In historic vote, House approves Congressional Gold Medal for Civil Air Patrol
Medal to honor founding members’ World War II service
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – When the founding members of Civil Air Patrol, the U.S. Air Force auxiliary, risked life and limb to help protect the home front during the early days of World War II, they weren’t looking for recognition.
Some seven decades later, though, they’re receiving it, thanks to the U.S. House of Representatives’ voice vote late Monday afternoon to award CAP a Congressional Gold Medal for its volunteer service during the war, when more than 120,000 members stepped up to support the military effort and help keep the nation secure. The Senate approved the gold medal legislation a year ago. A new CAP website provides full coverage of CAP’s Congressional Gold Medal journey, including vintage photos, bios of living World War II veterans, nationally renowned veterans, B-roll video and blog posts.
In Alaska, early members recognized with the gold medal include Jean White in Anchorage and Jane Souten in Wasilla.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who introduced the Senate legislation in February 2013, hailed the House vote Monday. “I am delighted to see this bill receive final approval,” said Harkin, commander of CAP’s Congressional Squadron. “The men and women of Civil Air Patrol stepped up and served their country when it needed them during the darkest days of World War II, and it’s time we recognized them and thanked them for their service.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who introduced the gold medal proposal in the House, praised the legacy CAP’s founders established.
“The awarding of the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, to the members of the Civil Air Patrol ensures that long overdue and proper recognition has finally been bestowed upon these brave men,” McCaul said.
“The Civil Air Patrol's valiant efforts in defending our coastline, providing combat services and flying dangerous humanitarian missions in America during World War II embodies the American Spirit of volunteerism. These brave men were an integral part in defending not only our homeland but also our principles of freedom and liberty.
“I am proud Congress has taken this step to recognize all of the important work the Civil Air Patrol did," he said.
CAP was founded Dec. 1, 1941, a week before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Within three months, CAP members were using their own planes to fly anti-submarine missions off the East and Gulf coasts, where German U-boats were sinking American ships carrying oil and other vital supplies to the Allies. By the time that mission ended Aug. 31, 1943, CAP’s coastal patrols had flown 86,685 missions totaling 244,600 hours and more than 24 million miles. Seventy-four planes sent out from coastal patrol bases crashed into the water; 26 CAP members were killed.
Elsewhere, CAP’s airborne missions throughout the U.S. included border patrols, target-towing for military trainees, fire and forest patrols, searches for missing people and aircraft, disaster relief, emergency transport of people and supplies, and orientation flights for future pilots. Many from the organization’s ranks went on to join the Army Air Forces.
Civil Air Patrol’s national commander, Maj. Gen. Chuck Carr, said, “The heroic service provided by our members during World War II helped save lives and preserve our nation’s freedom. I am very grateful they are finally receiving the recognition they so deserve.”
CAP’s legacy of selfless service for the nation and its communities continues today. In all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, CAP members stand ready to respond to such challenges as natural and man-made disasters and searches for missing aircraft or individuals.
Ellen Jean White, Anchorage, Alaska
By Paris Morthorpe
Ellen Jean White became a member of the Iowa Wing of Civil Air Patrol in 1941, at the age of 20. White was already a trained and licensed pilot at that time, so was given the rank of technical sergeant, as were all pilots in the CAP. White joined Civil Air Patrol with the intention of flying with the WASPs. Unfortunately, she was a quarter of an inch too short and was unable to join all of her female colleagues who were able to fulfill that ambition.
White's interest in flying began early although she had no opportunity to learn to fly due to the expense. She recalls asking her father to pay for a flight at the age of 13. However, this was during the Great Depression and the cost of $5 was too much. At the age of 15 she won an essay competition which gave her a chance to fly to Washington on a DC3. She eventually was able to take part in a civilian pilot training course in college and obtain her license. One tenth of the student population was allocated for women, and White was lucky to be part of that. White admits to being "crazy about flying" and managed to obtain her pilot's license before her driver's license.
Because White was already an experienced pilot, she took on the role of aerospace educator, teaching navigation to the other members. She emphasized practical navigation, teaching her students how to fly from Sioux City to Omaha including practical skills, such as where to land in emergencies. Although at that time there were no cadets in CAP, White's impression was that women were welcome in the organization, and were encouraged to fly.
