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World War II: 1939 ~ 1945
United States of America (All Branches)
Named Lots & Groupings

Selling Price: $535 - Postage in the U.S.A. is: $12
Rarely if ever does any true documentation from this elite, post-WWII unit ever come to life. It was a small staff of elite veteran fliers that took on almost super-human proportions in the mid to late 1940s by risking themselves in what others would have labeled as sheer "suicidal" flights directly into jaws of hurricane force turbulence so they could gather relevant scientific data. In the beginning they flew older WWII B-17 aircraft that under the stress literally tore the bolts from wings.

A little known fact is that the lineage of this fine unit was born from the 375th Bomb Squadron that flew out of the CBI theatre. James McIlrath was in that squadron and flew with the Hurricane Hunters as his first post-war assignment. Once he dusted himself off from his 62 Combat sorties as a top turret gunner with three Japanese fighter victories, Jim flew the dangerous Bermuda triangle, looking for trouble of a different sort. This grouping forms one of the best, most documented lineages on this rare unit to date.

There is a complete story here, from photographs to unit logs of each flight, to include personal documents, flight wings and ribbon clusters and my favorite - a rare "Hurricane Hunter" membership card from 1947. Also are what look like a full set of orders from 1945 to about the middle of 1952. Here we go:

My absolute favorite. A "Loyal Legion of Hurricane Hunters" card! The physical card is about 3.3 inches by 2.5 inches and signed by the proper authority as dated for the 9th of September of 1948 season in flight RB-29 for Hurricane "DOG." Now, James had already been in the unit before that, but you had to earn the card by a flight into the eye of the storm, not just for routine flights. So mixing it up with a strong one was the validation here, not just flying on some monitoring missions of cloud seeding routine.

The card can only be followed by a collection of James' wings from post-WWII. We have a grand set of basic aircrew wings from Vanguard, that are by all type identification, pegged at 1946 to 1948. No Senior wings are present, but there is asset of Master wings and both are era clutch back. By this time in wing progression, pin back assemblies were being phased out and manufacturers were going for inexpensive clutch designs.

This collection would be hollow without the addition of the actual flight logs themselves. I count 13 individual sheets of official flight entries, some fully intense. They cover the period from the 7th of April 1946 to August the 1st of 1951. Reflect back for a moment on the "Loyal Legion of Hurricane Hunters" card that was not issued until the 9th of September of 1948.

Now, check out how many flights that James accomplished before that time 1948 frame. Two years and five months of flights were already wracked up, so the card is rare and not just given out to unit members for showing up or for being assigned to routine or support flights. It was a card of distinction and carried with pride. Those who were awarded one, knew what it took.

These flight records are for hundreds of missions, some routine, in specially rigged for science B-17 and B-29 aircraft, as well as C-47, C-54 and a D-47 flight as well. James accrued more flights from the 373rd Reconnaissance VLR (Very Long Range) Squadron out of Kindley Air Force base in Bermuda, with a lesser number being flown while assigned to the 53rd Reconnaissance VLR (Very Long Range) Squadron out of Morrison Field in Florida.

There are also a nice collection of 30 original era taken photographs. Six are huge official 9 inches by 7.5 inches and deal with a training exercise in open water survival in case the crews ever had to ditch at sea, which was a very real possibility. There is also another official 9 inch by 7.5 inch photo of the 1947 hurricane season legs of about a dozen storm tracking and plotting angles.

Along with those large format open water survival are an identical set of seven smaller identical open water survival photos in 4.5 by 3.5, to include one of a similar theme that was not available in the larger format, or was missing. Many of those larger images are officially stamped. Then are the five smaller 3.5 by 2.5 photos that are taken in flight inside what looks like a B-29. Views of James behind the radio, standing in the aisle, the co-pilot looking back and smiling and more.

There are two very small 2 inch by 2.5 inch images, one of a bird that must have impacted the aircraft, and of the men on the flight line having a photo taken. There are two images taken outside the billeting office and two ID photos, one for a 1940s era passport size and one for the ID card. A small image of a line of P-80 aircraft that is captioned on the rear and a few home shots and one of the crew assembled in front of a WB-29 aircraft.

That identical photo was then used in a newspaper release that I also have the clipping for. It is 3.5 by 4.5 inches. James is standing far right in the rear back row. Some of these photographs may have residual tape on the edges or on the rear from being in a photo album as James moved things around a bit, but most are pristine as James also use corner hinges a lot.

The next big hitter are the Orders and Official Records, from commendation letters to whatever. There is a lot here, and I rough counted 71 pages, with the first occurring on September of 1945. There are movement, ravel, some financial, separation papers, re-enlistment papers, orders listing his Distinguished Flying Cross from WWII, his original 373rd VLR Squadron assignment orders, flight and physical qualification papers, training certificates, qualifications, special radio operator instructions and status papers, orders to assignment as flight radio operator, orders to participate in general flights, orders to participate in specific flights, orders to go on TDY and specific orders to participate in HURRICANE RECONNAISANCE MISSIONS (One for 9 days starting on July the 4th of 1947).

Ww also have assignments to flight echelons, TDY orders, another set of orders to orders to participate in HURRICANE RECONNAISANCE MISSIONS (for 7 days starting on October the 15th of 1947), another set of orders to orders to participate in HURRICANE RECONNAISANCE MISSIONS (for 3 days starting on October the 25th of 1947), another set of orders to orders to participate in HURRICANE RECONNAISANCE MISSIONS (for 5 days starting on November the 1st of 1947), a nice commendation packet for aiding in the rescue of a MORTUARY SHIP that sunk, the U.S.S. JOSEPH V. CONNOLLY. That ship was lost on the 3rd of February in 1948 and James' aircraft was scrambled and spotted and aided in the rescue.

Following are leave orders, 12 September of 1948 Hurricane Evacuation Orders (note, this is hurricane that James earned his Hurricane Hunter card in), appointment to a board, orders to appear and participate in Operation WORKSHIFT, Honorable Discharge papers in preparation to re-enlist on the 6th of August in 1949 that list all of his prior service accomplishments, 22 July of 1949 transfer orders, travel orders, and more travel orders, re-classification orders as a radar operator 29350 on May the 22nd of 1950, MOS addition orders, MOS Radar Operator assignment. Finally are more TDY, TDY, extension of TDY, re-classification for flight status as active, orders to fly to Goose Bay Labrador for 15 days for special weather assignment RECON labeled project FOX ABLE THREE (long range refueling missions over Prestwick, Keflavik and Goose Bay), ferry aircraft orders, transfer to California on 31 July of 1951, departure orders, travel orders, travel with family, new flying status orders, and the last paper is dated the 13th of May in 1951 for new active flying status orders! Wow!

We also have a lot of James' Training and Discharge papers, both originals and the service authorized photo-negative copies. There are personal records of all training assignments, the true personnel archives as well as B-29 training certification papers. I count 9 pieces, all diploma size.

There are a nice assortment of newspaper clippings of the escapades of the Hurricane Hungers that list James in some of them by name.

Lastly are James' immunization forms that list CHINA in one entry.

There you have it, a magnificent assembly or artifacts and record archives that present a truly comprehensive glimpse at one of the most notable post-WWII units imaginable - The Loyal Legion of Hurricane Hunters! All of this is assembled inside one of Sergeant McIlrath's official hard cover personnel files!

Oh, there is a current made or maybe from the 1980s flight crew name tag that is present and the photo of the guy in front of the sign is not in this lot, it is from the web.

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