Have you ever heard of the Caterpillar Club? The Caterpillar Club is an association of people who have successfully used a parachute to jump out of a disabled aircraft. The club began in the 1920s, and though not limited to military personnel, many club members received admittance while serving in the military. Those admitted to the club received a caterpillar lapel pin identifying them as members. The Irvin Airchute Company was one of the companies that claimed to have founded the Caterpillar Club and created pins to award to members saved by Irvin parachutes. Other parachute makers followed suit. Branches of the Caterpillar Club still exist today. The club’s name refers to the silk threads used to make original parachutes, and though it’s a club that nobody wants to join, once admitted, membership comes with bragging rights and a sense of pride.
The origins of the Caterpillar Club aren’t known, with several different people or organizations claiming to be the original founders. Our Fold3® collections contain declassified microfilm made available from a private donor. The microfilm dates from the 1920s and contains records from the US Army Air Corps related to the Caterpillar Club. You’ll find remarkable stories of Airmen who survived jumping from a disabled aircraft.
Charles Lindberg was an early member of the Caterpillar Club with four jumps to his credit. One jump came after a mid-air collision in 1925. While practicing formations and diving attacks over Kelley Field, Texas, Lindberg collided with Lt. C.D. McAllister. “My head was thrown forward against the cowling, and my plane seemed to turn around. Our ships were locked together…I jumped backwards as far from the ship as possible. Fearing the wreckage might fall on me, I did not pull the rip cord until I had dropped several hundred feet. The parachute functioned perfectly,” said Lindberg. Lt. McAllister also jumped from his disabled aircraft, and he, too, earned admission to the Caterpillar Club.
During WWII, the Caterpillar Club was incorporated as an official organization, and membership increased dramatically. T/Sgt. Russell B. Graham earned his membership when his B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down on February 26, 1945, after a bombing raid on Berlin. Graham and the rest of the crew bailed out. They could not see the ground until just before landing. Graham landed in a tree and survived. He kept the parachute that saved his life and, following the war, brought it home. His mother used the fabric to sew a small blessing gown, and many of Graham’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were blessed in that gown.
Would you like to learn more about the Caterpillar Club? Read more accounts of the heroic jumps that earned admission to the Caterpillar Club and see additional records and Memorials for Caterpillar Club members on Fold3® today.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the Catepillar club,Jenny A.
Sincerly,Paul Vernon Thomas.
Seems I need to correct my spelling.To,the Caterpillar club.Dear Jenny Ashcroft.Again,thank you for sharing your knowledge.
Sincerly,Paul Vernon Thomas.
WOW! That is awesome. I have never heard of it. I’ll have to ask my uncle, who is 101. He was a pilot, who ferried supplies to Europe and Africa for WWII.
Dear Mr. Scruggs, Thank your uncle for me for his flying skill.
My father was the navigator in a B-24 replacement crew that flew a new plane to the ETO via the southern route through Belem, Natal and across to Dakar in Feb 1944. Did your uncle fly through these points? If so, did he have to ‘sign in’ his AC as the pilot when landing with the AAF base authorities? Current authorities have told me that no take-off landing permission records still exist for Air Transport Command bases on the southern route. I just want to verify if they were recorded at the time. Does he have any recollections/descriptions of those bases? ..like amount of traffic in winter ’43/’44.
BTW- dad never got his caterpiller club patch. They were shot down on #19 and stayed as guests in SLuftIII. Needless to say, his ‘chute worked fine. If your plane was burning when you jumped, the Brits ‘unofficial’ patch had red eyes….
proud and grateful son of J.A. Griffith,nav, 8th AAF, 389th BG(H), 567th BS.
My father, and what was left of his 14th Fighter Group, 49th Squadron of P-38 pilots, finished their missions in North Africa in Feb. 1943 and took the ATC plane back to the states through the southern route of Africa. He took a few pictures of their stopover in Liberia and flying over the Amazon in Brazil.
My father, James William Jones of Alabama, was in 502nd PIR Co A in WW2. Did paratroopers become members? I’d never heard of it.
I have his notebook from jump school saying he was plenty scared, but his records at archives were burned and I have no idea what jumps he may have made in WW2.
