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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Signed letters; 10; including Robert R. Brouck’s (killed at age 25) and other Flying Tigers; $506. Photo courtesy of Cohasco's
It was a grief-stricken time in America. The Navy was still sorting through rubble and searching for trapped sailors at Pearl Harbor in 1942. Only two weeks had passed and the Japanese were gearing up for an attack on Burma.

Capturing Burma would give the Japanese easy access to China. One step closer to swallowing up Asia.

A few months earlier, President Franklin Roosevelt sent 110 former Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps bomber pilots to China for what he called “guard duty.” Their job was to stop the blitz.

The Chinese called the men Fei Hu for the tiger’s mouth and spiked teeth painted on the nose of their fighter planes. In the sky, these World War II aircraft resembled soaring predators. Their ferociousness was designed to scare the superstitious Japanese pilots and make them turn back.

The Americans called the airborne aces the Flying Tigers. Some of the men signed up for adventure, others for patriotic reasons. As private soldiers they received $500 monthly plus a $500 bonus for every enemy plane destroyed. (Much more than they could earn in the peacetime Army.)

Claire Chennault, their leader in what was officially called the American Volunteer Group (AVG) was a gruff looking man in his late-40s. He had retired from the Air Corps as a captain due to a hearing loss.

“The president has assured us that, as long as we fight for a country that professes democratic faith, your citizenship will remain intact,” Chennault told his recruits. “While this mission is considered secret, it won’t be secret for long.”

He was right. In 31 encounters over Burma the Flying Tigers destroyed 217 enemy planes. Newspapers around the world couldn’t get enough.

“The victories of these Americans over the rice paddies of Burma are comparable in character, if not in scope, with those won by the Royal Air Force over the hop fields of Kent in the Battle of Britain,” Prime Minister Winston Churchill said.

“Military experts predicted we would not last for three weeks in combat. We fought for seven months over Burma, China, Thailand and French Indo-China, destroying 299 Japanese planes with another 153 probably destroyed,” Chennault added.

In terms of military aviation, those numbers were extraordinary. The AVG ended up being one of the most colorful and powerful fighting forces in history.

The larger-than-life daredevil pilots helped the Allied Forces win World War II and larger-than-life stories followed them everywhere. Separating fact from fiction isn’t easy.

The group officially disbanded on July 4, 1942. Many of the pilots returned to their original military services.

On May 25, Cohasco in Yonkers, N.Y., featured a selection of ephemera from the Flying Tigers in its Historical Documents and Collectibles auction.

The photos, letters, and cards offered in the sale provide a bird’s-eye-view into the life and times of the Flying Tigers. As such, they serve as historical documents and help to set the record straight. It’s the kind of first person accounts that collectors love. Here are some current values.

Flying Tigers

Typed signed letter; Gen. B.K. Holloway; on letterhead “Commander-in-Chief Strategic Air Command,” talks about his combat experience as a Flying Tiger; $253.

Signed letters; 10; including Robert R. Brouck (killed at age 25) and other Flying Tigers; $506.

Photo; Claire L. Chennault; in uniform; signed; 1937; includes placard of five views of the Curtiss P-40 plane used by the Flying Tigers; 8 inches by 10 inches; $633.

Signed photos, letters, bios of Gen. Charles Bond and other Flying Tigers; 23 items; $759.

Signed photos, cards, of Erik Shilling and other Flying Tigers; 20 items; $949.

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