MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. – Civilian volunteers who served during World War II may soon be recognized for their service with the Congressional Gold Medal.
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has introduced S. 309 and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, has introduced H.R. 755 in the 113th Congress to honor the founding members of Civil Air Patrol who used their own aircraft to conduct combat operations and other emergency missions during World War II.
The Senate bill has three co-sponsors – Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The House bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.
During the war roughly 60,000 civilians — men and women 18-81 years old — were CAP members. Their war service was extraordinary in scope, especially since it involved civilian volunteers conducting combat operations in their own aircraft, CAP officials note.
“Our founding members helped save lives and preserve our nation’s freedom,” said Maj. Gen. Chuck Carr, CAP’s national commander. “They are truly unsung heroes of the war. They provided selfless service, without fanfare, in defense of their homeland.”
CAP’s most critical role came early in the war when German submarine attacks, often within sight of land, were conducted against essential war shipping in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. CAP began anti-submarine coastal patrols in March 1942 after 52 oil tankers had been sunk. Patrols were conducted up to 100 miles off shore, generally with two aircraft flying together, in planes often equipped with only a compass for navigation and a single radio for communication. Personal emergency equipment was lacking, particularly in the beginning, and inner tubes and duck hunter’s kapok vests were used as flotation devices.
Many opportunities arose for CAP pilots to attack submarines. As a result, CAP aircraft were equipped with 50-, 100- and 325-pound bombs or depth charges. During the coastal patrols, CAP reported 173 submarine sightings and found 325 survivors of submarine attacks. CAP was ultimately credited with attacking 57 submarines and reporting 173 to the military.
While the coastal patrols were ongoing, CAP established itself as a vital wartime service to communities. Its record included 20,500 missions involving target towing (with live ammunition) and gun/searchlight tracking. It also provided a courier service, including three major Air Force commands over a two-year period, carrying more than 3.5 million pounds of vital cargo and 543 passengers, and southern border operations flying more than 30,000 hours, with 7,000 reports of unusual sightings including a vehicle (which was apprehended) with two enemy agents attempting to enter the country. These critical missions supported the war effort and freed personnel needed elsewhere.
By war’s end CAP had flown more than 750,000 hours and 24 million miles with a total loss of 64 members and 150 aircraft.
CAP ‘s World War II members have received little recognition for their service, particularly the anti-submarine coastal patrols, and were not granted veterans’ benefits.
Since the war, CAP has become a nonprofit, public service organization chartered by Congress. It is the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, charged with providing essential emergency, operational and public services to communities and states nationwide, the federal government and the military.
The Congressional Gold Medal commemorates distinguished service to the nation and is considered by many to be the highest form of congressional recognition. Since 1776, only about 300 awards have been given to a wide range of military leaders and accomplished civilians, including George Washington, John Glenn, Robert Frost, Douglas MacArthur and Colin Powell. Foreigners awarded the medal have included Winston Churchill, Simon Wiesenthal and Mother Teresa.
The award to CAP would be unusual in that a single medal would be awarded for the collective efforts of all World War II adult members. Other organizations that have been recognized by Congress for their wartime contributions include the Navajo Code Talkers, Tuskegee Airmen and Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.
“We want to make sure our World War II-era members who remain and those who have passed are rightly honored for their great service to America,” said Carr, noting that only a few hundred CAP members who served during World War II are still living.
Citizens interested in supporting this legislation should ask their senators or representatives to join the effort, by also becoming co-sponsors.
Civil Air Patrol now has more than 61,000 members nationwide, operating a fleet of 550 aircraft. CAP performs 90% of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 80 lives annually. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to more than 26,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet programs. CAP received the World Peace Prize in 2011 and has been performing missions for America for 71 years. CAP also participates in Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans. For more information: GoCivilAirPatrol.com