Thanks for your work
Hello David. My understanding is that paratroopers did NOT become members. They jumped out of operational planes on purpose. The Caterpillar Club was for people who had to jump out of damaged or destroyed planes to save their lives.
Well I was thinking in the case where their plane was shot down and they had to jump
It’s good to know new things I get excited…
The caterpillar club was for Air Force members who used a parachute to jump out or bail out of a crashing plane , my father received his from the Pioneer Parachute Company in Manchester CT
A family friend was a Fly Engineer/Top Gunner on a B17 with the 8th AFC and their plane was damage on the 6 mission so they had to jump. All made it out okay and he and several other were taken prisoners. In the last 50s he show his card to my family. RIP Arthur “Art” M. Pacha.
In the UK the club has folded BUT the original membership book is kept by a parachute making company in Bridgend, South Wales and any potential members have to apply to them to obtain the badge and have their name entered in the ledger. I have suggsted to the owners some time ago that they present the book to the Imperial War Museum in London in case the company folds and the book is lost; it is priceless!!
Martin Sugarman (Archivist of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women of the UK – AJEX, London, UK)
Hi, sorry to hear that the club in the UK has folded. My late father was a proud member, blown out of his Lancaster on the Nuremberg raid in March 1944. I would certainly support your request to have the records held somewhere publicly.
I am one of the Learning Officers at the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln. We often discuss about the Caterpillar club and have a donated badge to show to visiting school groups, which is different from the one in this article.
We have a digital archive that catalogues scanned original documents and I believe preserving this book in a digital format would be greatly beneficial.
Thank you for sharing this message and so many others. I forward them to other people who also like the messages…..thanks
How old is the club? My maternal grandfather, 1LT Lewallace Wendell Taylor, was a balloon pilot/observer during WWI. Family lore has it that he made at least two jumps when his balloon was attacked and shot down by German aircraft. Is there any way to check this?
Thanks for sharing this little know piece of history
Interesting Henry Wacker and John Alexander ‘Jack’ Boettner July 21, 1919 were in the
Goodyear Type FD dirigible balloon “The Wing-Foot Express” which crashed Chicago, Ill
I believe ‘William O’Connor’ is actually a nom de plume for a possibly serving US Army Parachutist who worked for the Jahn Aerial Life-saving Apparatus Company and was demonstrating their new parachute from a USD-9 (US Built Airco DH.9A) McCook Field, Ohio on August 24, 1920 but it was insisted he also have a US Army one ‘just in case’ – he needed it….. I have never been able to track O’Connor down – My hunch is that he was Sgt 1st Class Orville Philip “Jack” Bonn
My dad was in it. His pin had red eyes signifying his plane was on fire at the time.
Thanks to your father for his service
I just learned something new by reading this article. Thanks to all military personnel.
BTW – There is more than a ‘book/register’ held in Bridgend Wales – Sometimes they have actually letters of application which provide details of the use of the parachute escape..
The club started after October 20, 1922 when 1st Lieut. Harold Ross Harris escaped from PW-2A
AS-64388 – so any WW1 balloon escapes were not included in it – nor was the post WW1 Balloon escape of Lieutenant Richard William Bert’ Mackie December 3, 1918 when he jumped from a runaway balloon in Texas – Wacker, Boettner and O’Connor were added retrospectively after the club started Air Mail Pilot Mr Carroll C. “Mike”/”Mickey” Eversole on February 18, 1921 was rejected as it claimed he jumped deliberately – I have also seen a claim for Audley (Arthur) Theodore “Tex” Frolich on 26th (16th August 1922 also claimed) over Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee – but not been able to stand it up independently yet.
I know of the Caterpillar Club as I have my granda’s membership card (and my aunt has the badge). He was a navigator on a Lancaster Bomber and had to make an emergency parachute jump when his plane was hit while on a bombing mission over Poland in Feb 1944. Only he, and two other crew members survived. The pilot, a young Australian, aged just 19, was killed – we visited the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln a couple of years ago and found his name on the memorial. Very moving. Anyway, my granda ended up in a German POW camp for the rest of the war but if it hadn’t been for that parachute neither me nor any of my family would be here today. I always find it incredible that he went on to live a fairly ordinary life as a civil servant, working for the Customs & Excise, and then tending his vegetable garden in his retirement and yet back in 1944 he had to jump out of a burning plane to save himself.
great story and obviously a great man. I hope his legacy lives on forever.
