By Kristi Carr
In the days of World War II, as now, being a patriot was a prerequisite to joining Civil Air Patrol, but being a pilot was not. In fact, CAP had an estimated 60,000 members during the 1940s, but only a fraction of them were pilots. The rest provided crucial support services — in the hangars, on the tarmac, in control towers and at many other locations. Without these services, the heroic CAP pilots of World War II would have been hard-pressed to fly day after day from the U.S. coastline to take on the enemy.
Julian H. Scott served as a mechanic at Coastal Patrol Base 6. He helped maintain privately owned planes leased by the government for $1.
Reliable planes were of paramount importance. Many used by CAP in the war effort came from private or commercial sources and were generally well-maintained. Once they were assigned to CAP, however, the organization became responsible for keeping them airworthy.
Enter the mechanics. One, Julian H. Scott, got his training at a government-sponsored trade school that taught aviation mechanics in his hometown of Athens, Ga. “One morning in the spring of 1942,” he said, “we were all called together (and asked to go) to St. Simons Island, Ga., to start up a new Coastal Air Patrol location.” This was the genesis of Coastal Patrol Base 6.
Scott continued, “Most of the men in our unit were either too young or too old to be drafted. We were responsible for maintaining privately owned planes leased by the government, I think, for $1 per year. In most cases the planes were flown by their owners, mostly wealthy men from the Atlanta area, to search for enemy ships and submarines.” Once CAP had proven its worth in locating enemy vessels, the U.S. government temporarily granted CAP the authority to arm its planes, an authorization that ended with the war.
While still at the Coastal Patrol Base airport, Scott remembered a U.S. Army ordnance group living in tents, charged with installing bomb and depth-charge racks on the planes and loading and unloading the armaments. Depending on their size, the planes were equipped with racks to hold one or two 100-pound bombs. CAP is credited with sinking two enemy submarines during World War II and with discouraging countless others.
Scott left CAP when he was called to active duty not long after he reached age 18; he served as a pilot with the U.S. Navy.
Meanwhile, at Coastal Patrol Base 19 in Portland, Maine, another mechanic’s experiences illustrated the risks CAP volunteers faced even when staying close to home.
Dennis Soule functioned as both a mechanic and observer, and he had a close call when the landing gear of the Bellanca aircraft in which he was a passenger failed to deploy. As the pilot circled, Soule was forced to use a pocket knife to tear up the plane’s floorboard to gain access to the gear. Lying upside down and hanging below the plane’s floor, he was finally able to hand-crank the gear down, and the plane landed safely.The Way We Were World War II ground teams were wind beneath the wings of CAP pilots By Kristi Carr Citizens Serving Communities 5 www .gocivilairpatrol.com
Steve Patti wears winter clothing issued by the Marfa Army Airfield.
Steve Patti, now 89, served double duty for CAP in Texas, where the country was vulnerable at the Gulf waters as well as its border with Mexico. An aviation mechanic, Patti and others from the Los Angeles area volunteered to establish a CAP unit, Coastal Patrol Base 12, at Brownsville, Texas, where subchasing would be a major activity. It was a remote outpost for a young man in his early 20s. The allowance was $5 per day, and from that the CAP members were expected to pay for their own food, lodging, tools and any other necessities. Improvisation was a necessity for Benjamin Dyner mechanics like Patti. They melted down scraps to make the lead weights needed to anchor towing antennas and went on the hunt for tractor-wheel bearings to serve as substitutes for airplane bearings, which were literally consumed by the sandy conditions.
Patti snapped this photo of what he called “six mechanics and one observer” from his World War II days in a Texas CAP unit.
Patti also found himself in Marfa, Texas, in Big Bend country. Here, he was asked to serve as an observer on flights along the Rio Grande, America’s border with Mexico. Members of the flight crew were charged with reporting all they saw; they were equipped with a Thompson submachine gun, a hunting knife and a clipboard. Among sights they reported back to the U.S. Army intelligence officer assigned to CAP were a man spotted tiptoeing through the shallow Rio Grande carrying his shoes and the license plate numbers of automobiles approaching the border from Mexico.
Once, Patti and others drove out to a downed border patrol plane, which they had to disassemble on the spot in order to get it back to the base.
Not long after arriving in Texas, Patti and his fellow CAP members were sworn in as Air Force reservists but returned to CAP service. In 1944, he received his induction notice and went back to California as an active-duty U.S. Army Air Forces member.
In 1942 Benjamin Dyner , wearing his CAP uniform, checked out a plane at Wings Field, which was home to his CAP squadron near Philadelphia.
Pennsylvanian Benjamin Dyner had been attending flying school at Somerton Airport near Philadelphia and was a member of a flying club when CAP came calling to recruit members less than a week after Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Dyner, 18 at the time, joined CAP on Dec. 12, 1941. Though flying was his passion, he held a commercial radio license and was proficient in Morse code, a skill he passed on to others. At first, he said, CAP missions usually involved the ferrying of VIPs to New Jersey, Washington, D.C., or other nearby locations from the squadron’s base in Blue Bell, Pa. But before long, he found himself at Coastal Patrol Base 17 in Riverhead, N.Y. He left CAP in late 1942 to enlist in the military.
Hailing from California, George Dijeau was a CAP pilot who for a time flew armed subchaser missions over the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico during World War II, later becoming a commercial pilot. Yet one of his most valuable contributions to CAP may have been the training he gave pilots. After a stint with the Army Air Forces — during which he suffered a back injury while teaching cadets to perform slow rolls, ultimately leading to a medical discharge — Dijeau rediscovered CAP when the Corpus Christi squadron in Texas hired him to give pilots instrument training.
George Dijeau and his wife, Harriett, are members of Amelia Earhart Senior Squadron 188 in Oakland, Calif. Dijeau's first Civil Air Patrol identification card is shown above.
Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Keith Raley said of Dijeau, “If not for his contributions to training and qualifying CAP pilots during the early days of 1942, there may not have been a viable and successful Coastal Patrol capability in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas coast.”
Following World War II, Dijeau alternated working as a pilot and an electrician. Even now, in his late 90s, Dijeau continues to fly for pleasure and to serve as a CAP member.
To read more about Steve Patti and to view his extensive collection of vintage CAP photos, go to www.caphistory.org/museum_photo_gallery_patti.html.
Capt. Mary Story contributed to this story.