More than 70 years later, the earliest members of the Civil Air Patrol, who selflessly risked their lives to protect the United States during World War II, will be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal Wednesday.
"I wasn’t expecting anything from the government or from the war effort, ever," said George Mitchell, a Congressional Gold Medal honoree.
During World War II, when Nazi U-boats threatened U.S. shipping, especially oil tankers, the CAP’s founders took it upon themselves to help patrol the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. As private aviation professionals, they volunteered their planes, their time, and often their own money to discourage and eventually stop the U-boat attacks.
"People gave an awful lot of time, effort, and money to make sure they were being useful and helpful," Mitchell said.
Over 18 months, CAP anti-submarine coastal patrols flew more than 24 million miles, spotting 173 U-boats, attacking 57, and striking two. They also towed targets for military trainees, spotted forest fires, conducted search-and-rescue missions, provided disaster relief, and conducted orientation flights for future pilots.
At nearly 100, Mitchell is among the only pioneering members of CAP still alive.
Mitchell will be joined by less than 100 of his original CAP comrades to receive their award. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that the nation’s World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 670 per day.