My tale is similar to yours. My dad was a bomb aimer /navigator stationed with 77 Squadron at RAF Elvington, near York. His Halifax bomber was shot down over Holland on the way to bomb Essen 1st May 1943 . After giving the order to bail out, Camburn the pilot was still on board when the burning aircraft exploded. My dad and one other member of the crew, Butlin were the only survivors . Dutch resistance leader Dr J Kreumel picked up my dad near Appeldoorn and kept him hidden until it was safe to put him on the escape route to the Channel via Paris. He made it to Paris, but was betrayed by a double agent called de Witter and spent the rest of the war as a POW. He nearly perished during the infamous Death March when POWs were force marched west as the Red Army advanced. He escaped during the march only to catch diphtheria but was recaptured and treated by a Polish doctor in the POW camp hospital. During a subsequent retreat from the Red Army, the Germans put my dad into the infamous Steam Ship SS Insterburg, together with 2000 other POWs crammed into the hold in appalling conditions, which I believe sailed from the Baltic to escape the Russian advance. He was eventually liberated by the Russians and returned home to his wife and 2 yr old son (me) whom he had never met. He regularly wore his Caterpillar Club tie pin, which I still possess, together with his membership card. Until his 80s, my dad always attended the annual “Kriegie Call”, a re-union of former Stalag Luft POWs, held at Sywell, Northamptonshire, (former RAF Sywell.).
Alongside the Caterpillar Club was the Goldfish Club. Airmen who baled out over or ditched in the sea and whose lives were saved by a life raft were eligible. My Dad was a member having ditched in a Blackburn Botha in October 1942 – report as below:
Blackburn Botha Mk I
Owner/operator: 3 RDFS Royal Air Force (3 RDFS RAF)
Fatalities: Fatalities: / Occupants:
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location: 1.5 miles off Turnberry, Ayrshire ”
Although the report gives no details of casualties i believe a civilian scientist was lost. It was reported that both engines failed – Dad was a pilot.
I have his membership card – Victor Miles
There is a book called Turnberry Airfield recently printed which gives an exhaustive history of the airfield from WW1 and lists all the units, aircraft and personnel which were based there. It was adangerous place to learn to fly as the main runway is at right angles to the prevailing west wind.
It had more than its fair share of accidents.
thank you – I will look out the book
Sgt Robert Charles CARRINGTON – 1270267, commemorated on Panel 79 of the Runnymede Memorial.
thank you – fills in a gap in my records
I was an Airborne Engineer but our mission was to build airfields. Thanks to our jumpers for their efforts! At Ft. Bragg, N.C., many went on Saturday Night jumps to practice & sharpen their skills. Thanks, ALL!
My dad was a P-38 pilot in England in 1942 when he was “scrambled” to look for enemy aircraft coming into the area near his base at Atcham. His plane developed navigation problems while high in the clouds. When he discovered he was heading straight down at over 400 mph, he bailed out. He was the first known pilot to survive bailing out of a P-38. He too became a member of the Caterpillar Club with the papers and pin handed down to me.
A book was written about the caterpillar club. “Into the Silk” by Ian Mackersey. A very interesting book. It states that Leslie Irvin created the club and it’s rules and the pins. There are two branches of this club. Irvin Industries Canada Ltd at Fort Erie, Ontario and the parachute factory of Irvin Great Britain Ltd in Letchworth, Hertfordshire.
In that book, “Into The Silk” my father’s story is told on P.155. He later contacted Lockheed engineers who told him because of inverse pressure on the airspeed pitot, his speed was likely about 550 mph !
My brother was a trainee signaller in the RAF. He was flying on a training mission at night in March 1955 over the south coast of England in a Vickers Varsity when both engines caught fire. The crew all bailed out but were scattered over the Devon countryside in the dark. He landed in a field near a farmhouse, uninjured, and went to the farmhouse and knocked on the door. The farmer’s wife opened the door, let out a scream and fainted She thought that he was a spaceman as he still had on his oxygen mask and helmet! This was the era of UFO reports worldwide.
