Honoring WWII CAP members

Civilian volunteers who served during WWII may soon be recognized for their service with the Congressional Gold Medal. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced S. 309 and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) introduced H.R. 755 in Congress to honor the founding members of Civil Air Patrol (CAP) who used their own aircraft to conduct combat operations and other emer-gency missions during WWII. The Senate bill has three co-sponsors – Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK); Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Ron Wyden (D-OR); the House bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX).

During the war roughly 60,000 civilians — men and women 18 to 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.
“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 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 coastal patrols were ongoing, CAP established itself as a vital wartime service. Its record included 20,500 missions involving target towing and gun/searchlight tracking. It also provided a courier service, including three major Air Force commands over a two-year period, carrying more than 3½ 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 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 WWII 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 valuable 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.

The award to CAP would be unusual in that a single medal would be awarded for the collective efforts of all WWII adult members.

“We want to make sure our World War II-era members who remain and those who have passed are rightly honored,” said Carr, noting that only a few hundred CAP members who served during WWII are still living.

Citizens interested in supporting this legislation should ask their senators or representatives to join the effort, by also becoming co-sponsors. For more info about CAP, visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com.