Silk Good Luck Charm
U.S. Army Air Force Staff Sergeant George W. Parks was an engineer and top turret gunner on a B-17 in the European Theater across eight months of some of the worst aerial combat over the continent in World War II.
Assigned to the crew of B-17G-25-BO Serial #42-31678 (“Little Patches”) of the 401st Bomb Squadron of the 91st Bombardment Group (Heavy) and for a time with #42-32076 (“Shoo Shoo Baby”) of the same Squadron, he completed 37 combat missions on his tour.
As noted by the American Air Museum, the 91st BG, known more informally as “the Ragged Irregulars,” logged 9,591 sorties dropping 22,142 tons of bombs. The Group lost 197 aircraft MIA– the highest losses of any of 8th Air Force Bomb Group. Before D-Day, these were predominantly strategic bombing missions, hitting targets like aircraft factories, airfields, and oil facilities. After the Allies had gained a foothold on the Continent, the Group carried out more missions in support of ground troops, such as bombing railway yards and tracks. They led the famous Schweinfurt mission and Parks was part of the January 1944 raid that bombed the Focke-Wulf 190 factory in Oschersleben, Germany, of that mission he recalled:
“Enemy fighters buzzed around us like a swarm of angry bees. I’ve never seen so many enemy planes in the air at one time…The sky was filled with falling and burning planes, both enemy and our own.”
As detailed by the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force:
Just three months later his B-17 was attacked over Beauvoir, France and three of the four engines were damaged and stopped functioning. The pilot decided to try and make it back to England, but Parks thought:
“I didn’t see how we were going to get back. We squeaked and coughed across the water on one engine, and the book says you can’t fly on one engine. We made it alright, and landed at an RAF aerodrome near the coast.”
What did Parks attribute his good luck to? A black silk nightgown that belonged to his wife, Marian. She gave it to him as a good luck token, and he wore it as a neck scarf underneath his A-2 jacket on every single one of his 37 combat missions. “I wouldn’t go without it,” Parks declared.
Parks is listed as passing in Palmetto, Georgia on 29 April 2000, aged 76. One of his planes, Shoo-Shoo-Baby is slated to join the Smithsonian’s Collection although SSG Parks long outlived Little Patches, which also survived the war but was sold for scrap metal in 1945.
Mrs. Parks’ battle-worn black silk is, however, preserved in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force