They phoned the police and all the crew were picked up unharmed from nearby locations.
The Varsity had glided on and made a pancake landing in a field with no visible sign of structural damage. A few months later he got his Caterpiller badge and certificate through the post.
My father was a paratrooper and served in New Guinea. Unfortunately, he passed away when I was 12 and didn’t know what questions to ask. I do know that he was injured when landing from a jump and ended up in an ‘airplane’ cast (no pun intended!). What I don’t know is if he jumped from a plane that was disabled or as they say, ‘jumped out of a perfectly fine airplane’.
How would I find out for sure? His name was Jack H. Jeffers (Ross) and he was a PFC. His birthdate was Christmas Day 1924.
Carol S. Jeffers Smith
My dad was in New Guinea also. Have many pix he took. If you would like a copy, let me know.
My father Francis W. Oliver was a member of the caterpillar club. He and the other crewmen bailed out when their bomber caught fire during an exercise in Kansas. Dad was injured on landing an had to be hospitalized. I still have his pin mounted with his other insignia and picture on my memorial wall.
This was very interesting to read. Thanks for sharing it.
Your father is a member of a very elite group. What an honor.
Any members in Cincinnati?
I have a radio program on public radio WMKV
Would like to interview a member
I have my wings from Benning in 1957 but tdy and returned to Polk
Thanks for posting
Very interesting story.
When I was in US Navy, Aviation, we had an officer who in the training squadron who had to eject once. The new Martin Baker seat caused him to be 1/2 inch shorter later on. He was also told if he had to do it again he might be taken off fight status.
John A. Boettner and Herbert Maxson participated in the 1926 International Balloon Race – Antwerp, Belgium. Their balloon iced up and was sinking so they proceeded to jettison ballast. They hit the ground and Maxson fell out which caused the balloon to rise rapidly and pop. Boettner baled out with a parachute, surviving his doomed airship, and became a member of “The Caterpillar Club”. I did not know if this was his first pin awarded. I have a short snorter signed by Herb Maxson and others during 1926.
Maxson (Second Pilot) fell from Balloon when it hit the ground near Antwerp Monday 31st may 1926 he escaped with slight bruises. Boettner still continued but was out of race and disqualified – he landed the balloon solo in Holland that evening – I can find no evidence he bailed out of the balloon in this case – I have been studying UK Caterpillar incidents up to May 1940 and US 1934 for over 10 years – but happy to be corrected
My uncle, Robert E. Connor, Jr. was a member. His plane was shot down over Tokyo Bay and he was rescued by the Trepang submarine.
My father, Joseph E. Fletscher, was a recipient too from bailing out of a training plane at age 19 that was involved in a mid-air collision after the plane took off from Alameda Air Station. When he was picked up he still had the ripcord handle still in his hand. The ripcord I have and he presented our youngest daughter when she was only 10 with the Caterpillar Pin after she responded to rescue him after he had a cardiac event while on a ladder in his backyard. He felt he was lucky one more time and his rescuer needed the honor of having it.
My dad would have been in the Caterpillar Club, in fact I heard him mention it. He baled out of a Lancaster bomber over Normandy. His name was William (Bill Johnson) and the pilots name was Richard Silvio Palandri, if you type Richard’s name into your favourite search engine, you will find the story. Other people have taken an interest in it.
Does the club include modern day pilots who have had to eject from their aircraft, no matter the armed service? (from an old USAF ejection seat mechanic)
To my understanding of the club rules the answer is yes. Basically, any emergency ejection, anytime, from any aircraft, with any parachute. Please check the rules
Thank You for serving Our Country God Bless All of You Always.
Hello to all,
My Grandfather was a member of the Caterpillar Club. I have his ID card to the club. I would love to add his information and story to this area of information in history. Please let me know if interested. Thank you.
I inherited my cousin’s husband’s Caterpillar Club certificate from WWII. He had to make an emergency parachute jump over then-Burma on Nov. 19, 1944, and was rescued by a teacher in Kachai Village. There’s another certificate from the parachute manufacturer, Cole, commemorating this event, and some handwritten notes surrounding the survival and rescue. Is there any place that collects these documents? I’m not sure what to do with them. Seems they might be of historical interest to someone.
I wonder if the WW2 museum in New Orleans would be interested.
