Our nation still makes the effort to recognize those World War II heroes who were slighted by racism, sexism or time. On Monday in Alabama, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to a flight officer and a nurse who served with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
But one group still fights for respect.
"We want to get the same recognition for our veterans," says 61-year-old Joe King of Schaumburg, who joined the Civil Air Patrol as a cadet in 1967 and now is a colonel spearheading a grass-roots lobbying effort as a member of the group's National Congressional Gold Medal Committee.
"The members of Civil Air Patrol who served back then were not Armed Forces members, but they should have been recognized," agrees David Hoover of Carol Stream, who volunteers as a major and financial officer with a suburban group of the Illinois Wing of Civil Air Patrol, which is headquartered in West Chicago.
Formed by civilian airplane enthusiasts six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the volunteer group played a key role during World War II. Now an Air Force auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol continues to conduct search-and-rescue missions, help with military training and transport, spot forest fires and oversee training and educational programs. But many Americans don't know about the group.
"Our World War II story is unknown, and even our current operations are pretty quiet," says Col. John Swain, who logged 50 years as a volunteer with the group and now is a spokesman for the national CAP office.
In March 1942, German submarines in the Atlantic Ocean were sinking so many cargo ships and oil tankers off our East Coast that our military approved a plan to let civilian volunteers fly missions to spot those enemy subs. Those private planes, with members age 18 to 81, found so many submarines, the military decided to give the civilians weapons.
By war's end, the Civil Air Patrol was credited with spotting 173 subs, attacking 57, damaging 17 and sinking two. Those civilian pilots also located 325 attack survivors, reported 91 vessels in distress, warned our military of 17 floating mines and saw 26 of its pilots killed during the group's 86,685 missions that covered more than 24 million miles.
Now about to celebrate its 70th anniversary, the Civil Air Patrol has launched an effort to see that forgotten members of the World War II squads receive Congressional Gold Medals. Many of the would-be recipients are dead. King says that 93-year-old Charles Compton of Evanston may be the only CAP veteran still living in the suburbs.
A bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, enjoyed bipartisan support from our state's U.S. senators, Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Mark Kirk, on its way to passing this year. But the version in the House, H.R. 719;http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d112:1:./temp/~bd3fEl::|/home/LegislativeData.php?n=BSS, needs more sponsors if it's going to pass when Congress returns for a lame-duck session following this fall's presidential election.
Only nine of the 19 Congress members from Illinois have signed on as supporters of the bill, the group reports. Among our suburban legislators, Republicans Peter Roskam of Wheaton and Randy Hultgren of Winfield join Evanston Democrat Jan Schakowsky as co-sponsors of the bill. Republicans Joe Walsh of McHenry, Robert Dold of Kenilworth, Judy Biggert of Hinsdale and Dan Manzullo of the Rockford area are not on board, but CAP members say they hope an outpouring of support from constituents could win their support.
Money should not be an issue, says Swain. The cost of up to $30,000 to strike and design a gold medal comes from a special fund of the U.S. Mint, which could be supported by the sale of bronze duplicates, Swain says. The CAP still saves taxpayers money, says King, who notes that it costs about $78 an hour for a volunteer pilot to man one of the government-owned single-engine planes, while the cost of using a military jet is about $2,500 an hour.
For more information about the medal effort, visit capmembers.com.