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Civil Air Patrol
Civil Air Patrol during World War II
A volunteer Civil Air Patrol during World War II (U.S. Air Force graphic, photo courtesy Civil Air Patrol).
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On Dec. 1, 1941 -- less than a week before the attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the country into World War II, the Civil Air Patrol, was founded. During World War II, its principal purpose was to allow private pilots to use their light aircraft and flying skills in civil defense efforts. The Civil Air Patrol limited its role to liaison flying (unarmed support flights) along the East Coast and interdiction patrols on the southern border. After Nazi U-boats began disrupting deliveries of gasoline and oil to the United States, and threatening the transport of vital war supplies being rushed to Europe, the new organization found a new mission--coastal patrols and submarine spotting.

Sponsored by oil companies such as Sunoco (Sun Oil) and civic organizations, 40,000 people from all walks of life volunteered to serve in civilian coastal patrols and the Civil Air Patrol. Private pilots supplied their own aircraft and equipment, but their operating expenses often exceeded the $8 per day flight reimbursement provided by the government. Civic groups held fundraisers and established "Sink-a-Sub Clubs" to provide financial assistance to the coastal patrol and Civil Air Patrol pilots.

In 1943, the organization came under control and direction of the Army Air Forces.
By 1943, Civil Air Patrol coastal patrols had flown 244,600 hours totaling 24 million miles (38.6 million kilometers), summoning help for 91 ships in distress and aiding in the rescue of 363 survivors of submarine attacks. CAP patrols spotted 173 enemy submarines, attacking 57 with bombs or depth charges, damaging 10 and sinking two. In recognition of its effectiveness, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an Executive Order on April 29, 1943, establishing the Civil Air Patrol as the auxiliary of the U.S. Army Air Forces. At the time of its transfer to the AAF, the Civil Air Patrol ranks had swelled to more than 75,000 volunteers.

Its coastal patrol mission no longer needed, Civil Air Patrol members, both men and women, continued to support the war effort--guarding airfields, towing aerial targets, flying military courier and liaison missions, and of course, air search and rescue. By war's end, Civil Air Patrol volunteer pilots had flown over 500,000 hours, but many also paid the ultimate price--more than 90 CAP aircraft were lost and 64 of its volunteer members died in their country's service.

Civil Air Patrol became a permanent peacetime institution July 1, 1946, when President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 476 establishing it as a federally chartered, benevolent, civilian corporation. The U.S. Air Force was established as a separate armed service in 1947 and the Civil Air Patrol soon followed, designated as the Air Force's permanent civilian auxiliary in May 1948.

This law, known as the CAP Supply Bill, authorized the Secretary of the Air Force to assign military and civilian personnel to liaison offices at all levels of CAP. Congress again fundamentally modified the organization in 2000. With the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act, Congress clarified auxiliary status as a conditional state dependent on CAP performing actual services for a federal department or agency. Congress also specified the funding mechanisms the Air Force must use to provide funds to CAP for operations, maintenance, and procurement of property.

By the 1960s and 1970s, Civil Air Patrol pilots were flying more than 75 percent of all search and rescue missions in the United States, and that primary mission continues to this day. CAP members are always ready to serve in any capacity, performing such vital roles as delivering critical supplies, establishing command posts, and providing radio communications during natural disasters and emergencies.

Congress created the CAP Board of Governors to serve as the principal governing body of the organization. This 11-member board is made up of members appointed by the Secretary of the Air Force and senior CAP volunteers. The Board of Governors provides strategic direction and guidance to CAP, while delegating many day-to-day operations of CAP to the CAP National Commander and his staff.

Compiled from the Centennial of Flight web site and Office of Public Affairs, Civil Air Patrol.




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