During the war, White's job at the time was in the defense industry, working the swing shift. She rode her bicycle to and from work, and to the local CAP unit. The unit, Number 15, in Sioux City, Iowa, did not have airplanes but there were member-owned airplanes available to fly. The most popular of which was the Piper J3 Cub. Due to her defense swing shift work, White was unable to continue with CAP after 1943, as the meeting nights conflicted with her work schedule.
In 1944 White joined the Army Air Force as a staff sergeant and airplane mechanic. As such, she had a few opportunities to fly with their pilots on maintenance test flights and managed to operate the controls. The airplane she worked on at the time was the AT6. After seven years, White became a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force and went on to serve in Texas, California, Alabama, Colorado and finally to Alaska. At the time of her retirement, White had obtained the rank of lieutenant colonel, and had served altogether for 26 years, working in supply and logistics.
White's love of skiing brought her to her final posting in Alaska, where she retired. She keeps busy taking care of her nieces and nephews. White is also an active member of the 99s, an organization that promotes female pilots. She also takes an interest in the Anchorage area CAP. Like her idol, Amelia Earhart, Ellen Jean White is a wonderful example of a pioneering female pilot and is a credit to the early days of the Civil Air Patrol.
Jane Soeten, Wasilla, Alaska
By Paris Morthorpe
Jane Soeten joined the Tulsa squadron of Civil Air Patrol’s Oklahoma Wing as a 14-year-old cadet in 1943.Like many of her friends of that time, Soeten wanted to help the war effort in whatever way she was able. When the opportunity came to join CAP, she not only participated but excelled in the program.
At that time, the girls trained separately from the boy cadets, meeting every Sunday after the senior member meetings. Early on, she participated in drill competitions with her squadron, which was led by the commander’s wife. As part of her cadet squadron’s ground team, she twice took part in a search for a downed airplane. A Civilian Defense Office was in operation at the airport near her squadron so she became a messenger for them, performing a valuable service during the war.
Food and fuel rationing is something most of us could never conceive of but Soeten and her friends did what they could by gathering up scrap metal and chewing gum wrappers, “Everybody wanted to do their part,” Jane explained. An air raid warden was on every block with everyone taking part in disaster drills. “The country was so united, we didn’t have television, iPads or cell phones.” Newsreels at the movies and radio relayed the war stories back home, keeping folks back home ever present in the war effort.
While on local flights out of the squadron, the cadets would act as navigators. As a cadet, Soeten and her fellow flying students took classes in navigation, theory of flight, meteorology, rules of flying and Morse code. By the time she was 16 years old, Soeten had obtained her single engine flight certificate with a goal toward becoming a WASP and ferrying airplanes across the Atlantic Ocean. During her flight training, she flew a Piper Cub, PT19, PT22 and a Stearman. When the war ended soon after, Soeten continued to fly. She flew friends to nearby football games, and recalled that the cost of renting the airplane was $5.
Soeten went on to become an executive director for the YWCA and a logistics analyst for Boeing as well as raising a family of two children. Age has not slowed her down either. In fact, at age 65, she began playing basketball, going on to win a gold medal with her team at the National Senior Games. She went on to win several medals in track and field events and plans to continue competing at future National Senior Games. Soeten also volunteers three days a week at the nearby Mat-Su Regional Hospital.
When asked if her time in Civil Air Patrol had a lasting impact on her life, Soeten said that learning drill and military bearing leads to self-discipline. “The military concept of saluting and respect are lifelong qualities that you inherit from that kind of an atmosphere.” Soeten has spoken to cadets at the Minuteman squadron in Wasilla, Alaska, and plans to continue to be a mentor there in the future. Alaska cadets are privileged to have the assistance of such a motivated and experienced former Civil Air Patrol cadet as Jane Soeten.
Civil Air Patrol, the official Air Force auxiliary, is a nonprofit organization. It performs more than 85 percent of inland search and rescue missions in the continental United States as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. Volunteers also take a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to America's youths through CAP Cadet Programs. For more information about Civil Air Patrol programs, call 1-800-FLY-2338.