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NC Wing Civil Air Patrol Presents Congressional Gold Medals

The North Carolina Leadership Academy cadets present the Colors and sing the National Anthem at the CAP Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Kernersville, NC, on Jan. 7, 2015.
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The North Carolina Leadership Academy cadets present the Colors and sing the National Anthem at the CAP Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Kernersville, NC, on Jan. 7, 2015. Photo Credit: Capt Jeremy Browner, PAO, MER-NC-048 (click image to view full size)
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Five local heroes receive recognition for their work during WWII

1/11/2015–On January 7, 2015, the Civil Air Patrol recognized four of Civil Air Patrol’s World War II founding members as recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal.  The presentation ceremony took place at the North Carolina Leadership Academy (NCLA) in Kernersville, NC.

The event opened with the presentation of the Colors and the singing of the National Anthem by the NCLA’s Civil Air Patrol cadets.  Lt Col Shelley Gonzales, the NCLA Cadet Squadron Commander, welcomed everyone to the historic event.

The Civil Air Patrol’s Wright Brothers Award was then presented to NCLA Cadet Commander Katlin C. Lanier and to NCLA Staff Sgt Seth D. Brannan.  

Col David E. Crawford, the Civil Air Patrol’s NC Wing Commander, gave a moving speech about the history of the Civil Air Patrol and how Civil Air Patrol members, including the Congressional Gold Medal recipients, had contributed to the Civil Air Patrol’s important work protecting America during World War II.  Col Crawford noted that, “the Civil Air Patrol was entering its’ 74th year of service to the Nation and had a legacy of service dating back to December 1, 1941.”

After Japan and Germany declared war on the United States, “members of the general aviation community were organizing and evangelizing as to the role that general aviation could play in the event war came closer to home.  By September 1942, twenty-one Civil Air Patrol bases existed in 13 states, including two bases in North Carolina: Coastal Patrol Base 16 in Manteo and Coastal Patrol Base 21 in Beaufort,” stated Col Crawford.  Operating in pairs, these brave pilots maintained coastal patrols from dawn to dusk, flying up to 60 miles offshore with nothing but a radio and a compass.  After the arming of coastal patrol aircraft was authorized in 1942, Civil Air Patrol pilots carried live demolition bombs in their laps that they would throw out the window at German U-boats.  But, said Col Crawford, “the Civil Air Patrol’s Coastal Patrol service came at the high cost of 26 fatalities, 7 serious injuries, and 90 aircraft lost.”

Col Crawford noted that, in 1942, the Germans withdrew their last submarines operating off the East Coast.  “At least one high-level German Navy Officer credited Civil Air Patrol as one reason that submarine attacks moved away from the United States when he concluded that, “[i]t was because of those damned little red and yellow planes!”

Civil Air Patrol’s contribution to the war effort wasn’t just through the Coastal Patrol.  Throughout the rest of the war, Civil Air Patrol members ferried personnel and over 3.5 million pounds of equipment.  And starting in 1942, Civil Air Patrol pilots provided Tow Target Service for aerial gunnery training. 

Col Crawford emphasized that World War II was a time when “ordinary people did extraordinary things.”  He then presented the Congressional Gold Medal to four of North Carolina’s Civil Air Patrol World War II Founding Members:

Patricia Whinnery Barber from Winston-Salem, NC, joined Civil Air Patrol as a cadet during WWII to do something in the field of aviation.  Cadet activities set the tone for the rest of her life and she went on to achieve great things in her flying career.  In 2006, Mrs. Barber received the prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award from the Federal Aviation Administration.  Mrs. Barber, age 85, still flies today.  She married her flight instructor, Frank Barber, in 1947 and credits flying together as the secret to their 67 years of happy marriage.

Lt Col Jewell Bailey Brown from Elkin, NC, first learned to fly at the age of fourteen and first soloed on her sixteenth birthday.  In 1943, she joined Civil Air Patrol and was an active member of the Charleston, SC Squadron where she participated in beach patrols during World War II.  Col Brown went on to earn her private pilot’s license followed by her commercial license.  In 1949, when she was in her 20’s, she set an altitude record when she flew a Piper Super Cub to an altitude of 26,875 feet.  Col Brown is a former pilot for Wing Walkers where she did aerobatic flying.  Her son, who accompanied her to the ceremony, stated that he hates flying today because of his mother subjecting him to aerial barrel rolls and loops when he was a child.  Col Brown survived several crash landings as a pilot, including once landing in a corn field with only one wheel.  Today she lives on-site at the Elkin Airport with her family.

Col Charles “Weldon” Fields, Sr., from Greensboro, NC, was a Civil Air Patrol 1st lieutenant in World War II assigned as a communications officer at Coastal Patrol Base 16 in Manteo.  He flew as an observer on antisubmarine missions, accumulating more than 150 hours of patrol duty.  Col Fields then transferred to Monogram Field in Driver, VA, where he served as communications officer for Tow Target Unit 21’s new base of operations.  Although Col Fields, age 100, could not attend the ceremony in person, his children, Charlanne Fields Tippett and Charles Weldon Fields II, accepted the medal on his behalf.  After the formal recognition ceremony, Col Crawford and Lt Col Gonzales travelled to Greensboro to personally present Col Fields with a Certificate recognizing his contributions to the Civil Air Patrol and to thank him for his service to the nation.

Lt Col Paul Sigmon, age 90, of Mount Holly, NC, was a corporal in Civil Air Patrol who assisted in building Coastal Patrol Base 21 in Beaufort, NC.  The Civil Air Patrol members there converted a mosquito-infested overgrown field, surrounded by marsh, into a working airbase.  Col Sigmon was one of the base members assigned to build a new runway for the Coastal Patrol planes.  Once the base was up and running, he served there until the day it closed.  Col Sigmon’s grandson, Scottie Sigmon, attended the ceremony and accepted the medal on his grandfather’s behalf.  “My grandpa is my role model and the strongest man I’ve ever known,” said Scottie Sigmon of Gastonia, NC.  “It is an honor to be here today on his behalf.”

Retired USAF Col Raymond B. Kleber, 89, was also recognized at the ceremony as an honored guest.  Col Kleber had received his Congressional Gold Medal on Dec. 10, 2014 in Washington, D.C., for his outstanding achievements in the Civil Air Patrol during World War II.  Col Kleber, a Goldsboro resident, is a former commander of the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.  Among his many achievements, Col Kleber was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star while serving as Commander of the 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Vietnam.  A true war hero, Col Kleber flew over 300 combat missions in Southeast Asia.  

Brad Langston, of Congressman Mark Walker’s office (Cong. 6th Dist.-NC) also attended the ceremony and stated, “what an honor it was to be in the company of these distinguished Americans.”

Col Crawford concluded the ceremony by thanking the large audience for attending.