The Caterpillar and the Raven-Haired Model
(SNN) - My Dad passed away twelve years ago this month. I thought this might be a good time to relate a couple of extraordinary, funny and true stories about him and avoid the June Father’s Day rush
Both happened while he was learning to fly in WWII. He eventually survived 35 B-17 missions over Germany. You may be surprised to learn he survived flight school.
The first event took place the day I was born. I was born in Brooklyn, NY—I wanted to be close to my Mom. Dad was in Texas and about to join an exclusive and little-known organization called The Caterpillar Club.
He had no choice: It was join or die.
Several months later Dad arranged a three-day assignation with a stunning redheaded fashion model, convinced the Government to pay for it, told my Mom about it, and even helped raise the morale of his fellow air corps aviation cadets.
“The Caterpillar Club”
It was a coincidence Dad joined the club on my day of birth, and no, it’s not for fathers who fear their kid will one day metamorphose into a moth. You don’t choose the day you join; the day chooses you.
The Caterpillar Club has no other rules beyond its eligibility requirement. There are no age, race, sex, nationality, height, weight, IQ or spoken language restrictions. There is no secret handshake.
No amount of money, clout, begging, pleading, entreating or bribing will earn you a membership. There are no dues, no benefits, no monthly newsletters, no bylaws, and no banishment procedures.
Once you are in, you are always in The Caterpillar Club. You receive a membership card and a Caterpillar lapel pin. (I never saw Dad wear his pin. I found a replacement card among his effects.)
Here’s the story. Dad was alone, flying a single engine BT-13 trainer, canopy open to combat the searing, July Texas heat. He was practicing recovery from stalls and spins.
To gather momentum for the spin, he performed a maneuver not unlike a roller coaster going over a hill causing centrifugal force. In mid-maneuver, Dad realized he’d lost something very important—his airplane.
He was surrounded by bright blue sky and ground below.
He did what he was trained to do, pulled his ripcord. His parachute opened as designed, and he floated safely to the scrub below, landing near where his plane crashed. Because the Army Air Corps so needed new pilots, a cadet wasn’t always washed out of flight school for losing a trainer. But if it was his fault, he had to wear his flight suit backwards for a week as a badge of shame.
To avoid that fate, Dad raced over to his crashed, unburned aircraft and recovered the defective seatbelt that allowed him to be flung out of the cockpit. After he was picked up he learned he was a father.
What does this have to do with caterpillars?
See, caterpillars make silk. The original material used for parachutes was silk. In 1922, a parachute maker started the club whose membership consists exclusively of people forced to “hit the silk” from disabled military aircraft and were alive because their parachute worked as designed.
The Hot Model
My Dad was in advanced training some months later and had been appointed “Cadet Morale Officer.” He was ordered to come up with a Morale-boosting idea by his commanding officer.
He presented a plan he told the commander was the perfect way to raise the morale of cadets. Members of the Corps had something in common, Dad pointed out, they all missed their wife or girlfriend.
Dad suggested each cadet should anonymously submit a picture of his sweetheart or wife with the entire Corps selecting the most attractive entry, who would become the Cadet Queen. The prize would be an all-expenses paid three-day visit with her loved one, and inauguration as Cadet Queen.
The Colonel agreed enthusiastically. What he did not know was that Dad’s wife, my Mom, was a former John Robert Powers photograph model and still had an album full of glamour shots.
She won in a landslide. A few weeks later Mom, in all her raven-haired, photo-model beauty, and with her infant son by her side, was on her way to Texas, where Dad was first to greet her.
The topper? A baby-sitter hired for the Cadet Queen’s Coronation Dinner became ill at the last moment. The commander’s wife found a last-second replacement—her husband, the colonel who had approved the Morale-raising event to begin with.
John "Cork" Corcoran Visit his breakingsatire blog and his comment blog. Follow Cork on Twitter
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