I don’t know if there’s anywhere that collects these particular documents, but you can always donate them to your local historical society – or the one where he lived, if different. They’ll be catalogued and kept safe for future generations.
I have my father’s pin. He was shot down over the North Sea in WWII. The pin has red eyes.
My Dad’s pin also has red eyes – I believe this means their planes were on fire when they bailed out.
I was in the business of air dispatch in the Australian Army in the late 1960s. This also required us to be trained as parachutists. On “graduation” from training we were presented with “wings” patches, and also received an Irvin pin. However, thankfully, the DHC-4 Caribou and and C-130 Hercules aircraft we worked in were fully operational.
My Grandfather was one. Edgar Gafton Carlisle.
He did serve during WWII as a pilot for the RAF, but earned his Caterpillar Club membership in 1936 over Pennsylvania, with his “observer” Claude L Craven.
27 May 1936 Douglas O-38B 32-335 of 103 Observation Squadron, 28 Air Division, Pennsylvania Air National Guard
Pilot 1st Lt Edgar Grafton Carlisle Jr O-274928
Observer 1st Lt Claude Lincoln Craven O-322983
Both bailed out due to Weather, 10 mi SE of Brookville, PA
They were caught in a hail storm enroute to Cleveland and were forced to take to the parachute and made the landing safely several miles apart
My father is a member, his B24 was shot down March 8 1944 coming back from a Berlin bombing raid , he was in his 9th mission , 8th Air Corp , 448th bomb group, 715th bomb squadron
My uncle, John C. Hess, was a member of the Catepillar Club. His B17 was shot down in 1944 and he was captured after he parachuted out. He was sent to Stalog 17B where he remained a prisoner until the war’s end.
John volunteered for military service in the Army Air Corps in January 1942. He was a member of the 358th Bomb Squadron of the 303rd Bomb Group, the Hell’s Angels, of the 1st Bomber Division based at Molesworth, England. While returning from mission # 12, on April 22, 1944, John’s plane, a B-17, was shot down over Belgium. He was taken prisoner by the German Government and was a prisoner in the famed German prisoner of war camp, Stalag 17B, in Krems, Austria. John was liberated on May 3, 1945 by General George S. Patton’s 13th Armored Division of the 3rd Army, after a 280 mile forced march across Austria.
Good to know.interesting.
A friend who jumped out of a burning B17 in WW2 wore the pin with red eyes. pow In Stalag 17B in Austria.
No I haven’t Joseph.thanks.
No I haven’t Joseph
In reply to Michael Fearneyhough’s message about his father.
Evaders, would-be evaders, their helpers and betrayers is a subject that has completely fascinated me since the mid-1980s. During the course of this time it has been my privilege to collect all the archival and anecdotal information I could about all of them.
If you believe anything I might have anything about your father, his friend Frank Sanders (and the fates of his genuine helpers), that might be of interest to you perhaps there is a way we can establish contact.
Both were victims of the notorious false line run by Prosper Dezitter & his mistress Florie Dings (of Brussels) when they were captured in Paris on 25 July 1943.
Thanks for your comments and thanks for the correct name for the betrayers. If you have any further information about my father’s case , I’d be really interested to hear. My email is [email protected].
My dad, Ray Bence, was a member. His caterpillar lapel pin was the only reminder of the war he ever wore. The pin is red, white, and blue enamel stripes overlaid with a gold caterpillar. The backing is engraved with his name and date of jump.
He was nosegunner in Lt. Fromm’s crew, Squadron 703, BG 445. His plane was one of 25 B24s shot done during the infamous Kassel Mission on September 27, 1944.
During Covid I got serious with Genealogy. In 2022 I found some long lost living relatives. Two months ago I was contacted by my Father’s cousin in California. When she was a little girl her mother made her a brides dress for her doll with the silk. She still had several large pieces but didn’t know where they came from. It was from my Father’s parachute. He jumped out of a damaged plane in North Africa and got a Purple Heart. The parachute was mailed to me and for 80 years old it is in great shape. My Father served on a B-17 as Flight Engineer. He flew 85 missions. 50 North Africa, 35 England. I was also able to find the pilot of that plane and had some long conversations. The plane had 2 engines shot out, 190 holes and cables disabled. Pilot Charles Wardwell made the 8 crew jump and he and Ralph Campbell landed the plane. It never flew again and went to the boneyard. A drawing of that incident was on the front page of the New York paper. that I am lucky enough to have a copy.
