Pelosi Remarks at Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Honoring World War II Civil Air Patrol
“Good afternoon. Thank you for that beautiful rendition of America the beautiful. My favorite verse is the one that begins, ‘O beautiful for patriot dream/That sees beyond the years.’ That’s what our Civil Air Patrolmen did. Major [General Joseph R.] Vasquez, Former Congressman Lester Wolff – I’m so honored to be here with you, as I am to be with our Speaker, who made this all possible, Leader Reid, Leader McConnell, Congressman McCaul, and thanks to you and Henry Cuellar for introducing this legislation.
“Time and again across our history, at the darkest and most desperate hours of national need, everyday citizens have stepped forward to confront the enemy and defend our country. Our nation faced harrowing months after our surprise entry into World War II. As has been mentioned, this week marks the anniversary of the observance of Pearl Harbor. Even after President Roosevelt’s efforts to ready the nation, our military was not as prepared or equipped, and was unable to match the Axis war machine.
“German U-boats prowled the Gulf and the East coast with near impunity – taking a grim and terrible toll on ships and tankers even within view of American beaches and cities. Yet once more, at this time of national emergency, thousands of Americans from across the country took it upon themselves to buy time for the cavalry. As the minutemen had rushed to arms in the Revolutionary War to protect their towns and win our liberty, so too did the civilians of the Civil Air Patrol rush into the skies to guard our shores and drive back the forces of tyranny.
“Some too young, some too old, some too infirm for the military, these men and women would not be denied the opportunity to use their aviation skills in the service of our country. Many of you and others who were with you then left jobs and shuttered businesses; they traveled to ramshackle airbases and slept in converted chicken coops – they tell me; they worked without pay or for a bare-bones per diem each day – just to risk your lives and climb into small civilian aircraft to scan the waves for ships, survivors and submarines.
“Civil Air Patrol planes were the guardian angels of our shipping – flying even when weather grounded the military. Your constant presence in the skies spotting, harassing and attacking submarines gave the nation time to mobilize and played a critical role in restoring security to our coasts and pushing the U-boat menace back out to sea. Reflecting on this part of the Civil Air Patrol’s contributions to the war effort, the then-Commanding General of the Air Forces said: ‘If it had done nothing beyond that, the Civil Air Patrol would have earned an honorable place in the history of American air power.’
“But you did do much more, as Representative McCaul said: training cadets, patrolling the border, watching for forest fires, leading search and rescue missions, delivering essential parts and medicine, testing civil air defenses and towing targets in dangerous live-fire anti-aircraft exercises.
“By the end of the war, the civilian men and women of the Civil Air Patrol had flown 750,000 hours of missions. 65 volunteers had given their lives on active duty. ‘Semper Vigilans’ cries the motto of the Civil Air Patrol. Then as now, ‘always vigilant,’ ever ready to rush to the rescue for our country.
“Your service honored the finest traditions of our military. Your legacy inspires the Civil Air Patrol’s continuing commitment to our country. Your sacrifice embodies the indomitable spirit of Americans that defines our history.
“Today, it is our honor – in the heart of our democracy, in this Capitol of the United States – it is our honor and privilege, joining with House and Senate leadership and so many people – to present the Congressional Gold Medal to the World War II veterans of the Civil Air Patrol – and to recognize the flying minutemen and women of the 20th Century. Thank you.”