One of the last surviving charter members of the Civil Air Patrol – Georgia Wing’s Col. Benjamin H. Stone Jr. – died Sept. 13 of natural causes in an assisted living center in Marietta, Ga. He was 95 years old.
Born in Worchester, Mass., in 1914, Stone had a passion for flying for much of his life. His career with CAP spanned seven decades.
“At the time of his death, Col. Stone had the longest continuous service with the Civil Air Patrol – nearly 68 years,” said CAP’s national curator Maj. James L. Shaw Jr.
Stone joined the Civil Air Patrol in January 1942, and was instrumental in providing flight training to many of CAP’s early pilots — “sub chasers” who flew coastal patrol missions to protect America against German U-boats during World War II. Stone was asked by CAP to teach flying on the weekends, shortly after his graduation from Parks Air College at St. Louis University, where he earned a degree in aviation management with honors. He was teaching Navy aviators to fly at Holy Cross College in Worcester and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, when he received the call. “I happily joined and started my 65-year sojourn with CAP,” said Stone, in an interview in the Civil Air Patrol Volunteer’s 65th anniversary issue in 2006.
During those years, Stone held almost every CAP office or committee chairmanship. A self-described “100% patriot who loves my God, my country and my family,” Stone devoted much of his work to countless cadets who, he said, kept him motivated. “The young men and women in the cadet corps of CAP are our future leaders and need help in understanding their future role in leading our country,” he said in the 2006 magazine interview.
Stone worked with many cadets in his native state of Massachusetts and his adopted state of Georgia. He was commander or on staff for summer encampments for 15 years in Massachusetts and two years in Georgia in the 1950s and ‘60s. As a tribute to his work with cadets, the Georgia Wing named its most outstanding cadet award after him.
During the early 1970s, he and other CAP members used their own funds and donations from local businesses to build a Search and Rescue Center at Grenier Air Force Base in Manchester, N.H. It was the only such center at the time, and CAP members manned it 24/7. “A search for a downed plane was started immediately,” he said. “We searched the entire Northeast Region for any downed planes, covering nine states.”
After he moved to Georgia, Stone remained active with CAP, working with cadets and serving as asset manager for the Georgia Wing. “He was actually the reason I got involved as a CAP historian,” said Shaw, who met Stone in 2003 at the Georgia Wing Conference. “His love of aviation got me even more fascinated in CAP’s history,” said Shaw, who, at the time, was a squadron commander and public affairs officer in Albany, Ga.
Shaw said CAP recognized Stone on many occasions, most recently in 2007 during the organization’s National Executive Committee meeting in Atlanta. Stone was awarded the CAP Distinguished Service Medal and promoted to the rank of colonel.
On another occasion, a surprise encounter during CAP’s 50th anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C., provided Stone with one of his favorite memories. He met America’s first astronaut, retired Navy Rear Adm. Alan Shepard, who recognized him as the pilot he met at Derry Airport in New Hampshire.
“He said he was one of those kids who hung around the airport hoping to get a free ride from the flyers and aviators coming in and out of the field,” Stone said. “He told me I had given him one of his very first flying lessons when I took him up for a ride and let him fly my plane. Now that is a memorable memory!”