Thank you for this article. I had never heard of the Caterpillar Club, but I just discovered my husband is a member! He has a small lapel pin and a certificate.
Really interesting information. I’m proud to say that my Dad, John McVane Anderson, is a member of the Caterpillar Club. He flew Spitfires in WW2, and while flying over Argenta in Italy on 20th April 1945, his plane sustained a shot to its radiator, which brought it down. Dad parachuted to safety, and so became a member of the exclusive Caterpillar Club. Fortunately, he was not captured by enemy forces, but managed to “thumb a lift” with a British lorry, and return to his squadron. Dad passed away in 1988 at the young age of 64, but his Caterpillar Club badge has pride of place in his memory box.
My husband, in 1977, had to use his parachute to leave a crashing Vulcan over Norfolk. He earned his caterpillar and we were shown around the parachute factory. We even met the lady who packed his chute. That was a day of privilege. Thank you for telling people about this club.
I have a few “unofficial” Caterpillar Club patches available.
I’m always looking for WWII Caterpillar Club items from 8th AF veterans. So happy to see this in Fold3.
My father, WWII veteran has a Caterpillar pin. He along with the rest of his crew jumped out of their B-17 after it was shot down over Austria. He has since pasted away but it sits in a place of honor along with his other medals.
My Dad, Don Cielewich, was a B-17 pilot who flew with the Bloody 100th out of Thorpes-Abbott in England. On Aug 14, 1944 on a bombing mission to the chemical factory at Ludwigshafen, Germany his plane went down. He and his crew bailed out and all survived. Unfortunately they were all captured. My father was on the loose for several days trying to make his way to France. He was captured by a German Farmer with a shotgun and turned over to the Nazis. After interrogation he was sent to Stalag Luft III. As the Russians advanced Stalag Luft III prisoners were force marched to Mossburg. Moosburg was liberated by General Patton on April 29, 1945. I remember my Dad proudly wearing his caterpillar emblem in the lapel of his suit when he went to work. He never talked about his war experience. I learned what the caterpillar emblem meant after my father passed and I tracked down my father’s Co-pilot to learn more about their final mission. Ah-The Greatest Generation-quiet hero’s!
“He never talked about his war experience.”
My father never talked to me about them either, but in his last years he did tell my sister about them, including the “hose out” jobs – eg this description from his pilot: “24 Dec 1944, Over Clark Field, Luzon: A 90 mm shell had entered just aft of the bomb-bay and exploded inside the airplane, killing radio operator T/Sgt. Paul Deis instantly. Waist gunner, Sgt. Vernon J. Farup, was trying to help the injured. Fifty-caliber machine gun ammunition in the waist position was exploding in all directions. Sgt. Farup threw the ammo boxes out the waist windows.”
I can imagine many possible reasons, but I wonder why?
Very interesting read about the Caterpillar Club and military personnel who had to parachute from a disabled plane! Although my dad did not have to jump from a disabled plane, he was a paratrooper as well as a medic. He made several jumps and put his life on the line to help injured soldiers and received metals. We don’t hear or read enough about these hero’s.
I see Walter Behlow in this list
These are the names of most of the 505 Combat Team medics:
Adams, Clayton C.
Adams, Harlan F.
Adams, Harry E.
Adams, Ralph T.
Adkins, George B.
Affleck, John H.
Akers, Raymond L.
Alton, Philip A.
Attaya, Arthur B.
Baer, Leroy E.
Baldwin, Donald H.
Bard, Thomas A.
Barnette, James E.
Barrett, Kenneth L.
Barrow, William C.
Behlow, Walter H.
Bentle, Dewey H.
Bey, Paul A.
Bickel, Earl L.
Bishop, James C.
Blasdel, Sherwood W.
Bleigh, Ballard C.
Bojarski, Theodore L.
Boucher, Donald M.
Brown, Earnest J.
Brown, Jack E.
Brown, Paul B.
Buck, Rex D.
Bumpus, John J.
Byars, Kelly W.
