Started by RiverAux, November 28, 2006, 10:12:09 PM
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QuoteThe first line of defense: Coastal Patrol 3 earns its recognitionBy Tim O'MeiliaPalm Beach Post Staff WriterMonday, November 27, 2006Some days Charles Weeks searched for German U-boats in a single-engine Cessna, sometimes a three-seat Stinson or a Fairbanks 24.In 1942-43, Weeks and other civilians and their private planes were Florida's own air force, flying missions from the newly cleared Lantana airport, their headquarters in a white tent. "Protecting Florida in Piper Cubs," laughed Weeks, 87, of West Palm Beach.With bombs and depth charges fastened to the undersides of their planes, Weeks and his 53 buddies of the Civil Air Patrol crisscrossed the blue Atlantic between Palm Beach, the Bahamas and Cape Canaveral looking for enemy submarines.In the early days of World War II, the defense of Florida's shoreline was left to the eager band of civilian pilots manning a motley collection of single-engine "puddle jumpers."For 17 months, before military aircraft took over, the newly created Civil Air Patrol flew nearly 20,000 hours and covered 1.5 million miles, their tiny planes toting 100-pound bombs and bigger depth charges on makeshift racks riveted to their planes.The Lantana unit, called Coastal Patrol 3, made 14 attacks on German U-boats, dropping 20 bombs. There were no confirmed kills but nationwide, CAP pilots were credited with destroying two German submarines."Hardly anyone really knows the history of the unit here," said Richard Marconi, the education director of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, who has set about to change that. He has been collecting the story of CP 3 for two years.A state historical marker will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Friday, the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Civil Air Patrol, at the Lantana airport in recognition of the contributions of the men of CP 3. Weeks and other survivors of the unit will speak."These men are local heroes," Marconi said of the unit that spotted submarines, radioed the military and directed rescue boats to disabled vessels. "This is the recognition they deserve."The story begins in mid-1941 with the nation gearing for war. The Florida National Guard had been called to federal duty and Gov. Spessard Holland and the Legislature created the Florida Defense Force to replace the guard. One of the units, the 1st Air Squadron, was based at Morrison Field, which would later become Palm Beach International Airport.When the CAP was chartered in 1941, six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 1st Air Squadron became CP 3. Its job was to spot German subs, which had been roaming offshore, in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, sinking non-U.S. registered cargo ships."It was all-volunteer, provide your own plane and no pay," Marconi said. It was an offer many couldn't refuse. Among the volunteer pilots were such notable names in county history as Marshall "Doc" Rinker, who later founded Rinker Materials Corp.; county commissioners John Prince and Cecil "Zeke" Cornelius; county engineer Jake Boyd and county attorney Henry Lilenthal.Palm Beach social personalities Charlie and Gurnee Munn sometimes flew and often donated the use of their planes. Nationally syndicated cartoonist and pilot Zack Mosley Jr., creator of the Smilin' Jack strip, designed CP 3's insignia and had it painted on his plane.They were soon booted from Morrison Field, the story being that the military didn't fancy sharing hangar space with undisciplined civilian fly boys. The truth was, CP 3 was commanded by Wright Vermilya, a stern and discipline-minded former World War I pilot, who owned Palm Beach Aero Corp.At first, their orders were to just spot German U-boats, then radio the military. But in May 1942, pilot Rinker and observer Tom Manning found a German sub stranded on a sandbar off Cape Canaveral.For an hour, they circled, calling for a bomber, but none came. The tide came in, freeing the U-boat and it escaped. After that, Vermilya got permission to arm his rag-tag air force."It was really dangerous work," Marconi said. "With those bombs strapped on, a pilot and an observer and survival gear on board, it took 20 minutes for some of the planes to climb to 500 feet. Then it was two hours out and two hours back."A few CP 3 missions went down, but no one was lost, unlike some of the other 18 Civil Air Patrol posts along the coast from Maine to Mexico. Pilot Wiley Reynolds Jr., who went on to become a Palm Beach bank president, and spotter Ralph Cohn put down 12 miles off shore."Ralph couldn't swim but the plane floated for eight minutes, so they could get the rafts off the plane," said Marconi, recounting a story the late Reynolds told. "Fortunately, a fishing boat was only about five minutes away."Survivors of such mishaps became members of the unofficial Duck Club, with their own insignia.Weeks, then 23, and others paid little heed to the risks. He took the missions of those who gave up their turns. "I was young and eager and wanting to fly night and day. It was exciting," Weeks said. "At that point, we didn't realize how hazardous it was. It didn't factor into our equation." Eventually, Weeks logged more time aloft than anyone in CP 3, 1,114 hours.One hanger-on was Owen Gassaway, a 17-year-old more interested in fixing model planes than flying the real ones. He began to help keep them flying."I loved to see them fly somewhere because when they broke 'em, I got to fix 'em," said Gassaway, now 82 and owner of Florida Airmotive, based at the Lantana airport.He said the real truth about why CP 3 moved from Morrison Field to Lantana was that the military was afraid "some dumb civilian would set off a bomb and blow up their airport.""I was glad to see 'em go and glad to see 'em come back, 'cause that meant I did something right," Gassaway said.The submarine hunting mission ended in mid-1943 when the military took over the job. Many of the pilots went into the armed forces. Gassaway ended up on a tank in Patton's army. Weeks joined the Army Air Corps and flew in the Pacific. When they returned from the war, they were partners for a time. Weeks went on to become a corporate pilot and stopped flying only four years ago. "I feel I could get in it right now and do it successfully," he said.Vintage photographs, original footage and interviews with four members of the unit will be part of a one-hour documentary called Puddle Jumpers of Lantana: The History of the Civil Air Patrol's Coast Patrol Base 3, 1942-1943, that Marconi, the historical society and Frank Eberling of Palm Beach Film Groups are producing. It will be narrated by actor and Palm Beach County native Monte Markham. The Marshall E. Rinker Sr. Foundation is underwriting the project.Clips from the documentary will be shown at Friday's dedication."These men risked their lives to protect their country," Marconi said. "They risked their lives for what they believed in, for little or nothing at all."
