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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Memory served

Greg Flibbert collects military memorabilia.
 (Colin Mulvany photos/ / The Spokesman-Review)
Greg Flibbert collects military memorabilia. (Colin Mulvany photos/ / The Spokesman-Review)

SOME PEOPLE EXPRESS patriotism by flying the stars and stripes. Some literally wear it on their sleeve with red, white and blue shirts. Greg Flibbert collects military memorabilia, particularly flight jackets from World War II.

“What’s most important to me is that each guy contributed an awful lot to our country,” he says. “As a collector, it kind of keeps these guys alive. … It provides a tribute to the guys who served.” His pride and joy are known as “groupings” in collector-speak. Flibbert, a state Department of Ecology air quality manager in Spokane, seeks out dog tags, patches, orders, decorations and other artifacts that belonged to the flight jacket’s owner. “I think the artifacts that are left over from military service really have a large story to tell,” the 54-year-old says. His collection of groupings — “I don’t know how many I have, probably dozens,” he says — includes one from his father. George Flibbert served in the Army Air Corps during World War II as a radio operator aboard a C-47. His unit, the 27th Air Transport Group, ferried replacement airplanes to bomber groups after losses over Europe. His leather flight jacket shows wear creases. Several photographs, his dog tags and wings, an Army Air Corps knife, unit patches, a squadron insignia and other pieces are mounted in a glass case. The eighth-grade dropout joined the service at age 17. “He was a poor city kid probably going nowhere when he became a trained soldier shipped overseas to serve his country,” Flibbert says. He marvels at the contrast between two black-and-white photographs, one shot while his father was a 10-year-old boy and the other taken just after the war ended when he was but 20. Standing tall in uniform, his father looks mature beyond his age. Flibbert also pulls out a flight bag with the name of Lt. Walter E. Daggett stenciled on the outside. The bag contains two of the B-24 pilot’s uniforms and another encased “grouping” of 93rd Bomb Group patches, dog tags, pilot’s wings, a European Theater of Operations battle ribbon with two oak leaf clusters, an Air Medal and a Distinguished Flying Cross. While the bag says lieutenant, the uniforms hold captain’s bars. Flibbert, who acquired the artifacts from Daggett’s daughter, Sharon, notes that the aviator must have been promoted while serving overseas. Beyond the valiant story the artifacts tell about the long-range heavy bomber pilot, Flibbert learned more from Sharon Daggett. She told him that her father survived the war by missing a D-Day mission due to the extraction of wisdom teeth. “That’s probably why I have a daddy,” she says in an interview. The war played a pivotal role in his life. “When he was 70 years old, he was still talking about it,” she says. “He was very, very tied to the war.” Since she has no children to pass her father’s military gear on to, she figured Flibbert would be a good steward of the memorabilia. “I didn’t appreciate them like a collector,” she says. “I’m a daughter. … “Greg just loved it. It was important to him and it was important to Daddy. I think Daddy would like that.” Most of Flibbert’s collection remains in boxes while he and his wife, psychologist Dr. Miriam Berkman, renovate their old W.W. Hyslop-designed North Side home. His numerous other WWII flight jackets — he hasn’t counted those without groupings, either — represent most of those manufactured during the war. Flibbert says a dozen companies produced jackets under 35 different government contracts. “I’ve been able to collect good examples of about 20 of the contracts,” he says. He also owns models of almost all of the lightweight and intermediate flight jackets made through 1960. “What I was striving for was a world-class collection of flight jackets that some day winds up in a museum or with another collector,” he says. “I think collectors are just as important as museums. … There are not enough museums to preserve the artifacts for each one” of the millions of Americans who served during WWII. He also wants his groupings to remain intact and not sold off piecemeal in thrift stores. “Once a uniform grouping gets in the hands of a collector, it will be maintained for the future.” His father’s memorabilia, though, will be handed down in his family. Flibbert’s collection also includes cavalry sabers from the Civil War, though the majority of pieces date from WWII to Vietnam, with survival gear, rations and other equipment that he has picked up over the years at thrift stores, garage sales and auctions. He enjoys sharing his expertise. He has evaluated military memorabilia at the annual Antique Appraisal Days at the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture. His personal library of reference materials allows him to relate historical information about artifacts. Flibbert told one recent individual that his button collection included several from Civil War uniforms. “For me, the knowledge I’ve gained from collecting over 20 years, sharing it is one of the things I really love to do,” he says. But when the question of money comes up, “it’s really hard to put a price on this stuff,” he says. He never records his purchases, but figures each of his groupings cost “hundreds of dollars.” Back in the ‘90s, Japanese youth prized American flight jackets, Flibbert says. Dealers in this country paid $100 and got $1,000 from a middleman. Then the Japanese kids paid prices around $3,000. “Thousands upon thousands were exported,” Flibbert says. “That’s one of the reasons I became active in collecting flight jackets. … “My preference is that people value the uniforms and keep them and honor them.”

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