Yes, Walter is my dad.
My father, RCAF F/O K. A. Dea was assigned to the 421 “Red Indian” Squadron at 2F Wing Grostenquin, France in the mid 1950s. He was flying F-86 Sabre Mk.V A/C 23166. As he had just arrived to the unit another F-86 pilot took my father up as his wingman for a familiarization flight. They went up through the thick cover of clouds and after some time became separated. Ultimately both Sabres were running low on fuel. The lead Sabre stayed in the area, as long as he could, looking for my father until he had no choice but to return to base. Meanwhile my father, near Bitburg, ran out of fuel and was forced to eject. He landed safely and made his way back to the base within 24 hours. He did receive his Caterpillar Pin and certification.
Lancaster ED771 PO-E 467 Squadron (R.A.A.F.) crashed 1st May 1943 in Harderwijk, the Netherlands. 3 died, 4 bailed out, 3 survived. F/L Rex A. Cragie 40210, Sgt William T. Fair 929876 and P/O Geoffrey Phillips 130512. Were they members of the Caterpillar Club?
My husband, Bob Pavelko, and his navigator became a members of the Caterpillar Club in an unusual way. As a pilot of an FB-111A, Bob was flying a high-speed, low-level training sortie (550 mph at 400 feet above the ground) in northern Maine on December 23, 1975. The left engine compressor failed sending compressor blades through the fuel tank starting an uncontrollable fire in the fuselage that burned through the flight controls. Unable to control the plane, Bob had no choice but to eject. In an FB-111A, the entire cockpit is ejected as a capsule with a parachute attached at the top. At the moment of ejection, the capsule was upside-down in a 60 degree dive. Bob saw the plane crash before the parachute fully deployed and only had time for one swing before the capsule landed on the snow covered ground. The temperature was 10 degrees F below zero. Both Bob and his navigator were able to walk away.
Bob received a lapel pin and certificate from M. Steinthal & Co., Inc. saying that Bob “has successfully used a M. Steinthal & Co., Inc. parachute in an emergency, and is hereby awarded membership in our Caterpillar Club.”
My father was an airborne parachute rigger in the US Army from 1954 until he retired in 1976 after 22 years. He should have been a member of the caterpillar club when he was on an aircraft headed to Alaska in 1955 with others from his company on the flying box car (C-119) and the engines caught fire and they all had to bail out. The two crew members died in that crash but all of the passengers including my dad bailed out with parachutes scattered over quite an area. I tried to contact them the company last year to see if he could get a pin, but I got no response from the company that handles it now. He is 87 years old now and has a lot of pride from serving and his Army career. I had my wife make him a Caterpillar quilt with most of the patches from his commands, but would love to have given him a pin to go along with it. Too bad these companies have dropped the ball.
My father Clark W. Smith bailed out of his P-38 fighter in Tunisa, at the end of December 1942. He was the second American fighter pilot to land in North Africa. He was shot down 4 missions shy of coming home at about 1500 feet and broke his ankle upon landing. He was captured and was a POW for 28 Months. He was in the club.
I think piloting the P38 must have been an awesome experience. My father couldn’t be a pilot because he was color blind. Ended up being a paratrooper in 101st Airborne.
They sure were – USAAF’s top scoring ace was Richard Bong, flying a P-38.
Here’s how he got started – report by General Kenney:
“In San Francisco I on had just the morning finished where of reading I July was long report concerning the exploits of one of my young pilots who had been looping the loop around the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge in a P-38 fighter plane and waving to the stenographic help in the office buildings as he flew along Market Street. The report noted that, while it had been extremely difficult to get information from the somewhat sympathetic and probably conniving witnesses, there was plenty of evidence proving that a large part of the waving had been to people on some of the lower floors of the buildings.
A woman on the outskirts of Oakland was quoted as saying that she didn’t need any help from my fighter pilots in removing her washing General from Kenney the clotheslines Reports-July unless zyx, 1942 zythey would zyxlike to do it on the ground.
Considering the mass of evidence, it was surprising that more complaints had not been registered, but in any event zyI would have to do something about the matter. Washington was determined to stop low-altitude stunting and had put out some stringent instructions about how to handle the budding young aviators who broke the rules. The investigating officer had recommended a General Court-Martial.
