P-38 Lightning 'Hollywood Hepcat' by Ron Cole

'Hollywood Hepcat' was a P-38J, serial number 42-31383, flown by 2nd. Lt. Dwight M. Kelly, with the 339th Fighter Squadron, 347th Fighter Group, 13th Air Force, in 1944, from Sterling Field in the Solomon Islands. The aircraft was named after the Jazz-influenced counterculture that was then popular in the United States. 'Hollywood Hepcat' was lost in combat on January 20th, 1944. 

On that day, Kelly was escorting USAAF bombers targeting the Japanese bastion of Rabaul, New Britain. His flight encountered Japanese Zero fighters near the target. 'Hollywood Hepcat' was last observed over the Warangoi River, SE of Rabaul. At the time, Kelly was listed as Missing In Action. 

The well known historian, Henry Sakaida, researched this loss and interviewed Japanese sources after the war. According to Sakaida, Kelly was seen to parachute to safety as his P-38 crashed dear the river. He encountered another American P-38 pilot, Captain Cotesworth Head, who had ditched his aircraft two days prior. Both pilots then witnessed another dogfight overhead, and observed another descending parachute that landed nearby. Believing him to be American, they set out together to where they say the parachute land. Instead, they encountered a Zero pilot from the 253rd Kokutai, named 'Ishida'. Ishida's account stated that he was 'shocked' to come across two Americans in the Japanese-held area. One of them, either Kelly or Head, pulled a sidearm; pointing it at the Japanese. Ishida claimed that he smiled and indicated the fact that he was unarmed, which caused the Americans to let down their guard. In that moment, Ishida, who was a 2nd degree black belt in Judo, then attacked both of them and a 'vicious hand-to-hand struggle ensued'. The Japanese account became somewhat vague after that description, but it seems clear that he killed them both. Neither Kelly nor Head appeared in Japanese records as prisoners, and both were later listed as Killed In Action. 

'Hollywood Hepcat' impacted the ground at high velocity. According to local villagers who were interviewed in 1969, the Japanese visited the site not long after the crash, and removed the four Browning machine guns and some radio equipment. No human remains were found at that time, nor since. 

Australian archeologist, Brian Bennett, documented the site in 1981, and recovered the only found portion of 'Hollywood Hepcat's' nose art. In 1999, the relatively well-preserved tail section was recovered and donated the the Kokopo Museum in Rabaul. Remains of this P-38 were acquired by Ron Cole in 2019, from Brian Bennett's son, including the nose art. 

No known period photographs of 'Hollywood Hepcat' exist, but her markings were reasonably well determined by studying photos of other P-38Js of the 339th FS, their standard practices, including the 'nose art' being painted on the right side of the port nacelle (as pictured), as well as the surviving portion of the artwork. 

This composition depicts a typical dawn ground attack mission against a Solomon Islands Japanese outpost. The offshore target might be a Japanese H8K flying boat, with the P-38s flying low over the palm trees to attain surprise. 

All prints, framed and unframed, signed & numbered by the artist. 




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