Pearl Harbor propelled the United States into World War II, but many Americans saw the AXIS threat long before Dec. 7, 1941. Among them were nearly 150,000 men and women involved in aviation.
As early as 1938, they began to argue for the creation of an organization to harness their aviation resources to aid the nation in the event America entered the conflict. Their efforts, led by writer-aviator Gill Robb Wilson, with the help of New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and supported by Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, resulted in the creation of the Civil Air Patrol on Dec. 1, 1941 – one week before Pearl Harbor.
The CAP insignia, a red three-bladed propeller in the Civil Defense white-triangle-in-blue-circle, began appearing on private aircraft everywhere. CAP initially planned only on liaison and reconnaissance flying, but the civilian group’s mission expanded when German submarines began to prey on American ships off the coast of the United States and CAP planes began carrying bombs and depth charges.”
CAP crew first interrupted a sub attack on a flight out of Rehoboth Beach, saving a tanker off Cape May, N.J. Since radio calls for military bombers were often unproductive, unarmed CAP fliers dived in mock attacks to force subs to break and run.
The CAP coastal patrol flew 24 million miles, found 173 submarines, attacked 57, hit 10 and sank two.
A German commander later confirmed that coastal U-boat operations were withdrawn from the United States “because of those damned little red and yellow airplanes.”
These Flying Minutemen, all volunteers, performed valiantly during the war. They performed many missions including coastal patrol to search for enemy submarines, search and rescue missions throughout the United States, cargo and courier flights to transfer critical materials and personnel, and even towing targets so Army Air Corps personnel could practice air-to-air gunnery techniques – a very risky mission with new gunners.
In all, these volunteers amassed a stunning record – flying more than half-a-million hours, sinking two enemy submarines, and saving hundreds of crash victims.
A thankful nation recognized the vital role CAP played during the war and understood the organization could continue to provide invaluable help to both local and national agencies.
On July 1, 1946, President Harry Truman signed Public Law 476 that incorporated CAP as a benevolent, nonprofit organization.
On May 26, 1948, Congress passed Public Law 557 which permanently established CAP as the Auxiliary of the new U.S. Air Force. This law also gave the Secretary of the Air Force the authority to provide financial and material assistance to the organization.
The U.S. Air Force was created as an independent armed service in 1947, and CAP was designated as its official civilian auxiliary the following year.
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