I had sent word to the pilot’s commander that I wanted to see the lad in my office, and I was expecting him at any minute. My secretary opened the door and said, “Your bad boy is outside. You remember-the one you wanted to see about flying around bridges and down Market Street.”
I said to send him in. I heard her say, “The General will see you now, Lieutenant,” and in walked one of the nicest-looking cherubs you ever saw in your life. I suspected that he was not over eighteen and maybe even younger. I doubted if he was old enough to shave. He was just a little blond-haired Norwegian boy about five feet six, zyxwith a round, pink baby facc and the bluest, most innocent eyes-now opened wide and a bit scared. Someone must have just told him how serious this court-martial thing might be. He wanted to fly and he wanted to get into the war and do his stuff , but now he was finding out that they really were tough about this low-altitude ‘buzzing’ business and it was dawning on him that the commanders all had orders really to bear down on young aviators who flew down streets and rattled dishes in people’s houses. Why, he might be taken off flying status or even thrown out of the Air Force! He wasn’t going to try to alibi out of it, but he sure hoped this General Kenney wasn’t going to be too rough. You could actually see all this stuff going on in his head just behind those baby-blue eyes. He didn’t know it, but he had already ‘ won.
I let him stand at attention while I bawled him out for getting himself in trouble, and Assignment getting zyxwto zyxwvthe me Pacific in trouble, too, zyxbesides giving people the impression that the Air Force was just a lot of irresponsible airplane jockeys. He could see that he was in trouble just by looking at the size and thickness of the pile of papers on my desk that referred to his case. But think zyof all the trouble he had made for me. Now, in order to quiet down the people who didn’t approve of his exuberance, I would have to talk to the Governor, the Mayor, the Chief of Police. Luckily I knew a lot of people in San Francisco who could be talked into a state of forgiveness, but I had a job of looking after the Fourth Air Force and I should spend my time doing that instead of running around explaining away the indiscretions of my wild-eyed pilots.
“By the way, wasn’t the air pretty rough down in that street around the second-story level?” I was really a bit curious. As I remembered, it used to be, when I was first learning to fly.
“Yes, sir, it was kind of rough,” replied the cherub, “but it was easy to control the plane. The aileron control is good in the P-38 and-” He paused. Probably figured he had said enough. For a second, the blue eyes had been interested more than scared. He was talking about his profession and it was more than interest. It was his life, his ambition. I would bet anything that he was an expert in a P-38 and that he wanted to be still better. We needed kids like this lad.
“Lieutenant,” I said, “there is no need for me to tell you again that this is a serious matter. If you didn’t want to fly down Market Street, I wouldn’t have you in my Air Force, but you are not to do it any more and I mean what I say. From now on, if I hear any more reports of this kind about you, I’ll put you before a General Court and if they should recommend dismissal from the service, which they probably would, I’ll approve it.”
I began slowly to tear up the report and drop the pieces of paper in the waste basket. The blue eyes watched, a little puzzled at first, and then the scared look began to die out.
“Monday morning General Kenney you check Reports-July in at this address out Oakland and if that woman has any washing to be hung out on the line, you do it for her. Then you hang around being useful -mowing a lawn or something-and when the clothes are dry, take them off the line and bring them into the house. And don’t drop any of them on the ground or you will have to wash them over again. I want that woman to think we are good for something besides annoying people. Now get out of here quick before I get mad and change my mind. That’s all.” “Yes, sir.” He didn’t dare to change his expression, but the blue eyes had gone all soft and relieved. He saluted and backed out of the office. The next time I saw Lieutenant Richard I. Bong was in Australia.”
Was he with the 48th or 49th FS? My dad, in the 49th, was also with the first group into Tunisia with P-38s in Operation Torch in November 1942. They might have known each other!
My father in law Paddy Fleming was a member of the caterpillar club. I have his little gold caterpillar. He was the only survivor of his plane which crashed and was taken prisoner when he landed in France. He went on to work with various record companies ending up in Sony Records in Soho Square. He worked in PR and looked after many famous people like Sammy Davis Jnr and Frank Sinatra
My father was also a member of the caterpillar club but his badge had a ruby eye. We were told this was because the plane was in flames when he baled out.