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NDTMilitaria

Uniform of 1st Lt. James Kervin- 15th AF B-24 Co-pilot and Stalag Luft 3 POW

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Probably my favorite story out of any of the flyboys in my collection. Found this on EBay listed as wwii pilot uniform with bullion, did a quick run of the name pictured, and bought it immediately after! What I do I couldnt find in the VAST documentation of his service online, I found in a 3 hour long interview about his service of which I took notes on. So, without further ado, Im honored to introduce you to 1st Lt. James R. Kervin:

 

 

1st Lt. James R. Kervin was born April 9th, 1918, in Rochester, New York. His father Charles was an accountant at a local firm, and his mother Florence stayed home and took care of James, his younger sister Mary, and his grandmother Margaret. After graduating near the top of his high school class in 1936, he worked in town and stayed with the family until he decided on a future path, enrolling all the way at Indiana University in Bloomington. As a college student, he was at parties and dance halls, always living for a good time. It was during these swinging years of his youth that he met his future wife, Alyce Beckwith at a party in the summer of 1938. Life moved fast, and so did JR until the fall of 1941 as a Junior. Amongst his fraternity brothers, talk began to spread. They discussed in detail the fear of wars arrival in their lives. He was already signed up for the draft, but none hoped it would come through. Then December 7th, 1941, things changed. In a confusing haze of days involving the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, (inconveniently happening the day before his his 1st semester college finals) the mindset of the men changed. They all went home for Christmas break soon after where he spent an almost somber Christmas with family in New York. He was sure he was going to be drafted and that he would be killed overseas, but he was careful not to share the grim premonition with anyone of his family. In the Spring or 1942, his Math professor, Doc Myer, gathered a group of boys one day after class. He told them that if 10 of them would volunteer, he could start a Civilian Pilot Training Program right there at the university, and that after college they could go straight into the Army Air Corps. JR, and All of the boys eagerly signed on. Practicing into June or 1942 JR logged over 50 hours of flight experience and was the best pilot of the group. In June 1942 after they finished their Junior year of college, they were eager to see action. Instead of completing their senior year, the instead drove down to Ft. Campbell and enlisted into the Army Air Corps.

 

There they passed a physical, and were sworn in as Aviation cadets. They were told to go home and get some rest and they would be notified when to report. The men split their ways, and JR returned home to the family in New York. He spent the summer of 1942 working as a civilian surveyor and engineer with the US Navy in the construction of the nearby USN Samson training camp. In November of that year, he was called up to serve. He travelled by train to Columbus Ohio, where he joined a troop train along with hundreds of other aviation cadets being moved down to the preflight classification center in San Antonio Texas. There it was decided he would become a bomber pilot, because at 62 he was beyond to tall to be a fighter pilot. He would go through 2 moths of preflight training, 2 months of basic training in Sikeston MO, and 2 months in advanced flight training back in Texas. On August 12th, 1943, in a ceremony attended by only both sets of parents, James Kervin married Alyce Kervin at the military chapel in San Antonio. That night of the 12th, he was awarded his silver pilots wings.

 

He was immediately sent to Davis Montham Field in Tucson Arizona with the newly formed 449th bomb group. There he was assigned copilot to what would become his closest friend, pilot George Ferguson, and first met what he called the motley ratty crew of his B-24. There on the Air Strip sat the machine that would for the next year be the lifeblood of his life. B-24 42-52117. The B-24 had been previously dubbed Fords Liberator during a War Bond drive and in a publicity act, was signed by actress Gloria Swanson at the Willow Creek factory where it was built. There the crew was given 5 days to practice flying the B-24, the first time they had ever manned or flew a B-24, and managed to log just 6 hours of flying. There they flew their B-24 to Bruning Alaska where they were sent to the USAAF Permanent training center there. Day and night they were drilled in and out on flying practice, technique, and maneuvers. Their commander, Col. Alcar was a longtime flyer and what JR described as a tough S.O.B.. He drilled them to the point of insanity, JR recalled, telling them that some day theyd thank him when it saved their lives. Regardless, all the men hated him. After 2 months of intense training, they were finally ready for the field in November of 1943.

 

There they finally named their plane Two Ton Tessie from Nashville Tennessee after the popular jazz song Two Tom Tessie and the fact that Fergus was born and raised in Nashville. From Bruning they traveled to Topeka Kansas, Morrison Field Florida, Trinidad, Brazil, Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, and Finally Arriving at their new home in Grotagglie Italy on December 17th, 1943. There with the 15th Air Force the war began for James shortly after their bitter sweet Christmas celebration in recently liberated southern Italy. The air field had been a formerly used Italian air field, but had earlier in the war been bombed into non-existence. When the allies arrived, it was rebuilt from the ground up and used for American planes, where they lived in Lean-Tos and tents.

