The Beginning of the Civil Air Patrol
As early as 1938, patriotic American airmen were conceiving of an organization to harness America’s general aviation resources to protect the home front. Among them were Presbyterian minister and pilot Gill Robb Wilson, and Army Air Forces General Henry “Hap” Arnold. Originally organized as part of the Office of Civil Defense, the Civil Air Patrol was founded on December 1st, 1941. Less than one week later, America was launched into the second World War following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Throughout World War II, the “flying minutemen” of the Civil Air Patrol performed numerous missions in support of the war effort. Among the most famous of these missions was the coastal patrol. As German U-Boats ravaged American shipping, CAP aircrews took to the sky to hunt down the elusive undersea predators. In total, CAP escored over 5,600 shipping convoys during the war, spotting 173 U-Boats and attacking 57. Sixty-five CAP volunteers lost their lives in service to their country during WWII. Other CAP missions during the war included aerial photography, forest fire patrol, and air courrier service.
On the Air Force Team
Follwing the end of the war, in 1946 President Harry Truman signed Public Law 476, incorporating CAP as a non-profit organization. On May 26th, 1948, Congress passed Public Law 557 which established CAP as the official auxiliary of the newly created U.S. Air Force. This time also saw substantial growth in the CAP cadet program. Founded in 1942, the cadet program gave young Americans the opportunity to gain invaluable skills in aerospace and leadership.
Congressional Gold Medal
In December, 2014, the World War II-era members of the Civil Air Patrol were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, in light of their service to their communities, states, and nation. Today, it is estimated that fewer than 100 of CAP members from the World War II era are still alive. The memory of CAP’s “flying minutemen” lives on forever in the spirit of the organization today.
Missions for America - CAP today
CAP’s missions have evolved to meet America’s ever-changing needs. Today, the 60,000 unpaid professionals of the Civil Air Patrol perform crucial missions in support of homeland security, disaster relief, and search and rescue. CAP’s cadet program continues to thrive, with over 25,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 20 as active participants.
To learn more about the history of the Civil Air Patrol, visit The CAP National History Program