By Erin Tapp
Museum of Aviation, Collections Manager
Among the Museum’s textile collection of historical uniforms spanning the 20th and 21st century, are two complete “outfits” that are not military in nature. Tattered and stained, they show their wear, not from age, but from the series of events that transpired after two Americans used them to dress as a means to survive.
During a reconnaissance mission that resulted in an aerial fight on May 13th, 1944, Lt. James Dealy’s P-40 Warhawk was shot down in the Lepini Mountains, 50 miles from Rome. He avoided capture by the German forces first through the help an Italian child, Enrico Onorati, who was just 8 year old at the time. Onorati hid the pilot and his deployed parachute in a nearby haystack until another Italian family, the De Angelis, outfitted him in civilian clothes to help disguise his appearance. Lt. Dealy was one of five brothers serving in the Italian theater at the time (all returned to the U.S. unscathed after the war, though two were captured and taken into German POW camps for a period of time). It was his pilot brother, Robert, who eventually found where he was being hidden and helped return him to their fighter group base on May 24th. A resident of Alabama before his passing, Lt. Dealy donated these clothes to the Museum in 2005.
5 years later in 2010, the Museum received another donation from an individual with a similar but equally unique story of evasion. While flying a night mission over Sicily on July 16th, 1943, Airman Arthur Rohr was forced to exit his B-25 in an unconventional manner: having witnessed the cowling peel from the engine and flames begin to engulf the airframe, Rohr knew he needed to escape. The exit panel in the floor near his position at the top gun turret was stuck and so he jumped on it with both feet. This loosened the panel allowing him to fall through the open hatch but he was soon knocked unconscious. He awoke the next morning behind German lines and spent the next 15 days evading capture by trading his military uniform for Italian civilian clothes.
Airman Arthur Rohr – wearing Italian civilian clothes, 1943
Photos: Museum of Aviation Textile Collection
The Museum’s collection indeed serves to preserve historical examples of artifacts from our USAF’s past, but these items especially, as well as many others, help us continue to tell the deeply personal stories of heroism and sacrifice that characterize our country’s patriotic spirit.