As Anniversary Approaches, Civil Air Patrol Looks to Honor World War II’s ‘Unsung Heroes’

CAP, an all-volunteer service of more than 61,000 members, was founded 70 years ago on Dec. 1, 1941, less than a week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor led to America’s involvement in World War II.

Wylie Apte Sr., who died in 1970, was a seasoned pilot, having flown with the Army Air Corps during World War I and later owning and operating White Mountain Airport in North Conway, N.H. As a CAP member, Apte was assigned to a unit of the Coastal Patrol based in Portland, Maine, to search for enemy subs off the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Flying his own Waco YKS-7 biplane, Apte trailed an antenna, longer than 100 yards, for communication back to his land base, which would in turn be used to notify the military to dispatch fighters and bombers in the event a sub was spotted.

Propelled by duty and love of country, Joseph W. Leonard joined CAP the day it was established, six days before Pearl Harbor. Leonard, who remained a CAP member until his death in March of this year, was a member of the Pennsylvania Wing’s Chester Squadron. He flew out of Coastal Patrol Base 2 at Rehoboth Beach, Del. Base 2 was populated by such CAP heroes as Eddie Edwards, who received the first Air Medal of World War II from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his daring all-night rescue of a downed CAP pilot from the Atlantic waters.

In a journal he left behind, Leonard wrote: “On my day off I was in the habit of going surfing. There I had a close encounter with a torpedo that was fired at a convoy a few miles offshore and missed. I was about a half mile beyond the breakers, watching a convoy heading north. I was focusing on the ships and didn’t notice the bubble trail approaching me until it was pretty close. I rolled the surfboard to one side, and the German torpedo slid by me.”

To support CAP’s Congressional Gold Medal legislation, contact federal legislators, both senators and representatives, and ask them to cosponsor H.R. 719 and S. 418. In both houses, two-thirds of the membership must sponsor a bill before it can be brought up for a vote. Sample letters and other details, including a list of current cosponsors, are available at

Meanwhile, anyone with information on adult CAP members who served the organization during World War II is encouraged to upload their information into the World War II Congressional Gold Medal database at

Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with more than 61,000 members nationwide. CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and was credited by the AFRCC with saving 54 lives in fiscal year 2011. Its unpaid professionals also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to nearly 27,000 young people currently participating in CAP cadet programs. CAP has been performing missions for America for 70 years. It is a major partner of Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans. Visit or for more information on CAP.


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