Civil Air Patrol 75th Anniversary

Nick Cooper

Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is the civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force (USAF). It was created by Administrative Order 9 on December 1941, with Maj. Gen. John F. Curry as the first CAP national commander. The organization was originally formed to provide civilian air support to aid the war effort of World War II through border and coastal patrols, military training assistance, courier services and other activities. These efforts were recognized and, after the close of the war, Civil Air Patrol was transferred from the United States Army to the newly formed Air Force. It was incorporated as a non-profit organization of volunteers and declared to be of a benevolent nature, never again to be involved in direct combat activities. Since that time, Civil Air Patrol has carried out three congressionally mandated objectives: emergency services (including search and rescue operations), aerospace education for youth and the general public, and cadet programs for teenage youth. In addition, it has been tasked with assisting the United States Department of Homeland Security, and also performs non-auxiliary missions for various governmental and private agencies, such as local law enforcement and the American Red Cross The general idea of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) originated with a collective brainstorm of pilots and aviators before the start of World War II. In the later half of the 1930s, the Axis powers became a threat to the United States, its allies and its interests. As the Axis steadily took control of the greater part of Europe and South-East Asia, aviation-minded Americans noticed a trend: in all of the conquered countries and territories, civil aviation was more or less halted in order to reduce the risk of sabotage. Countries that were directly involved in the conflict strictly regulated general aviation, allowing military flights only. American aviators did not wish to see the same fate befall themselves, but realized that if nothing was done to convince the federal government that civil aviation could be of direct and measurable benefit to the imminent war effort, the government would likely severely limit general aviation. The concrete plan for a general aviation organization designed to aid the U.S. military at home was envisaged in 1938 by Gill Robb Wilson. Wilson, then aviation editor of The New York Herald Tribune, was on assignment in Germany prior to the outbreak of World War II. He took note of the actions and intentions of the Nazi government and its tactic of grounding all general aviation. Upon returning, he reported his findings to the New Jersey governor, advising that an organization be created that would use the civil air fleet of New Jersey as an augmentative force for the war effort that seemed impending. The plan was approved, and with the backing of Chief of the Army Air Corps General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold and the Civil Aeronautics Authority, the New Jersey Civil Air Defense Services (NJCADS) was formed. The plan called for the use of single-engine aircraft for liaison work, as well as coastal and infrastructure patrol. General security activities regarding aviation were also made the responsibility of the NJCADS. Other similar groups were organized, such as the AOPA Civil Air Guard and the Florida Defense Force. During this time, the Army Air Corps and the Civil Aeronautics Administration initiated two separate subprograms. The first was the introduction of a civilian pilot refresher course and the Civilian Pilot Training Program. The motive behind this step was to increase the pool of available airmen who could be placed into military service if such a time came. The second step was concentrated more on the civil air strength of the nation in general and called for the organization of civilian aviators and personnel in such a way that the collective manpower and know-how would assist in the seemingly inevitable all-out war effort. This second step was arguably the Federal government's blessing towards the creation of the Civil Air Patrol. It was followed by a varied and intense debate over organizational logistics, bureaucracy and other administrative and practical details. Thomas H. Beck, who was at the time the Chairman of the Board of the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, compiled an outline and plan to present to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that would lead up to the organization of the nation's civilian air power. Beck received peer guidance and support from Guy Gannett, the owner of a Maine newspaper chain. On 20 May 1941, the Office of Civilian Defense was created, with former New York City mayor and World War I pilot Fiorello H. La Guardia as the director. Wilson, Beck, and Gannett presented their plan for a national civil air patrol to La Guardia, and he approved the idea. He then appointed Wilson, Beck, and Gannett to form the so-called "blueprint committee" and charged them with organizing the national aviation resources on a national scale. By October 1941 the plan was completed. The remaining tasks were chiefly administrative, such as the appointment of wing commanders, and Wilson left his New York office and traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak with Army officials as the Civil Air Patrol's first executive officer. General Henry "Hap" Arnold organized a board of top military officers to review Wilson's final plan. The board, which included General George E. Stratemeyer (presiding officer of the board), Colonel Harry H. Blee, Major Lucas P. Ordway, Jr., and Major A.B. McMullen, reviewed