Original U.S. WWII B-24 Liberator Bombardier Caterpillar Club Named Grouping - 345th Bomb Squadron

Item Description

Original Item: One-of-a-kind. Lieutenant Hal David Souter (ASN O-1695510) was a Bombardier assigned to the 345th Bomb Squadron, 98th Bombardment Group, 15th Air Force during Wold War Two. On June 6th, 1944 in a mission to bomb oil refineries around Ploiești, Romania  his B-24 was brought down and he survived. We were able to locate the missing crew report in the National Archives, copies of which are included. He was given a battlefield commission after his safe return to the service. Because he was able to survive and make it back he was made an honorary member of the Caterpillar Club.

The Caterpillar Club is an informal association of people who have successfully used a parachute to bail out of a disabled aircraft. After authentication by the parachute maker, applicants receive a membership card and a distinctive lapel pin. The nationality of the person saving their life by parachute and ownership of the aircraft are not factors in determining qualification for membership; anybody who has saved their life by using a parachute after bailing out of a disabled aircraft is eligible. The requirement that the aircraft is disabled naturally excludes parachuting enthusiasts in the normal course of a recreational jump, or those involved in military training jumps. The club was founded by Leslie Irvin of the Irvin Airchute Company of Canada in 1922. (Though Leslie Irvin is credited with inventing the first free-fall parachute in 1919, parachutes stored in canisters had saved the lives of observers in balloons and several German, Austro-Hungarian pilots of disabled military aircraft in the First World War.) The name "Caterpillar Club" simply makes reference to the silk threads that made the original parachutes thus recognizing the debt owed to the silk worm. Other people have taken the metaphor further by comparing the act of baling out with that of the caterpillar letting itself down to earth by a silken thread. Another metaphor is that caterpillars have to climb out of their cocoons to escape.

Included in this named grouping are the following items:
- Class A Uniform Tunic in OD Green offered in excellent condition. The tunic features a rare Caterpillar Club Pin, sterling silver Bombardier wings, 15th Air Force patch on right shoulder, Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon, Air Medal ribbon, Purple Heart and European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with battle star. Size is approximately a US 38.

- Class A Uniform Tunic in Khaki offered in excellent condition. This jacket is tailor made and is named to H D SUITOR on the inside pocket label and dated 4/45. Size is approximately a US 38.

- Original Air Medal in Case.

- Original officer visor "crush" cap by DODD'S of Miami Beach, FL in approximate size US 7.

- OD Green officer shirt.

- Original Dog Tags.

Established as a B-24 Liberator heavy bomb squadron and trained by Third Air Force. Deployed to Egypt in June 1942 over South Atlantic Transport Route transiting from Morrison Field, Florida though the Caribbean to Brazil; performed trans-Atlantic crossing from Brazil to Liberia, then transited east across central Africa to Sudan. Lastly the group reformed with the ground echelon which traveled by ship around the Cape of Good Hope, joining with air echelon in British Palestine.

Assigned to the newly formed IX Bomber Command, the squadron operated from airfields in Egypt; Libya and Tunisia supporting the British Eighth Army in the Western Desert Campaign. Also staged long-range strategic bombardment of enemy military and industrial targets in Sicily; Italy and the Southern Balkans, including attacking the NSDAP-controlled oilfields at Ploiești, Romania.

Reassigned to Fifteenth Air Force in southern Italy; continuing strategic bombardment raids on Occupied France; Southern Germany; Austria and targets in the Balkans. In the summer of 1944, the squadron participated in the invasion of southern France, assisted in the Soviet advance into the Balkans, and supported the partisans and guerrillas in Yugoslavia and neighboring countries.

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