Civil Air Patrol awarded Congressional Gold Medal

California Air National Guard photo/ Staff Sgt. Gregory Solman

The U.S Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to five veterans of CAP World War II service in at ceremony at March Air Museum in March.  Five other Gold Medals were awarded posthumously or in absentia to family members who attended the event.

Lt. Col. Jeri Truesdell, now 100 years old, served as a pilot in CAP’s Illinois Wing from 1942 to 1944 before joining the U.S. Navy program Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (WAVES).  She had been a private pilot who joined CAP immediately after its formation December 1, 1941. “The plane I learned on and soloed on was a Curtiss Fledgling. It was a huge biplane,” said Truesdell after the event. She said “there probably weren’t very many” women in CAP at that time. “We were just proud to be women and be in it.” By 1945, girls and women constituted 20 percent of CAP cadet and senior women, according to CAP public affairs.

George Mitchell joined the Pennsylvania Wing in 1942 and participated in CAP’s courier service, transporting industrial parts to Midwest factories. “They attached the Pittsburgh Group to the the 6th Air Force. We did an awful lot of drilling, organized parades, and participated in bond drives,” Mitchell recalled.

Brigadier Gen. Howard Brookfield flew coastal, border and pipeline patrol missions out of San Francisco’s Squadron 3 on the Presidio, and operated a Link Trainer. Brookfield was only cadet age in 1942 when he joined Civil Air Patrol; he served as CAP’s national commander from 1982 to 1984. “I mostly flew [Piper] L-4s and [Stinson] L-5s,” Brookfield said. In the interim he served in the U.S. Air Force as an Air Police and air base defense instructor from 1950 to 1953.

Other living recipients of the Gold Medal included Lt. Col. Marie Oliva, who started the Norwalk, Conn., Composite Squadron in 1943 and later founded the L’L Gabriel Band Squadron in California Wing in 1960; and Genevieve Guiffrida, who joined the Worcester, Mass., squadron as a cadet in 1943, then later moved to California.

Family members accepted the Gold Medal on behalf of Lt. Col. Virgil McCarron, Sgt. Melvin McCarron, 2d Lt. June Karelius Millard, Lt. Col. Orville Sandaker and 1st Lt. Edward Sieger.

Col. Jon Stokes, commander of CAP’s California Wing, presided over the awards ceremony, which included a color guard provided by March Field Composite Squadron 45.

In 18 months of combat flying in 1942 and 1943, CAP’s coastal patrol reported 173 enemy submarines, attacked 57, and is thought to have disabled two, all the time using light aircraft dropping depth charges and bombs. That effort earned 800 CAP members an Air Medal issued in 1948.  The Congressional Gold Medal signed into law May 30, 2014, honors other members of the World War II service.