the plan set forward by Wilson and his colleagues and evaluated the role of the War Department as an agency of the Office of Civilian Defense. The plan was approved and the recommendation was made that Army Air Forces officers assist with key positions such as flight training and logistics. With the approval of the Army Air Corps, Director La Guardia formalized the creation of Civil Air Patrol withAdministrative Order 9, signed on 1 December 1941 and published 8 December 1941. This order outlined the Civil Air Patrol's organization and named its first national commander as Major General John F. Curry. Wilson was officially made the executive officer of the new organization. Additionally, Colonel Harry H. Blee was appointed the new operations director. The very fear that sparked the Civil Air Patrol "movement" — that general aviation would be halted — became a reality when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. On 8 December 1941, all civil aircraft, with the exception of airliners, were grounded. This ban was lifted two days later (with the exception of the entire West Coast) and things went more or less back to normal. Earle E. Johnson took notice of the lack of security at general aviation airports despite the attack on Pearl Harbor. Seeing the potential for light aircraft to be used by saboteurs, Johnson took it upon himself to prove how vulnerable the nation was. Johnson took off in his own aircraft from his farm airstrip near Cleveland, Ohio, taking three small sandbags with him. Flying at 500 feet (150 m), Johnson dropped a sandbag on each of three war plants and then returned to his airstrip. The next morning he notified the factory owners that he had "bombed" their facilities. The CAA apparently got Johnson's message and grounded all civil aviation until better security measures could be taken. Not surprisingly, the Civil Air Patrol's initial membership increased along with the new security. With America's entrance into World War II, German U-boats began to operate along the East Coast. Their operations were very effective, sinking a total of 204 vessels by September 1942. The Civil Air Patrol's top leaders requested that the War Department give them the authority to directly combat the U-boat threat. The request was initially opposed, for the CAP was still a young and inexperienced organization. However, with the alarming numbers of ships being sunk by the U-boats, the War Department finally agreed to give CAP a chance. On 5 March 1942, under the leadership of the newly promoted National Commander Johnson (the same Johnson that had "bombed" the factories with sandbags), the Civil Air Patrol was given authority to operate a coastal patrol at two locations along the East Coast: Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. They were given a time frame of 90 days to prove their worth. The CAP's performance was outstanding, and before the 90-day period was over, the coastal patrol operations were authorized to expand in both duration and territory. By the end of the war, CAP pilots had flown over 500,000 mission hours. However, more than 90 aircraft were lost, and between 59 and 64 CAP pilots were killed, including 26 who were lost while on coastal patrol. With the close of World War II, CAP suddenly found itself looking for a purpose. It had proved its worthiness and usefulness in wartime, but the ensuing peace had reduced CAP's scope of activities since the AAF assumed a great many of the tasks that the CAP had performed. The very existence of CAP was threatened when the AAF announced that it would withdraw financial support on 1 April 1946, due to massive budget cuts. General "Hap" Arnold called a conference of CAP wing commanders, which convened in January 1946 and discussed the usefulness and feasibility of a postwar Civil Air Patrol. The conference concluded with the plan to incorporate the Civil Air Patrol. On 1 March 1946, the 48 wing commanders held the first CAP/Congressional dinner honoring President Harry S. Truman, the 79th United States Congress, and over 50 AAF generals. The purpose of the dinner was to permit CAP to thank the President and others for the opportunity to serve the country during World War II. On 1 July 1946, Public Law 79-476 was enacted. The law incorporated the Civil Air Patrol and stated that the purpose of the organization was to be "solely of a benevolent character". In other words, the Civil Air Patrol was to never participate in combat operations again. With the creation of the United States Air Force on 26 July 1947, the command of the Civil Air Patrol was transferred from the United States Army to the newly created Air Force. In October 1947, a CAP board convened to meet with USAF officials and plan the groundwork of the Civil Air Patrol as the USAF auxiliary. After several meetings the USAF was satisfied and a bill was introduced to the United States House of Representatives. On 26 May 1948, Public Law 80-557 was enacted and CAP became the official auxiliary to the United States Air Force. Civil Air Patrol is subordinate to Air Education and Training Command to fulfill the Aerospace Education mission. CAP members often volunteer at airshows, and the CAP provides a program to educate young children called Aerospace Connections in Education. Civil Air Patrol often assists in Air Force search and rescue missions under the orders of the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Civil Air Patrol's search and rescue missions save an average of 100 lives per year.[13] Civil Air Patrol cadets can enlist in the Air Force as E-3 (Airman First Class) if they achieve the grade of Cadet 2nd Lieutenant. ....  Read More »

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