The Wildcat Patch

by Todd M Mayer
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An original "Wildcat Patch" belonging to Richard E. Gruver. F Company, 503rd (Image- REG, Collection).
While digging through some of the 503rd PRCT Association's documents during their annual reunion in Fayetteville, NC in 2016, I came across a letter addressed to a Mr. Raymond C. Ramirez, along with a copy of some artwork. The letter was a response from Rebecca Cline, Walt Disney Archives Director, in regards to an inquiry from Mr. Ramirez’s into the history of the combat Insignia commonly referred to as the “Wildcat Patch” or “Cat Patch”. The letter went on to read as follows;

Thank you for reaching out to The Walt Disney Company with your insignia query, your letter has been routed to us here in the Walt Disney Archives for answering. After looking through our files, we were able to track down some provenance for the creation of the insignia, as well as a color copy of the artwork originally sent to the 503rd Parachute Infantry in 1942.

It appears that Mr. James C. Hite, then 2nd Lieutenant of the 501st Parachute Battalion, first wrote to the Walt Disney Studios on July 28, 1941 formally requesting that a new insignia be designed for the 503rd Parachute Infantry (whose activation would occur later that year). The Studio responded on August 05, 1941, notifying Lt. Hite that they would be able to create a new insignia for the group, but due to a backlog in work they were experiencing, the request would take some time to complete.

1st Lieutenant Hite (now of the 503rd Parachute Infantry) responded to the Studio on October 04, 1941 expressing his thanks and reminding them that the 503rd still had not received their new unit insignia. The Disney Studios responded on January 12, 1942 sending along the new artwork and a contract for its use (it was only to be used for military purpose and not as a vehicle for private or institutional merchandising and monetizing). 1st Lieutenant Hite responded on January 20, 1942 submitting the contract accepting the Studio’s terms of use and thanking them for their contribution. He noted that “(t)he drawing indicates clearly, we believe, a combination of American humor and the real purpose of our organization.

We hope this information helps your research, and that you and your group enjoy seeing the enclosed artwork (for reference use only) as a means to better understand your collective history.1

James Claiborne Hite, class yearbook photo, Washington University 1938. (Image- University Washington ROTC Alumni).

While the “Wildcat Patch” does not appear to have ever been officially sanctioned by the Army for use as an official shoulder insignia by the 503rd PIR, it does appear to have been adopted by the unit as the unofficial, official insignia of the 503rd PIR until the “Rock Patch” was adopted shortly after the recapture of Corregidor. Judging from period photos and video clips of the unit’s time at Fort Bragg, the “Wildcat” logo appears to have been in use as the symbol of the 503rd PIR.

James Hite was a 1938 Washington University Army ROTC Alumni. According to the 1940 census, James was working as an employment supervisor in the Seattle Washington area. In 1940 or 1941 he married Gaynel L. McClain. A 1941 city directory shows them both living in Columbus, Georgia and lists James as a Liuet. in the USA. At Fort Benning, Lt. Hite made his way into the Paratroops, where he found a home as a member of the Parachute Cadre. His first assignment was a Lt. in the 501st Parachute BN, then as an Adjutant in the newly created 503rd Parachute BN Staff, where he was instrumental in obtaining the “Wildcat” insignia for 503rd. While at Fort Benning, Lt. Hite appears to have advanced in rank at a steady pace and moved from unit to unit as they became activated. In the late spring of 1943, James had obtained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was the Commanding Officer of the 1st BN, 515th PIR. Later that summer. Ltc. James C. Hite was killed in a parachute training exercise at Fort Benning. At the time of his death, he had a young daughter who was living with his wife in Garden Grove. California.

Disney Arvhives (Image- 503rd PRCT Association).

503rd PIR Headquarters Fort Bragg, NC 1942 (Image- collection).

Published on 01/04/2018

1Rebecca Cline to Mr. Raymond C. Ramirez. May 12, 2014. Walt Disney Archives.

"All results for James Claiborne Hite." Ancestry. Accessed January 04, 2018.

Cline, Rebecca. Rebecca Cline to Mr. Raymond C. Ramirez. May 12, 2014. Walt Disney Archives.

"Fallen Alumni." KHB Legacy Foundation. Accessed January 04, 2018.

"LTC James Claiborne Hite (1914-1943) - Find A..." (1914-1943) - Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed January 04, 2018.

503rd PIR Xmas 1941. Accessed January 04, 2018.

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