Civil Air Patrol

Homeland security mission took many forms

Civil Air Patrol’s three primary missions, as chartered by Congress, are emergency services, cadet programs and aerospace education.  Today the organization includes homeland security in the growing list of ways members support the country.  But wait — homeland security isn’t a new mission for CAP members. Let’s go back to 1941…

In the months before December 1941, the United States was not officially part of the war. But that didn’t mean its citizens were not actively engaged in protecting the homeland from potential threats. In Ohio, civilian pilots scanned forests from the air for fires and notified authorities when blazes were observed. In Arizona, pilots surveyed thousands of square miles looking for potential sabotage threats.  

After Pearl Harbor, while many were heading off to fight the enemy, there were brave civilians fighting the enemy threat here at home — in essence, performing the mission of homeland security. Not all the action occurred on the coasts. Pilots used their own planes to locate aircraft that landed in uninhabited areas. Nonpilots searched for victims of flooding, bringing supplies of clothes and food to the victims.

Squadrons in New Hampshire used ski equipment in search and rescues during wintry weather while CAP members on horseback in Nevada used makeshift stretchers across two saddles for those who needed assistance. Carrier pigeons were trained and ready to go should Alabama radios fail. Pilots scanned critical infrastructure and airports for potential threats and prevented possible attacks. On the coast, the homeland was being secured by the little yellow planes owned by civilian CAP members patrolling the waters of the Atlantic where German U-boats were spotted. These fearless pilots saved more than 50 merchant ships, spotted shipwrecks and casualties, guided ships to safer waters, and even dropped bombs on unsuspecting U-boats.

The early CAP members who signed up in the first couple years of the war were required to commit to 30 or 90days of service, took a wide range of courses in navigation, aviation and ground procedures, and provided their own uniforms and equipment. Pilots flew their privately owned aircraft, taking care of any required maintenance paid out of their own funds. Although CAP members on duty were paid up to $8 per day, many spent time at the CAP bases away from their families and employment, resulting in personal financial sacrifices, in order to protect the homeland.

There are many heroes from the war, but the heroes who protected the homeland from enemy threats have, until this day, gone largely unrecognized. The Congressional Gold Medal recently signed by President Obama recognizes these Civil Air Patrol heroes in all states who, during World War II, sacrificed their time, property and lives for our homeland security. 



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Maxwell Air Force Base, AL 36112

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© 2019 Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters. All rights reserved.
© 2019 Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters. All rights reserved.