By Associated Press • 

Oregon woman repairs World War II bomber jacket

HILLSBORO, Ore. (AP) — On the eve of every mission he flew, World War II bomber pilot Bill Kinard sought the strength to brave the exploding artillery shells that could leave as many as 100 holes in his B-17. He found it in the Book of Psalms:

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. ...”

He read that passage every night, before he fell asleep.

“I'm sure that helped,” he says. It made him feel as though someone - or something - was watching over him.

As it turns out, 1st Lt. Kinard, now 92, is the last of his friends from the 15th Air Force's 99th Bombardment Group.

Before he took off from Foggia, Italy, to rise above the Alps en route to Munich, Vienna or Budapest, Kinard would put on an olive green sweater vest, knitted for him by his wife, Joan, who remained at what was then called Washington State College. And over the vest, he'd sport his official brown A-2 bomber jacket, a size 42.

The jacket remains with him today - and it's in better shape than ever, thanks to a woman in Hillsboro.

Jackie Alessio is a self-described “huge World War II buff.” She just finished a book about bomber pilots.

“I've always been amazed by that generation,” she says.

But Alessio never had a personal connection to the war until several months ago. It was just a normal day at LaHaie's, where she has worked for 14 years. The downtown Hillsboro business specializes in varsity letter jackets for student-athletes.

She found herself talking to a man whose jacket needed fixing. The leather and imagery on the outside were in good condition, but the inside was tattered and the cuffs and lining on the bottom were “rotted away,” Alessio says. “It was like swiss cheese.”

This jacket was like no other Alessio had ever worked on. It was Kinard's bomber jacket.

“It was history in my hands,” Alessio says. “It was just amazing.”

To keep the jacket as authentic as possible, Alessio urged Kinard to contact the U.S. Air Force. The military could help supply him with the correct type of fabric that would match the original, made by Perry Sportswear in Newburgh, N.Y.

“He did it all through email,” Alessio says. “It was very modern.”

Adorned with pilot's wings, the 15th Air Force's emblem and an image of a B-17, the jacket kept Kinard warm when the air outside his plane dropped as low as 30 degrees below zero. When he returned home, Kinard had the option to take either his gun or his jacket with him, he says. He chose the jacket.

Alessio couldn't believe it had ended up in her hands. She's worked on old letterman jackets and hunting jackets, “but nothing with this kind of history,” she says. “And the fact that it was his and he's still alive.”

The jacket is now as good as new.

“He feels so good about it being put back together,” says Kinard's daughter, Linda de Boer.

“It was just a small thing that I could do for a man who's made my life, the way I live it, possible,” Alessio says.

Though he flew 35 sorties during the war, Kinard speaks with modesty about his service. He's quick to emphasize how many soldiers were lost shortly before he arrived in Italy.

“I could have been over there early when it was worse than it was when I was there,” Kinard says.

And he talks with reverence about the Tuskegee Airmen, the famed group of African-American fighter pilots.

“These guys were our protection,” he says.

Kinard remained close with his friends from the war after they returned home. But now, he's the only one left. He became an electrical engineer at Pacific Power and remained largely healthy over the years, de Boer says, although a series of heart attacks in July has limited him in recent months. He and Joan, 89, now live in the Laurel Parc assisted living facility in Bethany.

He gave a presentation about his service to his neighbors at Laurel Parc, complete with a map of Europe dotted with pins showing the locations of all the missions he flew.

As for the jacket, Kinard plans to give it to his grandson - de Boer's son, Ian, who now works one day a week at the VA hospital in Seattle. Though he can still put the jacket on, Kinard says it will fit Ian better, and he figures the veterans at the hospital will appreciate it.

Since his heart attacks, Kinard has had some “bad days,” de Boer says. But he was so thankful that Alessio was able to fix his jacket, so he could pass it on to his grandson, who has three children of his own.

“She (Alessio) was devoted to people who flew during the war,” Kinard says. “And she would have done it for nothing.”

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