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World War II required the full commitment of the U.S. military and its civilians at home. The volunteer Civil Air Patrol was formed just one week before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Its charter was to patrol U.S. coasts, providing surveillance and protection for military and supply ships. On May 30, President Barack Obama signed Bill S. 309 into law, awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Civil Air Patrol for its service during World War II.
Colonel Charles Compton, 98, of the Civil Air Patrol, and a resident at The Highlands at Westminster Place is one of fewer than 100 original CAP members still living to receive this medal.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation’s highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by an individual, institution, or event and must have the support of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Flying more than 500,000 hours, sinking two enemy submarines, and saving hundreds of crash victims from 1941 to 1945, 65 of the 120,000 CAP volunteers lost their lives.
“A number of us in the Civil Air Patrol realized that there were many who gave so much more,” said Colonel Compton. “We felt fortunate in our escort duty to return to a safe haven at night. But our thoughts were with the convoys that sailed off into harm’s way beyond the point where we could accompany them. We honor the work that they did.”
Colonel Compton flew out of the first operational CAP base in Atlantic City and provided submarine spotting and convoy protection along the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware. CAP, assigned to the War Department under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army, patrolled the U.S. coasts and provided aerial escort for military convoys, oilers and merchant ships bringing supplies to the Allies. CAP offered surveillance, warning and bombing of German U-boats that came within shore sight, attempting to torpedo these high-value targets.
On June 17, 20 members of the Palwaukee CAP Squadron visited Colonel Compton to celebrate his upcoming 98th birthday and present a certificate of the Congressional Gold Medal.
“Colonel Compton is our closest link to our earliest history, and we honor his service,” said Major David E. Gillingham, Civil Air Patrol, Palwaukee Squadron, Illinois Wing. “He is a treasure trove of memories and an inspiration to the young people in our cadet programs.”
Colonel Compton entered the Civil Air Patrol in 1941 and went on to become the commander of the Evanston-Morton Grove CAP squadron, retiring from active duty in 1970. Today, the Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the United States Air Force and is under its direction and supervision.