QuotePalm Beach County to commemorate Civil Air Patrol's 65th anniversary with historical markerCeremony slated for Dec. 1 at Lantana Airport -- former home of CAP's Coastal Patrol Base 3 November 29, 2006 FLORIDA — Some of the most fascinating and little-known stories about the all-volunteer Civil Air Patrol -- including the sinking of two German U-boats while patrolling America's shores during World War II -- occurred in Palm Beach County, Fla. And to honor the organization's 65th anniversary this year, the Historical Society of Palm Beach County will host a ceremony to commemorate the CAP and dedicate a state historical marker on Dec. 1 at 10 a.m. at the Lantana Airport. Palm Beach County's involvement in the CAP began in May 1941 at Morrison Field, on the site where Palm Beach International Airport stands today. Florida's National Guard was called to duty by the federal government, and the State was left without a guard force. In reaction, the Florida Defense Force was established, consisting of local infantry units and one air squadron. The First Air Squadron's mission was to provide coastal patrols and fly support operations during emergencies. Several months after the formation of the CAP, the Army Air Corps approved the establishment of three 90-day experimental bases to perform anti-submarine patrols in response to attacks by German U-boats. The first two bases were set up in New Jersey and Delaware, and a third was introduced in Palm Beach County in March, 1942 as Coastal Patrol Base Three (CP 3) located at Morrison Field. When CP 3 was established, the men of the First Air Squadron transferred into the CAP unit and launched its first anti-submarine patrols in April 1942. CP 3 moved its operations from Morrison Field to Lantana Airport a few months later. From April 1942 until Aug. 31, 1943, the unit flew daily anti-submarine patrols from Lantana to Cape Canaveral. After military forces assumed the anti-submarine patrols, some of the men who served in the CAP went on to serve on active military duty, while others continued to serve in some capacity with the CAP. It was not until 1948 that approximately 800 CAP members were recognized for their war-time service and awarded the military's Air Medal. A ceremony for 200 Florida members was held at Lantana Airport, and 53 members of CP 3 were awarded medals for their war-time service. The list of men who served in CP 3 reads like a "Who's Who" of Palm Beach County. It includes county commissioners John Prince and Cecil "Zeke" Cornelius; Marshall E. "Doc" Rinker, founder of Rinker Materials Corp.; Jake Boyd, county engineer; Henry Lilenthal, county attorney; Wright Vermilya, Jr., Palm Beach Aero Corporation president and commander of CP 3 and the Florida CAP Wing; Wiley R. Reynolds, Jr., future president of First National Bank of Palm Beach; nationally known cartoonist Zack T. Mosley Jr.; and other community leaders, businessmen and local resident volunteers. The full story of CP 3 is not well known to the public. For the past two years the Historical Society of Palm Beach County has been collecting the history of this courageous unit to preserve the legacy of these local heroes. In an effort led by Richard Marconi, the Historical Society's education coordinator, oral histories have been recorded as told by four CP 3 members – Charles Weeks, Jr., Wiley Reynolds, Jr. (recently deceased), David Thompson and the unofficial member and mechanic of the unit, Owen Gassaway. A session was also recorded with current and former World War II CAP member, Lt. Col. Harvey Bennett, of the Florida Wing and CAP National Commander Maj. Gen. General Antonio J. Pineda, CAP National Commander. The Historical Society has also collected photographs, a painting depicting WWII CAP planes at Lantana Airport, a 1943 CAP poster by comic strip artist Zack Mosley and an original Air Medal. These items are being compiled along with original footage of the war into a one-hour documentary called "Puddle Jumpers of Lantana: The History of the Civil Air Patrol's Coastal Patrol Base 3, 1942-1943." The film is being produced by Frank Eberling of Palm Beach Film Groups, and underwritten by the Marshall E. Rinker Senior Foundation. It is narrated by Monte Markham, a Palm Beach County resident and graduate of Palm Beach High School.Invited guests to the ceremony include surviving members of CP 3 and their families, as well as CAP officials in Florida and local officials and community leaders. Col. Pat O'Key, the new Florida Wing commander for CAP and wing member Lt. Col. S. Buddy Harris, a former CAP subchaser, is on the agenda to speak, followed by Palm Beach County Commissioner Warren Newell, who will unveil the state historical marker granted by the Florida State Division of Historical Resources. "The story of Coastal Patrol Base 3 is a true account of living legends, and an important part of the history of Palm Beach County and the Civil Air Patrol," said Richard Marconi, education coordinator for the Historical Society. "It is time that this story is told, and that the brave men who banded together to help defend our shores, are properly honored. This historical marker will be a constant reminder of their heroism." CAP, the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with nearly 57,000 members nationwide. It was established on Dec. 1, 1941. Today it performs 95 percent of the continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions. It was credited by the Air Force with saving 73 lives in 2005. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and counterdrug missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. Members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to the more than 22,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet program.For more details about the ceremony or the "Puddle Jumpers of Lantana" documentary, please contact Richard Marconi at (561) 832-4164, ext. 104.For more details about CAP, please contact CAP Public Affairs Manager Jim Tynan at (334) 953-9949.
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