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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Letter Home. April 17, 2010

I found a number of letters in the box of Kenny's personal belongings. Amongst them were some letters that were illustrated with various characters. I found one letter written home which Kenny sketched the image which he painted on his P-38 Lightening.

This was a caricature of my Mom!

Kenny was proud of his artwork and he wrote home to tell everyone of his nose art. In the letter he also acknowledges "Bill and Bob" (Betty's Brother and Fiance') as being with him on his flights.

Seeing this sketch gave me an idea...

His flight jacket only had his squadron patches and wings on it, with no nose art on the back. I made up my mind to honor him and Betty by painting the "Batlin' Bet" nose art on my flight jacket when I got one.

I started to collect the reference photos so I could make the best decisions on how it looked.

The artist's process continued...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Second Skin. April 16, 2010

One of the most profound things I came across was Kenny Frost's Flight Jacket. It hadn't been worn in over fifty years. His brother kept it in a very safe location.

This was the Jacket that got him through fifty plus missions into enemy territory, and back, in the 'Batlin' Bet'. If it could talk, I can only imagine the stories it would tell.

It not only had a '50 Mission Crush' to it, but it also had the experience ingrained in it from all of his training missions as a pilot.

WWII pilots grew so accustomed to having it on and wearing it everywhere they went, (Not just in combat), that it was considered their "Second Skin". It somehow protected them from harm, and/or would get them through any ordeal in the sky which they may encounter or be facing.

I thought to myself, "I want this flight jacket!".

I dared not to ask because it was a family heirloom, and I was lucky to be holding it.

I figured one day when I could afford my own jacket, I would pattern it after this one.

Kenny Frost's Flight Jacket
Patch left 323 Fighter Group, "Air Wolves"
Patch right: 96th Fighter Squadron 82 Fighter Group

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Artist's Inspiration. April 15, 2010

I made contact with Kenny Frost's Big Brother, Hal, and made a trip to his house in La Canada. There I met him along with 82nd Fighter Group Historian, Steve Blake. Together we brought out a collection of photos, letters, patches, medals, and Kenny Frost's Flying Jacket, which was in great condition.

There was one photo of Kenny with my mom, Betty Lee Tucker. Kenny was an Air Officer, dressed handsomely in his "Pinks and Greens", in front of his home in L.A. He and my mom were getting ready to go out on the town. It was the night before Kenny was to ship out for the Mediterranean to combat the Nazi Scum.

The date was April 1944. Only two months before this photo was taken, Betty had lost both her brother Bill, (Killed in a Naval flying accident) and fiance Bob (Also Killed in a flying accident). Both men were inseparable best friends, and were killed within 20 days of each other.

In this photo, Betty was 19 years old. Though she looked pretty, she was NOT a happy camper. Kenny was hoping to earn her love and that she would wait for him to return from the war. This was too much to ask of a 19 year old beauty, (esp after only dating her a couple of times).

But Kenny kept her close in his thoughts. Chose her as his subject, his must, his inspiration, to paint on his P-38 Lightening. I found the letter he sent home to his parents with the rough draft of the 'Nose Art'. This gave me an idea...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

So, what do ya want on your tombstone? April 14, 2010

I called Forrest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale to ask if they would forward a letter to any of Ken's next of kin, to which they replied yes. I drove to Glendale to drop off the letter, then I went up and Located his Grave site. I was astounded at the artwork on his Tombstone! Talk about passion.

About two weeks later I was contacted by Ken's Brother, Hal Frost, who lived with his wife in La Canada. I then arranged a trip down to meet him/his wife, and see Kenny's the belongings which Hal had kept for over 60 years.

What an amazing collection of art-i-facts I was about to uncover.

I had made contact with Steve Blake, the Historian for the 82nd Fighter Group, for which Kenny Frost was a part. He helped me in my quest to find out more about Kenny because his history was incomplete and wasn't entered into the official history book for the Fighter group. So during my search he was available for background as well as introductions to pilots who flew with Kenny back in WWII.

All the communications and revelations seemed to fit together like a puzzle.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Legacy. April 13, 2010

Along with the two photos was this copy of the Frost Obituary. The "Batlin' Bet" is visible behind him. This could very well be amongst the last paintings Frost painted.

My thoughts: Find where He's buried. I wondered if anyone from his family was still alive? I thought, "there must be a death certificate on file..."

I contacted Forrest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, and sent them a letter to pass on to his next of kin, (if they still existed). Then I made it a quest to locate his grave.

Ironically the Frost Grave was located approximately 100 Feet from my Uncle Bill's, and Bob Ketron's Grave site, (in the same cemetery).

This obituary gave me a great starting place for my quest.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Happy Go Lucky Artist. April 12, 2010

Kenny Frost was only 24 years old (considered an old man by his flying comrades). An art student, who in 1942, studied art and played football at L.A.C.C., with my Mom's future fiance', Bob Ketron, and coincidentally, my former Jordan Jr. High School P.E. Coach, the late Raul Regalado,

This was just some of the information I ascertained over what would take close to two years of investigative work in order to get the full story of the "Batlin' Bet" and of why he named his plane after her.

In my youth I'd already done a couple of drawings and paintings of Kenny Frost's Plane, including an illustration (not a very good one), showing the airplane in action strafing a locomotive. The Kenny Frost, and the "Batlin' Bet" was a part of the Allies' victorious WWII effort. I was proud of that.

How could I honor Betty and Kenny?

My mom, was in some way, what brought Kenny good luck. At least he believed so. Naming an aircraft after a particular woman held some sort of hope or wishful thinking. The "Batlin' Bet", got Kenny back home, safely, after flying 50 combat missions; including escort missions over Ploesti Oil Fields, and strafing missions in which he destroyed four locomotives, and one aircraft on the ground.

It was this action which eventually earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross--Posthumously.

I started to dig deeper...

Kenny and his Hand Painted Nose Art, "BATLIN'BET'
Foggia, Italy, 1943

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Saga of the Batlin' Bet, April 11, 2010

When growing up I use to marvel at my Mother's photo book of memories. She, Betty Tucker, grew up in Hollywood CA, a graduate of Marshall HS, and as I mentioned she'd lost seven or so very close friends during the War. Her Brother, Bill, his best friend Bob Ketron, (her fiance'), Bob Ketron, were among them. All of them were pilots.

There were two or three small photos in her book which were extraordinary; esp. those showing a young man, Kenny Frost, in one of the most beautiful war birds ever created in WWII, the P-38 Lightening.

My mom use to mention stories about Kenny Frost, and how he won so many medals during his flying and fighting over seas. He flew in a P-38 he'd named after her called, "Batlin' Bet".

In the process of digging, I learned a few things more...

Kenny Frost, in P-38L Lightning, "BATLIN'BET'
Foggia, Italy. 1943