It was Jan. 2, 1945, when Captain Sydney Cole jumped out of a Piper Cub airplane over Belgium.
It was a jump he hadn’t planned on making.
Capt. Cole’s plane had been shot down by German forces. As he plummeted downward, Cole reached for his parachute pull-string and yanked. His chute deployed about 1,000 feet above one of the most critical and bloody battles in World War II, the Battle of the Bulge.
“…2nd Lieutenant Sydney Cole was forced to jump out of his disabled Piper Cub airplane over the skies of Belgium and into German-held territory. He deployed his Irvin backpack-style parachute at an altitude of 1000 feet and survived the emergency jump,” a statement from the VA Western New York Healthcare System reports.
Upon landing, Capt. Cole completed the two requirements of membership in the Caterpillar Club, WKBW reports. One was jumping out of a damaged airplane. The other was parachuting to the ground alive.
In other words, it happens by accident.
“It has been described as the club that no one wants to join, but it’s distinguished members include aviation pioneers Charles Lindbergh, astronaut John Glenn and former president, George H.W. Bush,” the VA maintains.
According to War History Online, “The club began in 1922 after Harold Harris successfully bailed out of a damaged aircraft using a parachute made by the Irvin Airchute Company of Canada. The company marked the occasion by sending Harris a gold pin. Harris wasn’t actually the first person whose life had been saved by a parachute. That honor should go to William O’Connor, a pilot who landed on McCook Field, an air station near Dayton, Ohio on August 24, 1920.”
Shortly after World War I, Leslie Leroy Irvin was looking for ways to market his new freefalling parachute. He sent gold pins to anyone whose life was saved by his parachutes. The pins were shaped like caterpillars, a nod to the club’s motto, “Life depends on a silken thread.”
By 1928, the club had 87 members, War History Online reports. Today, there are an estimated 100,000, but not all have been rightfully recognized.
Capt. Cole, now 106 years old, is finally getting his Caterpillar Club pin, 75 years after completing the requirements.
“Captain Sydney Cole, we are pleased to be able to reissue the prestigious caterpillar pin to you, as well as the ORIGINAL application for membership that you signed in December of 1945,” the VA release states. “God Bless America and thank you for the sacrifices you made on behalf of all Americans.”
Along with the golden caterpillar pin, Capt. Cole also earned the Purple Heart medal, Prisoner of War medal, and a WWII Victory medal for his actions during the war.
Learn more about the Caterpillar Club in the video below.Whizzco