THE CAT PATCH
The 503d Parachute
Infantry Regiment's soldiers were already combat veterans by the time they made
their jump on Corregidor. The 503d was selected to participate as part of the
"ROCK FORCE" because of their three previous combat jumps in New
Guinea and because of their convenient location within the Pacific Theater.
These airborne assaults occurred in the Markham Valley in September 1943 and
Noemfoor in July 1944. However the situation in the Pacific did not always call
for the 503d to parachute in to fight as an infantry unit. Often they served as
conventional infantry. In June 1944, the 503d undertook ground assignments near
Hollandia in June, Leyte in November, and Mindoro in December. These battles,
leapfrogging across the Pacific, were critical to General MacArthur's overall
plan to push the Japanese Imperial Army from the region.
Shortly after their
first jump at Nadzab, a small village in the Markham Valley of New Guinea, the
503d had adopted the "descending wildcat" to become their official
insignia. The 503d proudly wore their "wildcat" during the next two
years. It was only after the unit's successful liberation of Corregidor, that
the symbolic "Rock Patch," created by one of the unit's own men, was
adopted unofficially for wear on the sleeve as a unit patch.
The "Wildcat Patch," which was soon
shortened to "Cat Patch," had been dreamed up by the Walt Disney Studios some time
shortly after 7 Dec 1941, and several paratrooper units adopted similar Disney based
patches. The backgrounds remained the same, and the number of the unit was
added, so the design was hardly unique to the 503d.
Les Hughes, formerly of the American Society of Military Insignia Collectors (ASMIC)
and now webmaster of INSIGNE.ORG,
recalls several variants of the cat patch, as during his years as a collector
he's had at least two examples of the version on a felt square, each coming
directly to him via a veteran of the 509 Parachute Infantry Battalion.
He's not seen any examples suggesting the patches were used by any unit other
than the 503rd, but leaves the issue open. Of his examples, one was
embroidered on a light-blue felt square (see below) and the other fully-embroidered on a
disk (see table). The cat is colored differently in the square and disk versions, but
the cat is essentially the same. The disk version also exists, he says, with
both an embroidered border and an olive drab wool border. He recalls
seeing the fully embroidered disk versions in two sizes.
Les says that the
509 had a well know patch of its own ("the Gingerbread Man"), made
in Italy and approved for wear by the men locally, but never approved by the
Army. He considers it unlikely that the Army would ever formally approve
a design executed by Disney as an official patch, as "the Institute of
Heraldry was rather rigid in the types of symbolism it would allow."
Whilst this might have been the case for the larger Army units, the use of
cartoon characters was widespread for Army Air Force squadrons, which sported
versions of almost every popular cartoon character (326th - Alley Oop; 401st
Bombardment - Hairless Joe; 155th Photo Recon - Sylvester the cat; 11th
Bombardment - Mr. Jiggs.) A very fine example is the official unit patch
of the 597th Bombardment, which was...
" Over and through a
light yellow disc, BUGGS BUNNY proper seated on the left wing of a caricatured
grayed green aircraft, holding aloft a carrot proper with the left forepaw,
and shoving a tan and brown aerial bomb off a wing tip with hind feet.
(Approved 20 Dec 1943).
How might veterans of the
509th come by the 503d's Cat Patch? "Well," Les says,
"the 509 began its existence as the 504th Parachute Battalion, the fourth
and last independent parachute battalion of the Army's fledgling airborne
forces. When the Army realized the inadequacy of an airborne force of only
four battalions and began forming its parachute units into regiments, the
504th Battalion became the 2nd Battalion, 503rd PIR. As the 2/503 PIR,
the unit was deployed to England in June 1942, where it trained for the Army's
first airborne operation of WWII: a drop on North Africa. Just prior to
deploying to North Africa, the unit was redesignated 2/509, and later, when
the decision was made not to complete the regiment, it became the 509th
Parachute Infantry Battalion. Anyway, it seems clear to me that the 509
vets had the "cat patch" by virtue of their having once been part of
the 503d. This also tends to date the patch - at least the square
version - probably to early 1942."
Whilst early versions could
have been seen in Africa in 1942, the cat patch was in wide
SWPA use certainly by Nadzab. Elden "Buzz"
Campbell also made reference to wearing the "cat patch" on the
leather flight jacket while serving in Nadzab.
Don Abbott, who was an
early Battalion member is 'almost certain' that it was not an official patch,
and he cannot ever recall wearing it on his Class A uniform, or ever seeing it
there on anyone else. He recalls only sewing it on to
one of the old field jackets. Verne White, who was not an
old-timer with the 503rd when he was seriously wounded on Corregidor, wore
the Cat Patch proudly on his Class A's on his return to the US, through to his
discharge in July '45. "Nobody told me it was not an official patch and it did draw a
lot of favourable comment during that 4-5 month period."
It is well documented
elsewhere that local
commanders had the authority to approve insignia worn by the troops in
their command for "local wear". Nothing "official" was necessary.
Bob Flynn recalls a photograph of Harris Mitchell, wearing a leather flight jacket with the
"cat patch" sewed to the left breast of the jacket, sitting in an orderly room busily
engaged in writing.
was the basis for the stand which Bob took in the research of the "Rock
Patch" painted by Tom Mc Neill on Mindoro following the Corregidor
Breslin criticized Bob's committees' findings in a letter to the Static Line
about a year ago. Bob says "General Jones approved the "Rock Patch." He
told me this at the reunion in Little Rock. He also stated that he asked
Bill Bossert to improve the drawing of the eagle on the Rock
Patch." The fact that field commanders can approve insignia "for
local wear," is well documented. So, there you have some
leads. Those of you who know Buzz or Harris can easily satisfy your
intellectual curiosity. Copy us in on what you find.
Bob Flynn &