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Missing Pinup Found in Rancho Cucamonga

August 07, 1986|BETH ANN KRIER | Times Staff Writer

It looks like the men of the 96th Fighter Squadron may get to keep their date with Jackie Brundage after all.

"Lightning Lady" Brundage, described in 1944 as "a composite of all that is fine and beautiful in the average American girl," became the pinup girl for the Air Force's 96th Fighter Squadron based near Foggia, Italy, in World War II.

But after the war, Brundage dropped out of sight. She quietly finished her job as a Lockheed clerk and assembly worker who helped produce the P-38 Lightning fighter. And she said goodby to her role as the pilots' pinup, pen pal and girl-next-door they'd be coming home to.

Although many of the men of the 96th have stayed in touch with each other through reunions and a squadron magazine, they had never been able to locate the woman who fueled their fantasies through the latter years of the war.

Until Tuesday.

That's when former Sgt. Dick Lingenfelter of Boise, Ida., who had been serving as a one-man missing-persons bureau in search of Jackie Brundage, got the news of her whereabouts.

The story of Lingenfelter's quest to find Brundage on behalf of the 96th Fighter Squadron was told in Sunday's View section by Times staff writer Paul Dean.

On Tuesday, Paul Gardner, Brundage's second husband, called Lingenfelter to say that his wife, the former pinup, was alive and well in Rancho Cucamonga.

Jackie Gardner described how she found out about the story: "My sister got the paper. She called to let me know. I thought it was wonderful. I'm a legend in my own time."

Jackie Gardner, 63, has led an active life since the days when she was known as Lightning Lady.

After the war, she married her first husband, a salesman, and lived in Hollywood with him for two years. She also worked there as a private secretary for entertainers Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and Art Linkletter.

And then she moved to Australia and married Gardner. The couple remained in Australia for four years before returning to Southern California. They have been married 33 years and have a son who is in college. In addition, she has a married daughter from her first marriage. And three grandchildren.

She has also seen some bad times in recent years. As she explained, "I have a speech impediment now. My speech isn't what it should be. I had cancer in 1977, ovarian cancer. It's in remission now."

Although she hasn't had any contact with the members of the 96th Fighter Squadron (including former commander Richard Willsie, with whom she had a romance), she is hoping to attend the squadron's annual reunion in October (held with its parent 82nd Fighter Group) in Atlanta.

Asked how her husband, an electrical contractor, is taking all this, she replied, "He loves it. There's no jealousy. He's sure of me."

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