This Memorial Day is special for a few living veterans who volunteered their lives during World War II. Legislation just passed yesterday in Congress honors Civil Air Patrol’s (CAP) earliest members with the Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) in recognizing their contributions during World War II when many used their own aircraft to conduct volunteer combat operations and other emergency wartime missions under hazardous conditions.
The State of North Carolina who has six CGM recipients is second only to California (who has nine) in being home to the last living CAP veterans of World War II and what has come to be known as “the greatest generation.” These recipients and their fellow CAP comrades were pioneering members and ahead of their time in devoting themselves to serving their communities and their country as volunteers.
Here are the members and a few of their recollections:
Casimir A. Barcynski of New Bern was a cadet with the Pennsylvania Wing in the final year of the war. He remembers drills, classroom sessions on “Air Force subjects.” He also adds that activity didn’t start to really pick up till after war’s end, when 9th Air Force returned to Spaatz Field in Reading, PA, where “they’d take us out for a flight in a Piper Cub or something like that.”
Jewell Bailey Brown, 87, of Elkin was a pilot in Charleston, SC and flew Coastal Patrols and along the shore line to look for oil spills and survivors of U-boat attacks.
Weldon C. Fields, who is about to turn 100, of Greensboro was a Communications Officer on the ground from 1944 to 1946 at Coastal Patrol Bases at Manteo and Beaufort. He also flew some patrols as an observer.
Clive Goodwin, Jr., 87, of Youngsville was with the New York Wing where he was a pilot and searched for downed military aircraft, looked for forest fires and was an aircraft spotter. He is still active in CAP and is still a pilot.
Gilbert Russell, 89, of Granite Quarry joined CAP at 15 and was a member of Coastal Patrol Base 16 in Manteo. Russell said during one of his missions they found a German Submarine. They marked the spot and flew back to guide the Navy to the spot. This group of members was presented a certificate from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for finding and sinking a submarine.
And Paul Sigmon, 90, of Mount Hollywas a member of Coastal Patrol 21 in Beaufort during the war.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who introduced the Senate legislation in February 2013, hailed the House vote Monday. “I am delighted to see this bill receive final approval,” said Harkin, commander of CAP’s Congressional Squadron. “The men and women of Civil Air Patrol stepped up and served their country when it needed them during the darkest days of World War II, and it’s time we recognized them and thanked them for their service.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who introduced the gold medal proposal in the House, praised the legacy CAP’s founders established. “The awarding of the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, to the members of the Civil Air Patrol ensures that long overdue and proper recognition has finally been bestowed upon these brave men,” McCaul said.
CAP, which started in December of 1941 before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, played its part in defending America’s shores in what was known as the Coastal Patrol which consisted of 21 bases along the Eastern Seaboard to the Gulf of Mexico. Early in the war, after supply ships leaving American ports to support the Allied war effort began drawing deadly attacks from U-boats off the East Coast, CAP pilots carried out anti-submarine missions. This was in addition to calling in the Navy and Coast Guard when they spotted German U-boats. Their vigilance helped discourage and eventually halt the U-boat attacks.
Over 18 months, CAP anti-submarine coastal patrols flew more than 24 million miles, spotting 173 U-boats and attacking 57. They also escorted more than 5,600 convoys and reported 17 floating mines, 91 ships in distress and 363 survivors in the water.
In addition, members towed targets for military pilots, carried out search and rescue missions, flew border patrols, provided flight orientation for potential Army Air Corps recruits and conducted flight training for men, women and cadets.
Until now, the role they played in establishing that legacy has been their only reward. The remaining six surviving members in North Carolina have been finally recognized for their contribution to the war effort.
To find out more about Civil Air Patrol or to become a member contact Wally Wallace at the Asheville Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol at firstname.lastname@example.org.