Silver Wings soars on the history of Allied Flyers

Silver Wings & Leather Jackets is the sixth book in a series by Jon A. Maguire illustrating the uniforms and insignia of U.S. Army from World War I through World War II. It is the third book of the series that covers aviation uniforms and insignia up to the formation of the U.S. Air Force in 1947.

What you’ll find inside this large-format (12.1-inch by 9.2-inch) hardcover book, are rare and unusual items found in private collections and aviation museums throughout the United States.

Silver Wings & Leather Jackets delves into museum archives and exclusive private collections to share the personal mementos of world flyers. According to Maguire, “The majority of items in this volume are items most of us will never be able to own, but if you are like me — photographs are the next best thing.” And this book is beautifully illustrated with scores of page-filling full-color photographs.

Each unit begins with a brief introduction of a chapter in military history, putting the uniforms, insignia, mementos and relics in context, which are illustrated in crisp, clear photographs. In some cases, detailed biographies of flyers are included.

Among others, Silver Wings includes chapters on Yanks in the RAF, Aces, Husbands and Wives, Some Special Wings, Greeting Cards, and more. The variety of objects included seems to know no bounds. Not only are jackets, uniforms and insignia illustrated, but also an abundance of wartime photographs, close-ups of leather jacket art (which is every bit as intriguing as airplane nose art), paper items and other absolutely unique and interesting artifacts, like an ashtray made from a piston and a pilot’s engraved flask. If you’ve never seen a commission from King George to a member of the U.S. military, Silver Wings gives you that opportunity.

Maguire even includes a chapter on Aircraft Insignia of The Great War: actual aircraft markings from 1914 to 1918. As most original World War I aircraft material was destroyed long ago, few opportunities exist to see it; Silver Wings is one such opportunity.

The author’s father, Joe Maguire, is the inspiration for his books. The elder Maguire flew 35 C-47 combat missions during World War II and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. Silver Wings & Leather Jackets is written with a reverence for the flyers who so bravely put themselves at risk, and with a determination to honor their memory, service and sacrifices.

It would have been more convenient if the volume had been indexed; however, this is a minor point, as the book is a genuine pleasure to thumb through. Silver Wings is not a value or collector’s guide, but a look at those rare military mementos we might otherwise never be able to see. Anyone who is interested history — especially flying or military history — will find it appealing.

Silver Wings & Leather Jackets: Rare, Unique, and Unusual Artifacts of First and Second World War Allied Flyers, Jon A. Maguire, Schiffer Publishing, 2009. Hardcover with dust jacket, 272 pages, $89.99.

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