Last week’s post featured the Caterpillar Club badge of RAAF pilot Patrick Heffernan who became member number 16000 of Irvin’s European Division of the Caterpillar Club when he was forced to bail out from his Wellington bomber in November 1943.
Back in the 1920’s, along with Irvin, another manufacturer of parachutes, the Switlik Parachute Co of Trenton, New Jersey also thought that the caterpillar was a good idea to promote sales of its parachutes. Members of the Switlik Caterpillar Club, mostly Americans, receive a large certificate and a metal badge bearing the word ‘CATERPILLAR’ along the length of the badge. Like Irvin, Switlik continues to issue Caterpillar Club membership today and has also taken on the role for issuing membership to individuals whose lives had been saved using a Pioneer parachute for their emergency descent.
The Switlik Caterpillar Club badge that I feature here is one that was issued in 1992 to an old Russian airman who made an emergency descent in June 1943. I bought this pin back in 2005 from well-known para insignia collector, Don Strobaugh. He provided the following background to this particular pin.
“For more than 50 years, I used to do a lot traveling throughout the world. Several times during those years, I visited an older Soviet friend of mine in Leningrad. I spoke no Russian and he didn’t speak English, so we had a mutual friend who translated for us. I knew that he had been a Soviet paratrooper in 1936, because I had done some wonderful trading with him for 1930’s era Soviet parachutist badges that he had. Kept. During one of my visits in 1990, I also learned that he had become a Soviet Naval Air Force bomber pilot prior to WWII and had made an emergency parachute jump after having been shot down by the Germans on 23 June 1941. I mentioned that there was an organization that recognized emergency parachute jumps and asked if he would like to be a member of the Caterpillar Club. He said yes, so when I returned to the States, I submitted al of the information that he had given me that the Switlik Parachute Company needed to confirm his eligibility for the award. In 1992, when my wife and I went to visit him again, I hand carried the Caterpillar Club certificate and pin with me and presented it to him 51 years after his emergency jump. Last year the pin was returned to me by an anonymous sender from St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad). He had no living relatives that I knew of, so this was probably telling me that he had passed away and someone had found my name associated with this pin. I received only the pin, not the certificate.”
When Don sent me the pin he also included a note which was returned with the pin which had the Pilot’s name, AЕВИНСОН, typed on a small piece of paper, which I think translates to Aevinson, but I have been unable to find out any more about this individual.
As can be seen from the picture, my 1992 period pin, does differ from the type made by the Metal Arts Co. of Rochester, New York (below) which Switlik issued during WW2 and are more often associated with the Switlik Caterpillar Club. I am not sure when Switlik changed the design and manufacture of their pin to the style that I have.
Cindy Farrar Bryan shows some good pictures of the Caterpillar Club pins, membership cards and documentation in this post which recounts the story behind how her father, S/Sgt. George Farrar, a waist gunner on a B-17 in the 384th Bomb Group, earned his membership after an emergency jump in September 1944. The US Militaria Forum also has a great thread about the Caterpillar, Goldfish and Sea Squatters Club badges which includes lots of detailed pictures featuring both the front and backs of the various pin types and is an invaluable resource for collectors. And finally, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum recently published a great article on the ‘first’ members of the Caterpillar Club and also holds the Lt. Col. Falk Harmel Caterpillar Club Collection (1922-1940) which includes photographs and detailed reports of each of the first 700 documented emergency parachute jumps.
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