 

After their first terrifying mission flying over Italy where they were pelted with heavy flak, he said he now developed respect for his old colonel who has drilled him so hard. By April he has done missions over Italy, France, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Romania. Most notable was a flight in February on return from Bulgaria where mechanical issues made it necessary to crash land at a nearby British RAF airfield. After scraping along and knocking around the airfield, the plane spun to the side and came to a stop. As Kervin remembers, they stepped out of the plane to see two dozen highly pissed Brit airmen waiting for them outside. In the crash landing, they had accidentally smashed two British Spitfires. But when April came the Mediterranean war was over, but the war in Germany was still being fought, and it would be months still till the Invasion force arrived. The crew of Two Ton Tessie began the grueling 9 hour long bombing missions to Austria and lower Germany. The steady pace of missions would come to a halt on May 29th, 1944. A day for Lt. Kervin that would live in infamy.

 

After a successful bombing of a munitions factory in a Vienna Austria, the Superchargers went out in Engine 1. Then slowly faded in Engine 2. As the plane dropped in altitude and out of formation and the crew went into panic, the Luftwaffe made their strike. 5-6 Luftwaffe Stukas began to tear apart Tessie. As the plane lost engine 4 and burst into flames, Fergus and Kervin made sure that every crew member parachuted safely out of the bomb bay doors and down to earth. As the plane dropped Fergus and Kervin said goodbye to one another and jumped out. Not much goes through your head, Kervin remembered in his 2001 interview. We were told to wait and count to 10 and then pull the ripcord. I waited till 2. as I drifted down to earth, I watched as our beloved Tessie went up in a majestic ball of flame over the blue Austrian sky. He began to tear up as he continued to remember, Thats how you know theres a God... up there... at 17,000 feet... its just you and God. You look down at the world, and its beautiful. So beautiful. And all I could think as I drifted down to earth was Thank you God that I made it. As he drifted down into a nearby forest, he could see nearby Vienna. As he landed in a tree, he was left dangling 4 feet in the air from a tree. No matter how he tried, he couldnt get loose, and he knew for sure he was stuck. He was only there for less than 10 minutes before a Local Volkstrum soldier brandishing a Luger, an old German WW1 vet, found him. Kervin recalls that through a thick German accent and broken English he was told for you, the war is over. All of the crew of Tessie landed there in the forest and all were captured and the officers and enlisted men were split. It was the last time he would see the enlisted crew-members, as they would all die of various causes during the war.

 

He was brought to Vienna and then taken by train to Frankfurt Germany where he was questioned and interrogated about US air operations over Austria and southern Germany. He refused to release any info or cooperate. Shortly after he was again sent by train to his new home, the western compound of Stalag Luft 3 in what is today Poland. He arrived at the camp on the afternoon of June 6th, 1944. The entire camp was buzzing with word and hope of liberation. To Lt. Kervins surprise, his training commander, Colonel Alcar, was the senior allied commander at the west compound, and the first American to greet him at arrival. Alcar had been shot down over Italy in December of 1943 and had been one of the first prisoners of the newest west compound. Also Out of coincidence, one of Kervins assigned bunk mates happened to be friend and navigator of Two Ton Tessie, Joe Truemper. Not being a smoker, Kervin often used his smokes for extra rations in the camps elaborate trading system. He played baseball in the summer with the American team, and football on the American team during the fall of 1944, and despite being a prisoner, enjoyed almost comfortable conditions. As winter approached, so did the Russians. through December in January of 1945 the sounds of artillery and battle creeped closer and closer. As the noise grew, so did their hope for liberation. But on the night of January 29th, the evacuation began.

 

In the dead of night the Germans informed them they had one hour to gather their items and prepare for evacuation. They were marched through the miserable snowing night to a train station where he was boarded and taken to Stalag Luft 13 south in Nuremberg, Germany. There they remained until the beginning of April of 1945. The American forces were getting closer, and everyone knew the war was nearly over in Europe. Because of this they were marched south another 101 miles to Stalag 7 in Moosburg, just outside of Munich. Kervin particularly recalled in later life, the tired and demoralized German soldiers who led them south. Stalag 7 was intended to hold 13,000 POWs. But due to the exodus of prisoners of all kinds there, it instead was holding 130,000 Allied POWs by the time Kervin arrived there on April 20th. Shortly after, the first tank defiantly breached the barbed wire fencing of the compound. The prisoners erupted in a fiery celebration. Id never seen anything so wonderful in my life. And I never will again, Lt. Kervin remarked during his interview on his reaction seeing that first tank cross over. The Americans were organized and given proper care and food. 2 days later, the US officers were gathered all together. There arrived in his signature Jeep, ivory gripped patrols, and 4 starred helmet, General George Patton. The General shook hands with the officers there, including Kervin, and informed them he was Godamn sorry it took him so long to get there. 6 days later on May 7th, the word was out. Germany had surrendered, and the war was over.

