At age 94, Charles Compton of Evanston, Ill., is rejoining Civil Air Patrol at the rank of colonel. He is also receiving CAP’s Distinguished Service Medal.
When he joined CAP for the first time, Compton was in his early 20s. It was during World War II, when German submarines were picking off American cargo and transport ships. As a volunteer member of the fledgling CAP — established Dec. 1, 1941, and originally called the Coastal Patrol — Compton flew missions on numerous aircraft, including a Stinson and Grumman G44A.
During World War II, the presence of CAP aircraft discouraged enemy submarines from surfacing to recharge their batteries, forcing them out to sea. Those that were spotted were reported by CAP to the military for action, though members of the organization — which was eventually allowed to carry ordinance — were credited with sinking two German U-boats.
CAP’s World War II service also included towing targets for military shooting practice, transporting critical supplies within the country and conducting general aerial reconnaissance. Compton played a key role in accomplishing these missions.
The Distinguished Service Medal is CAP’s highest award for service and is bestowed for “conspicuous performance of outstanding service in a duty of great responsibility where the position held and results obtained reflect upon the accomplishments and prestige of CAP on a national scale.” Compton earned his recognition for his service at CAP Coastal Patrol Base 1 in Atlantic City, N.J. The use of CAP personnel during World War II literally depended on the success of this base, which was given a 90-day trial.
Compton left two Chicago jobs — one as an advertising salesman for the Daily News and one working in a plant that manufactured aircraft parts — to go to the East Coast as a CAP citizen volunteer based, he said, on “a desire to be more actively engaged in the war effort.” There he was part of the flight staff, serving on missions to search for German submarines and providing escorts for American convoys as they sailed along the Eastern seaboard.
The duty was dangerous, Compton recalled. “There was nothing like GPS,” he said, and members used partially sunken American merchant ships, which were plentiful, as a navigational tool.
He showed his great sense of humor during a recent interview when he related CAP aircrews’ struggles to discern between enemy submarines and whales to avoid any ridicule for attacking marine life. And he told about dangerous night duty on base when someone patrolling the perimeter encountered a sentry. “Both you and the sentry needed to know the correct password, or it would mean a ‘tense moment,’” he said.
Compton, who at one time commanded CAP squadrons in both Evanston and Morton Grove, Ill., will be honored at a ceremony June 18, organized by the Illinois Wing’s Palwaukee Composite Squadron and held at the Presbyterian Home where Compton resides.
In addition to the entire membership, including a cadet color guard and honor guard, of the Palwaukee squadron — which acknowledges “adopting” Compton — other invited guests include Ann Compton, Compton’s daughter and White House correspondent for ABC News; U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.; the Rev. Jill Paulson, granddaughter of Gill Robb Wilson, who is credited with founding CAP; and CAP’s national commander, Maj. Gen. Amy S. Courter, and national vice commander, Brig. Gen. Charles Carr.
Compton is one of some 60,000 unsung heroes who volunteered through CAP during its early years to protect the American homeland. At ages ranging from the late 80s to more than 100, their numbers are substantially reduced today.
Legislation is pending in both houses of Congress to award CAP a Congressional Gold Medal for its World War II service, but two-thirds of the membership in both the Senate and House of Representatives must sponsor the bills – S. 418 and H.R. 719 – before they can be brought to the floor for a vote. Sample letters and other details are available at www.capmembers.com/goldmedal. Meanwhile, anyone with information on adult CAP members who served the organization during World War II is encouraged to upload their information into the World War II Congressional Gold Medal database at www.capmembers.com/goldmedal.
Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with more than 61,000 members nationwide. CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs 90% of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and was credited by the AFRCC with saving 113 lives in fiscal year 2010. 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 the more than 26,000 young people currently participating in CAP cadet programs. CAP has been performing missions for America for 69 years. For more information: www.gocivilairpatrol.com