also noted that he would “stand on his desk in the classroom and take you to the battlefield” (TC, 30 Mar. '02). One of his obituaries tells us “Seldom a day went by when he was not approached by a former student with a hug or a handshake and a good word about how much they enjoyed his class. His gravelly voice and the twinkle in his eye was his trademark, along with the famous personal stories he told which often provided both guidance and inspiration to his students” (TC 04 Apr. '02). Multiple colleagues described him as “a character.”

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Rip spent the rest of his career, 35 years, at Amphitheater High School, teaching Social Studies, a course called “American Problems,” and Drivers’ Education, and coaching a mess of different sports including football, baseball, basketball and golf. As if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he also served as a referee and produced a weekly radio program on high school sports (TC, 04 Apr. ’02).

If anything took a hit in Rip’s busy life, it was his marriage. In November of 1971, Betty filed for divorce (TDC, 20 Nov. ‘71), after 29 years married and having had five kids together. Rip remarried within a month (Arizona Daily Star, 17 Dec. ’71). His new wife was Stephanie Myers, who was more than twenty years his junior. There’s no hard evidence here, but, given the circumstances — wife initiating divorce and husband quickly remarrying — their involvement had probably preceded (and caused) the divorce. Facing a lonely (and messy) house each night, he was probably in a hurry to remarry.

All that is rather a down note to end on, and I don’t want to be too hard on Rip. His marriage to Stephanie was a happy one, for they remained married until his death in 2002, and all of her children are listed among his survivors, even listed as his children. One of them, who would have been 9 years old when they married, took his last name. For all that he stumbled, he built lasting relationships with his third wife and her family.

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The thing that stands out about Rip is his force of personality. I think we’ve all heard stories about vets who came back and barely spoke of the war again. My own grandfather, a marine who fought in the Pacific, was one of those men. Rip was not. To some extent that probably speaks to the differing experiences of soldiers who fought for every bloody inch on land vs. pilots whose experience of the carnage was usually at a greater remove. Air combat was no peach though, and Rip’s eagerness to talk about it sets him apart. It’s as if, through story-telling, anecdotes and jokes, he was able to transform his experiences in the war into something manageable, triumphant even. It takes a special kind of personality to look back at a life that includes a brief professional football career, a world war, and three marriages, and say, “I’ve done what I wanted to do all my life” (TC, 04 Apr. '02). That kind of positivity is something to aspire to.

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tjoenn

Well-Known Member
Thanks for posting that and for your write-up!! Really enjoyed reading that! I also did not forget about that jacket, and was thinking about buying it while on vacation in Florida. Of course that never happened and I'm glad you got it. Went to the right person!! :)
 

Flightengineer

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the interesting story, Jan. It’s always nice to know who owned the jacket and owner's story, I think we all strive for this (I’m for sure). Now you own real piece of history.
 

bazelot

Well-Known Member
that's an amazing story. I loved it but please wear your jackets with a collared shirt, over time your neck rubbing on the leather will stain and damage it. I though i would mention it :)
 

mulceber

Well-Known Member
Thanks guys! I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. Seeing the mission report mentioning him was awesome. I wish I could have met him - he'd have been a hell of a person to interview.

@tjoenn - thanks! Not sure if you've bought a jacket from Vic before, but I definitely recommend it, next time he posts one. He's done a really good job of acquiring originals that are in good, wearable condition.

@bazelot - ooh, good point - thanks! Not much of a concern for repros, but I will do that in the future with my two originals.
 

tjoenn

Well-Known Member
Thanks guys! I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. Seeing the mission report mentioning him was awesome. I wish I could have met him - he'd have been a hell of a person to interview.

@tjoenn - thanks! Not sure if you've bought a jacket from Vic before, but I definitely recommend it, next time he posts one. He's done a really good job of acquiring originals that are in good, wearable condition.

@bazelot - ooh, good point - thanks! Not much of a concern for repros, but I will do that in the future with my two originals.
I have one original A-2 which used to belong to Vic although I bought it from someone who bought it from him.
 

Silver Surfer

Well-Known Member
outstanding, well researched, jan. I might add to babe's post by adding, keep the collar turned up when in storage [laid flat] and when wearing the jacket. the inside collar fold on these old timers is the weakest part due to it being filed over for many years.
 

JimO

Member
Jan-

Thank you & Natalie so very much for all of your efforts on this incredible story. You two are helping to keep history and our greatest generation's legacy alive. This is especially meaningful during these turbulent times.

Posts like yours are what makes the VLJ community & forum so special.

And the jacket fits like it was meant for you, which it was. I'm sure you can feel Rip's presence every time you wear it.
 

Dom

Active Member
Excellent write up! Researching them is most of the fun of owning originals And it’s always an extra bonus when you get one where the Vet was vocal about his time and did interviews.
 
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