COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AFNS) --
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest ranking civilian award, and it is extremely rare to meet a recipient, but for one local resident who was in the Civil Air Patrol during World War II, it's a little less rare now.
Joining a prestigious list of recipients ranging from George Washington to Gandhi, the U.S. House of Representatives' voted on May 19, to award the Civil Air Patrol the Congressional Gold Medal for its volunteer service during World War II, when more than 120,000 members volunteered to support the military effort and help keep the nation secure. Long-time Colorado Springs resident Wayne Field is one of the surviving members to receive this honor.
"I have lived a long life, but this is the most meaningful thing that has happened to me and I cannot be more proud," said Field, who was in the CAP for more than 30 years. "CAP has deserved this for years and has done so much more than the public realizes."
Field received a phone call notifying him that the award had been passed in both Houses of the government.
"My heart hit the ceiling," Field said. "Why did they pick me? My only comment was a three letter word, 'WOW!' It's like you almost don't believe it, the Civil Air Patrol needs more recognition. I love it; the cadets, fellow members and everything I did while in the CAP."
In 1943, Field, then 17, served as a member of CAP's Tri-City Squadron located in Binghamton, New York. There, he trained in enemy aircraft identification and detection in the advent of a Nazi attack on the United States.
In addition to Field, now 88, three other Colorado veterans were recognized with the gold medal for the CAP's contribution during World War II. Col. Jim Cooksey is a resident of Aurora and Col. Paul Gilmore is a resident of Denver. A third member, Lt. Col. John Butler, now deceased, hailed from Westminster.
"It's the best thing that has ever happened to me," Field
said about receiving the honor. "No, I can't say that, I got married. It's the best thing that has happened to me in a longtime; and I have had some pretty nice things happen to me."
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who introduced the Senate legislation in February 2013, hailed the House vote last week.
"I am delighted to see this bill receive final approval," said Harkin, the commander of the CAP's Congressional Squadron. "The men and women of the 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."
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 nearly 244,600 hours, about 24 million miles logged. More than 70 planes sent out from coastal patrol bases crashed into the waters, and 26 CAP members were killed.
"I learned a lot and taught a lot during my long time in the Civil Air Patrol," Field said. "Kids should look into joining, and if they join they need to be active in it. Learn, share, maybe do a little teaching."
The Colorado wing of the CAP continues this proud tradition of service, supporting disaster relief missions in the air and on the ground, conducting search and rescue, and promoting aerospace education initiatives in communities across the state.
For more information about the Civil Air Patrol, visit http://www.gocivilairpatrol.com/
. To see the complete list of Congressional Gold Medal recipients, visit http://history.house.gov/Institution/Gold-Medal/Gold-Medal-Recipients/