Civil Air Patrol

In Good Company

To borrow a line from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Who are those guys anyway?” When the Civil Air Patrol receives the Congressional Gold Medal later this year, it will find itself in the good company of patriots, inventors, scientists, artists, healers, explorers, religious leaders, sports figures, warriors, humanitarians and other distinguished individuals, institutions or events.

The Second Continental Congress established the medal in 1776, actually a few months before America won its independence from the British. Until 1858, when it was bestowed on a surgeon, Frederick Rose, the medal was awarded only to men in the military for service in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 or the Mexican-American War. Today the medal is considered a civilian award, though it also can be awarded to military personnel. The Congressional Gold Medal is distinct from the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award presented at the discretion of the President; the Medal of Honor, a military decoration for extreme bravery in action; and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, presented by NASA for extraordinary accomplishment in United States space exploration.

There is no schedule for awarding the medal or any restrictions on who may receive it, but the rules governing the medal require that a bill be co-sponsored by at least two-thirds of the members of both houses of Congress and passed each time the award is presented. When such legislation is considered, specific standards are set forth in Rule X, 2 (h) of the House Committee on Financial Service’s Subcommittee on Domestic Policy and Technology. To date, 154 Congressional Gold Medals have been awarded as an expression of the nation’s highest appreciation for achievements and contributions.

Not surprisingly, the first recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal was presented to George Washington, a general in the War for Independence and the country’s first president. Other American presidents who have been so honored include Zachary Taylor (1846, 1847 and 1848 — yes, three times!); Ulysses S. Grant (1863); Harry S. Truman (1984); Gerald Ford, along with this wife Betty (1998); and Ronald Reagan, along with his wife Nancy (2000).

Besides Taylor, other multiple winners include Winfield Scott (1814 for War of 1812 and 1848 for Mexican–American War; Lincoln Ellsworth (1928 and 1936 for polar exploration); and Hyman G. Rickover (1958 for the “Nuclear Navy” and 1982 for his entire career).

Some of the foreigners who have received the medal include Sir Winston Churchill, the British prime minister during World War II (1969); baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, a native of Puerto Rico (1973); Queen Beatrix I of the Netherlands (1982); Nazi hunters Simon Wiesenthal (1980) and Elie Wiesel (1984); Mother Teresa (1997), the humanitarian who was of Albanian ancestry but became a citizen of India; political prisoner and later president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela (1998); Pope John Paul II (2000); British prime minister Tony Blair (2003); Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (2006); and Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese political activist (2008).

Winners for air and space have included Orville and Wilbur Wright, flight pioneers (1909); Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, who made the first solo non-stop transatlantic flight (1928); the crew of the first successful transatlantic flight, made in 1919 with stops (1929); aviator Howard Hughes, the American business magnate who built the wooden airplane, the “Spruce Goose” (1939); the Tuskeegee Airmen, a group of 994 African-American airmen whose distinguished service over Europe and North Africa during World War II influenced President Harry Truman to desegregate the military (2006); Women Airforce Service Pilots, a pioneering group of female pilots who were employed to fly military aircraft under the direction of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II in order to free male pilots for combat service and duties (2009); and pioneer astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., Michael Collins and John Herschel Glenn, Jr.

Also on the list of previous Congressional Gold Medal winners are two names CAP members will recognize, Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell, generally credited with founding CAP (1946), and Lt. Gen. Ira Eaker, who distinguished himself in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II (1978).

In 1979, the American Red Cross became the first organization to be honored with a gold medal. CAP will be the second. It is expected that the required legislative bill will pass in June and be signed by President Barack Obama, with a ceremony at the White House to be scheduled three-six months later.

Congressional Gold Medals are designed by the United States Mint to specifically commemorate the achievement for which the medal is awarded; they are, therefore, different in appearance, and there is no standard design. They are made of gold, though additional bronze versions of the medals may be struck for sale. Gold plated medals have been known to be made when a medal has numerous recipients. And, in at least one instance — when the 81 officers and men of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition were recognized in 1930 — 65 received gold medals, seven received silver and nine received bronze. Regardless the metal, regardless the ceremony date, CAP is getting a huge and public thank-you. You’re welcome, America!

A fair amount of my time over the past four years has been spent in conversations with 90-year-olds, give or take a birthday candle or two. The thread that connects these octogenarians and nonagenarians is service in Civil Air Patrol during its infancy, at a time when the U.S. had been drawn into World War II. My part has simply been to tell their stories, and they’ve got some whoppers.




In Good Company

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CAP National Headquarters
105 South Hansell Street, Building 714
Maxwell Air Force Base, AL 36112

Julie DeBardelaben
Deputy Director, Public Affairs
334-549-2224 (cell)

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334-296-5881 (cell)
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© 2019 Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters. All rights reserved.
© 2019 Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters. All rights reserved.