WWII archives of Tuskeegee Airman and Admiral John McCain Sr headline Soulis’ Aug. 1 auction
KANSAS CITY, MO.- At age 7, Jack Angolia listed 10 things he wanted to accomplish in life, including “write a book” and “become a professional soldier.” He would far exceed those aspirations, earning two master’s degrees, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel in the US Army, and writing 38 books on military history. As if that weren’t enough, Angolia also built a phenomenal lifetime collection of World War II memorabilia that arguably rivals that of any great institution. That collection is set to be auctioned by Dirk Soulis in two sessions: an online-only event that closes for bidding on July 24, and an August 1 gallery sale led by the unique and historic wartime archives of Admiral John S McCain, and Tuskegee Airman William S Powell Jr.
The extraordinary collection was displayed for several decades at Angolia’s home, its contents arranged in tableaux, many featuring uniformed mannequins. With an emphasis on authenticity, the appropriate accessories and medals were positioned exactly as they would have been when worn by their original owners during the war.
The first of two headline lots in the sale chronicles the remarkable military career of Admiral John S. McCain Sr, patriarch of a consecutive three-generation dynasty of US Navy admirals that includes John S. McCain Jr and Senator John S McCain III. The extensive archive of the first Admiral McCain illustrates various achievements of his long military career, starting with his uniform and cap, numerous decorations and medals, including the Navy Cross and Distinguished Service Medal; and a large grouping that supports his Award of Knight Commander of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire and includes a large document signed by King George VI. Additionally, the archive includes McCain’s 1936 Naval Aviator Certificate, his 1945 Commission to the Rank of Admiral, hand-signed by President Truman; a document signed by President Roosevelt appointing him to the National Advisory Committee of Aeronautics, a citation signed by Fleet Admiral William Halsey Jr, and other important papers signed by key figures of the World War II era, including General Douglas MacArthur.
Angolia acquired the complete McCain military archive from a private individual who previously obtained it directly from the McCain family. “Its importance cannot be overstated. Admiral McCain played a very critical role during World War II, commanding all aircraft in the Pacific and on the US West Coast. By order of Admiral Halsey, McCain was present at the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay on September 2nd, 1945, in spite of the fact that he felt ill. He stood right behind General MacArthur at the signing, and in the archive, there’s a newspaper photo [clipping] of the two of them at that very moment. Unfortunately, four days later at his California home, Admiral McCain suffered a fatal heart attack.” The McCain archive is being auctioned in its entirety as one lot with a $40,000-$60,000 estimate.
The second auction headliner is an extensive and beautifully maintained archive of personal and service items that belonged to William S Powell Jr, a World War II aviator with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. Nicknamed the “Red Tails” in reference to the scarlet paint motif on the tails of their airplanes, the Tuskegee Airmen were African-American and Caribbean-born military pilots, navigators, bombardiers, mechanics and other support personnel with the United States Army Air Forces’ 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bombardment Group. They were educated and flight-trained at Tuskegee Institute [now Tuskegee University] and went on to gain fame and recognition as an elite unit that completed more than 1,500 combat missions, plus numerous bomber escort missions and 1,000+ hits.
“It is extremely rare to see a Tuskegee Airman’s archive as complete as this one,” Dirk Soulis observed. “It contains 75 items, including Airman Powell’s prized A-2 leather jacket with his name and squadron patch.” Among the other wartime apparel and paraphernalia in the grouping are Powell’s flight suit and boots; flight helmet, boxed goggles, oxygen mask and carrier pouch; life preserver, parachute with kit bag, navigation kit with “Dead Reckoning” computer, flight books and logs; and much more. His service uniform is comprised of a jacket, pants, crusher cap, shirt, tie, and all insignia with bullion SSI. Two shadowboxes contain mini collections of affiliated items, the first with a flight log, flight certificate, dog tag, photos of classmates, and a large group photo in front of a biplane; and the second housing his wristwatch, pilot wings, visor cap, dog tag, pilot certificates and more. The group lot is estimated at $40,000-$60,000.
The WWII archive of USAAF bombardier Captain Walter R. Ross, who witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima as a Japanese prisoner of war, includes his uniform, medals, documents, and historically important photographs. One of the photos depicts the crew of the Enola Gay and is signed by the B-29 bomber’s commander and pilot, then-Colonel Paul W Tibbets Jr. The lot is estimated at $500-$1,000.
Also notable is a grouping that pertains to POW 1st Lt Joseph E Wemheuer. It consists of his uniform, bombardier’s logbook, medals, including a Purple Heart; decorations and all insignia for the “Caterpillar Club,” which denotes that the owner successfully parachuted from a disabled aircraft. Estimate $600-$900
The auction lineup includes many other important uniforms, period leather bomber jackets, helmets, edged weapons, helmets, goggles, field gear, textile patches, medals and decorations; plus a few firearms. The auction’s opening lot is one of the sale’s most impressive representations of a military career, that of Lt Colonel William A. Hamberg of the 5th Armored Division. It includes many high-level decorations, including the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star with OLC, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and many more. Rounded out with Hamberg’s military papers and photos, the lot comes to auction with a $500-$700 estimate.