 

3 days later he was taken by train to the French coast, where he boarded the USS Argentina. Several days later the excited crew of former prisoners looked out over the bow and triumphantly there stood the Statue of Liberty. They were home. They once again erupted into celebration as the crew arrived into Harbor to cheering crowds of proud Americans. The next day, Lt. Kervin was reunited with his wife for the first time in 1 year and 5 months. He recalled the moment he saw her he began to cry like a baby. He was given 2 months of R&R and ordered to return on August 20th. By the time he returned, the Atomic bombs had been dropped, and the war was almost over for good. They allowed him a discharge, and he left the service on September 10th, 1945, right after the Wars end. He went back Indiana University and finished his senior year, graduating with honors. He had 2 daughters, and became a pilot and airport manger for Pan American Airways until his 1992 retirement. He passed away in 2006 at 88 years old, and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.


Yours Truly,

 

Nic Talley

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The uniform. The collar insignia and one of the Lt. bars are not original, as they were missing when it entered my collection. the ribbons and wings are original to the uniform as found

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Yours Truly,

 

Nic Talley

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Gloria Swanson signing Tessie, and a closer pic of Kervin

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Yours Truly,

 

Nic Talley

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Some of the many newspaper clippings about his service- the most notable of the lot

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Yours Truly,

 

Nic Talley

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Very nice uniform. Great to have all that info to go along with it! Thanks for sharing it.

 

JD


AAF Collector...........
**Always Buying WW2 Aviation Related Items: Especially Operation Tidal Wave items (1st Ploesti Raid) ..... WW2 Fighter Ace Related Items.....Higher End A-2 Flight Jacket Groups....AAF Related Valor Medal Groups**

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One of the nicest 15th AF patches I’ve ever seen.

 

Thanks for the time spent posting this tribute.


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One of the nicest 15th AF patches I’ve ever seen.

 

Thanks for the time spent posting this tribute.

 

I know right! the bullion is a downright piece of art. And thank you for your kind words, I'm truly honored to be able to tell his story, so I'll do it the best I can.


Yours Truly,

 

Nic Talley

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Wonderful uniform and a great story. Its amazing the stuff that is out there on these flyers. Glad his sacrifice will live on.


GEN. David R. Atchinson- MO State Guard ACW

PVT. John H. Drury- Co. A, 27th Ky IR ACW Died of Typhoid

PVT. Henry E. Thomas- Co. I, 17th Ky IR ACW

PVT. Joseph E. Drury- Co. E, 356th IR, 89th ID WWI WIA

SGT. Edward P. Drury- 51st QM Training Co. WWII

PFC. Delmer C. Koonter- Co. I, 142nd IR, 36th ID WWII WIA

SC3c Michael C. Drury- LCS (L) (3) 70 WWII

SGT. Steven D. Koonter- 5th Cav, 1st Cav Div Vietnam

SGT. John M. Drury- 227th AVN Bn. 1st Cav Div Vietnam

 

Contact me with IDd WWII 36th Division, SSI Navy, Aviation, or Kentucky veteran uniforms.

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Great uniform! Great story! Thanks for posting.


Always looking for 4th Fighter Group and 490th Bomb Group items.

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Excellent research, gorgeous patch and uniform, and a wonderful tribute to this flyer. Thank you for sharing with all of us.


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Specific areas of collecting and buying interest:

WWI/WWII 40th (Sunshine) Division, Camp Kearny, Camp Harry Jones, WWI/WWII 158th Infantry, USS Oklahoma, USS Swordfish (SS-193), Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Mexican Border (1916),

Norman Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) Norman, OK, Tinker Field or AFB, Submariner Items, Knives, Bayonets, Sweetheart Jewelry, other unique

or odd items with interesting stories.

 

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That bullion patch really pops.

Your did a great job on the research and that is a beautiful uniform.

Who ever did the profile page needs a kudos on that also!!

 

And a Thanks to member FT.monmouth 1943 for mentioning that the patch is a Gemsco. I was not aware of them making material insignia.

 

Semper Fi

Phil


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That bullion patch really pops.

Your did a great job on the research and that is a beautiful uniform.

Who ever did the profile page needs a kudos on that also!!

 

And a Thanks to member FT.monmouth 1943 for mentioning that the patch is a Gemsco. I was not aware of them making material insignia.

 

Semper Fi

Phil

 

Thank you! I also made the profile that i posted


Yours Truly,

 

Nic Talley

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