WWII CAP vets receive medal

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Civil Air Patrol veterans of World War II, who volunteered for combat operations and other emergency wartime missions under hazardous conditions, have been awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.

The House of Representatives passed a bill to award the medal on Monday. The Senate had passed the bill previously.

The medal, the greatest honor that Congress can bestow on an individual or group, will be formally presented to the CAP in a future ceremony. Both New Mexico Senators and all three House members were co-sponsors of the bill.

The CAP was founded on Dec. 1, 1941, just six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the U.S. into World War II. Early in the war, after ships leaving American ports to support the Allied war effort began drawing deadly attacks from German U-boats off the East Coast, CAP pilots, often using their own aircraft, carried out anti-submarine missions, calling in the Navy and Coast Guard when they spotted U-boats, and eventually attacking the submarines on their own.

Their vigilance helped discourage and eventually halt the U-boat attacks. Socorro had a CAP squadron during World War II, and cadets from Socorro attended a summer encampment in Roswell in 1944.

A Socorro CAP squadron had an airplane, mounted a number of search-and-rescue missions, and operated extensive communications facilities during the 1960s and early 1970s.

The current Socorro squadron was chartered in 2007. In addition to supervising the cadet program, Socorro’s adult CAP members have trained extensively for search-and-rescue and disaster-relief operations, and participated in real-world missions and numerous exercises.

Socorro members have earned flight-crew ratings and become experts in fields such as safety, communications, and public affairs. When the U.S. Air Force evaluated the NM Wing’s emergency operations in 2013, three Socorro members led sections that earned “outstanding” ratings — the highest rating possible.

The Socorro Composite Squadron and its members work to enhance the local airport and use it for economic development and to introduce the community’s youth to career opportunities in aviation and related fields. With the squadron’s hangar as the base, the CAP’s New Mexico glider program has moved the majority of its operations to Socorro, bringing pilots and cadets from around the state for introductory glider flights and flight training.

The squadron led in the formation and operation of the annual M Mountain Fly-In, using the expertise and volunteer service of its members to put on an event that has won an “Air Show of the Year” award from the New Mexico Airport Managers Association.

This event has brought pilots and aircraft from throughout the state, including vintage airplanes, homebuilts, warbirds, and active military aircraft to an enthusiastic audience of hundreds of residents every year since 2008.

The fly-in now includes an Aviation Career Day for local school students. The Socorro Composite Squadron is led by Major Dave Finley, commander, and Major Dennis Hunter, deputy commander. Major Glenn Mauger is the squadron’s emergency-services officer and communications officer, and1st Lt Carolyn Pekkala serves as finance officer. Capt Helen Green is the administration and personnel Officer. Cadet 2nd Lt T.J. Pekkala is the Cadet Commander.