Civil Air Patrol

CAP Fliers Recall WWII Service

A Piper J-4 Cub Coupe, one of the planes CAP members flew during World War II.

NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS -- Time, instead of a German submarine, is now the enemy of Civil Air Patrol volunteers from World War II. The numbers have dwindled dramatically for these 60,000 unsung heroes, who range in age from their late 80s to more than 100.

Legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress that would award CAP a Congressional Gold Medal for its World War II service. It will be a diminished victory, however, if none of the World War II-era CAP members live to see the law’s passage.

Established Dec. 1, 1941, CAP quickly distinguished itself by using small private aircraft to search for enemy submarines close to America’s shores, towing targets for military practice, transporting critical supplies within the country and conducting general airborne reconnaissance.

World War II stories from CAP pilots

Wylie Apte Sr., who died in 1970, was a seasoned pilot, having flown with the Air Service during World War I and later owning and operating White Mountain Airport in North Conway, N.H.

As a CAP member during World War II, Apte was assigned to Coastal Patrol unit based in Portland, Maine, to search for German submarines off the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. During the war, CAP operated 21 such units up and down the Eastern Seaboard and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Flying his own Waco YKS-7 biplane, Apte trailed an antenna, longer than 100 yards, for communication back to his land base, which would in turn be used to notify the military to dispatch fighters and bombers in the event a sub was spotted.

Subchasers like Apte flew at great personal risk. In all, 90 CAP planes were forced to ditch at sea. Of the 59 CAP pilots killed in World War II, 26 were lost on Coastal Patrol duty.

In the South, Trent Lane with the Louisiana Wing’s Baton Rouge squadron also served his country through CAP at Coastal Patrol Base 9. Operating from a makeshift base on Grand Isle, the base’s assignment was to patrol along the shores of the Gulf between Grand Isle and the mouth of the Mississippi River.

While Lane said most flights in the base’s tiny yellow Stinson were made memorable by a dazzling array of birds and marine life, on one trip a CAP observer noticed something in the river near Plaquemine, La. The pilot circled overhead several times until the crew was satisfied they were seeing a German U-boat. They radioed in the position to Baton Rouge, though in the end the sighting was never confirmed by the War Department.

Today, Lane, a Senior Olympian, remains active at more than 100 years old.

Propelled by duty and love of country, Joseph W. Leonard joined CAP the day it was established, six days before Pearl Harbor. Leonard, who passed away in March, was a member of the Pennsylvania Wing’s Chester Squadron and flew out of Coastal Patrol Base 2 at Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Base 2 was populated by such CAP heroes as Eddie Edwards, who received the first Air Medal of World War II from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his daring all-night rescue of a downed CAP pilot from the Atlantic in 1942.

In a journal he left behind, Leonard wrote: “On my day off I was in the habit of going surfing. There I had a close encounter with a torpedo that was fired at a convoy a few miles offshore and missed. I was about a half mile beyond the breakers, watching a convoy heading north.

“I was focusing on the ships and didn’t notice the bubble trail approaching me until it was pretty close. I rolled the surfboard to one side, and the German torpedo slid by me.”

Leonard remained a CAP member until the day he died.

How to help

Those interested in supporting the legislation to honor CAP with the Congressional Gold Medal should contact their federal legislators, both senators and representatives, to ask for their support for the pending bills – S. 418 and H.B. 719. In both houses, two-thirds of the membership must sponsor a bill before it can be brought up for a vote. Sample letters and other details are available at CAP’s website.

In addition, anyone with information on adult CAP members who served the organization during World War II is encouraged to upload it into the stie’s World War II Congressional Gold Medal database.



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Maxwell Air Force Base, AL 36112

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