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Civil Air Patrol History

The Civil Air Patrol is an organization rich in history and dedicated to service to our nation. For more than 50 years, volunteer men, women, and young people from every state in the nation, plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, have aggressively performed the missions of CAP. It is with the this spirit that CAP presses into the 21st century and beyond. The idea for the Civil Air Patrol had its roots in the late 1930's. Germany invaded Poland on September 2, 1939 and the balck cloud of world war seemed to cast its shadow upon the hopes of peace. 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. 1 Among them were nearly 150,000 men and women involved in aviation. Gill Robb Wilson, an aviator with the support of Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold, was the instrumental catalyst in the creation of the Civil Air Patrol on Dec. 1, 1941 - one week before Pearl Harbor.

Civil Air Patrol was organized as part of the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense, headed by former New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.

Civil Air Patrol members became the "Minutemen" of World War II, volunteering their time, resources, and talents to defend the nation's borders and fill the gaps as men and resources were being mobilized to fight abroad. 2 Civil Air Patrol light planes patrol the Gulf of Mexico seeking German submarines. Most of the planes are based in Brownsville and are unarmed.3

The War Department, especially the Army Air Forces, recognized the important roles performed by CAP. In April 1943, CAP was reassigned from the Office of Civilian Defense to the War Department and placed under the jurisdiction of the Army Air Forces.

During World War II, its all volunteer members performed valiantly providing orientation flights to thousands of prospective aviation cadets and recruits. They performed many missions including a 24 million mile 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. They summoned help for 91 ships in distress and 363 survivors of submarine attacks.

Patrol crews spotted 173 enemy submarines, dropped bombs or depth charges on 57 of them and received credit for sinking or seriously damaging at least two. Others were destroyed by planes and ships summoned by Civil Air Patrol radios.4

Civil Air Patrol crews flew many other wartime missions, including a courier service for airlift of personnel and light cargo; target towing and tracking flights for training anti-aircraft gunners; powerline and pipeline surveillance; forest fire patrol; and patrol along the southern U.S. border. From 1942 to 1944 C.A.P. planes fly 30,000 hours on border patrol between Brownsville, TX and Dougles, AZ, looking for suspicious activities. They report almost 7,000 out-of-the-ordinary activities, 176 suspicious aircraft and ensure the capture of two enemy agents and an enemy radio station. 5 Sixty-four members died while performing wartime operations.

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 organization became a permanent peacetime institution on July 1, 1946. On that date, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 476 of the 79th Congress, incorporating Civil Air Patrol in its present form.6

The 1950's saw a new age for CAP as it took on Cold War and Search and Rescue responsiblities. In 1957 the Brownsville Composite Squadron, which is still based at Brownsville airport, was formed. The unit serves both senior members (adults) and cadets.



Back to Group III/ Texas Wing Page:

Works Cited

1 CAP Manual 50-2 , Marketing & Publications Directorate, CAP National
Headquarters,Maxwell AFB,

2 Ibid

3 Brownsville Comp. Squadron Web-page/History
Brownsville, Texas,

4 Ibid

5 Ibid

6Texas Wing/ Civil Air Patrol Facts

7 CAP Manual 50-2 , Marketing & Publications Directorate, CAP National
Headquarters,Maxwell AFB,