Renowned Civil Air Patrol subchaser dies

Started by alamrcn, December 14, 2009, 10:45:58 PM

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President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, seated left, presents the first two Air Medals ever awarded by the U.S. to CAP subchasers Maj. Hugh R. Sharp Jr., center, and 1st Lt. Edmond I. 'Eddie' Edwards, second from right, for the heroic rescue of 1st Lt. Henry Cross. Looking on is James M. Landis, wartime chief of the Office of Civilian Defense. By the end of World War II, CAP members had received 800 Air Medals.
Photo courtesy of CAP Historical Foundation

NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS -- One of Civil Air Patrol's most famous World War II "subchasers," honored for heroism by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, died on Saturday, Dec. 5, after a long illness. He was 96 years old.

Col. Edmond I. "Eddie" Edwards was widely known as the first Coastal Patrol (later Civil Air Patrol) pilot to spot a Nazi U-boat and radio its position to U.S. naval forces. The vessel crash-dived and headed farther out to sea, where it was less of a menace to U.S. shipping. This occurred on March 10, 1942, near the start of the war.

"He was probably one of the first subchasers to see the enemy," said Roger Thiel, a senior member and independent historian with CAP.

Based at Coastal Patrol Base 2 in Rehoboth Beach, Del., Edwards flew sub-hunting patrols offshore Delaware and Maryland, safeguarding oil tankers headed for Delaware Bay. The patrols were important because German U-boats were common along the Atlantic shoreline, sinking ships, barges and oil tankers, almost at will, in the early days of the war. The Navy and Army did not have the manpower to prevent the attacks. In one month alone, 52 ships were sunk.

Edwards and the others who flew with him became known as subchasers. They painted their light aircraft – mostly Stinsons and Fairchilds -- red and yellow. They flew daily from dawn to dusk, logging more than 24 million miles from 21 Coastal Patrol bases along America's East and Gulf coasts. They hunted U-boats "from Maine to Mexico." And they were quite successful, finding 173 subs, attacking 57, hitting 10 and sinking two. (CAP planes eventually carried bombs and depth charges while on patrol.)

Their effectiveness at deterring coastal U-boat operations in 1942 and early 1943 was instrumental in making CAP an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, which it is today. A German naval commander later confirmed that the U-boats had been withdrawn from the Atlantic Ocean because of those "[darn]ed red and yellow (CAP) planes.

In a Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame symposium, Edwards – a 2002 inductee – was asked how many missions he flew with Civil Air Patrol. "Missions! Heck, we flew every day!" quipped Edwards. That added up to some 300 patrols. In fact, records revealed that early Coastal Patrol pilots flew even on days when weather grounded military aviation.

Despite his notoriety as one of the very first subchasers, Thiel said Edwards held "celebrity status" within CAP as one of the first Coastal Patrol pilots awarded the Air Medal for heroism during World War II. He and his commanding officer, the late Maj. Hugh R. Sharp Jr., received the medal after Roosevelt heard of their daring rescue of a fellow airman downed in bitterly cold high seas off Maryland.

Edwards, in an interview for the Civil Air Patrol Volunteer in 2006, clearly remembered the rescue of 1st Lt. Henry Cross that earned him the medal and subchaser fame. "I got the call that one of our planes was down, and Maj. Sharp asked me to go with him," said Edwards. "We had no trouble finding the crash site. We spotted a body, so we made an emergency landing and fished him out. He was alive, but we never found the other guy."

The rescue on July 21, 1942, required that Edwards and Sharp land their aircraft, a Sikorsky S-63 single-engine amphibian piloted by Sharp, in swells reaching 8- to 10-feet high and, in the process, they crushed the left pontoon. So, to get back to Base 2, Edwards accomplished a daring feat by climbing out onto the right wing and using his weight to level the plane. A half-frozen Edwards clung there through the night until the early morning hours of the next day before a Coast Guard boat water taxied the unflyable aircraft to shore.

Roosevelt conferred the Air Medal to Edwards and Sharp in a White House ceremony in February of 1943. By that time, Edwards had joined the U.S. Navy, where he served as a flight instructor and later piloted Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers on patrols out of Hawaii.

"I was ushered into the Oval Office and decorated by FDR," said Edwards, in the 2006 interview, which commemorated CAP's 65th anniversary. "Of course, I was honored to receive the medal, but I was also so impressed with FDR."

Though Edwards and Sharp were the first civilians to receive the Air Medal, they were soon joined by others from their own ranks. By the end of World War II, 800 Air Medals had been presented to CAP members.

Edwards served in the Navy for three years, attaining the rank of senior-grade lieutenant. He served 27 years in the Navy Reserve, during which he pursued an active role in Delaware civil aviation. For a number of years, he ran the FBO and instructed at Weimer Airport at Newark, Del.

Thiel, a longtime acquaintance of Edwards who frequently visited with him during annual Coastal Patrol Base 2 reunions in Rehoboth Beach, said he often downplayed his notoriety.

"Eddie never considered himself special for the high profile personal recognition by President Roosevelt, often saying of the rescue for which his Air Medal was awarded, 'Anyone could have done it,' " said Thiel. "His accomplishments and humility indicate the heroic capabilities of regular U.S. citizens, especially in Civil Air Patrol."

A lifelong pilot, Edwards flew his own plane until the age of 85, flying out of Summit Aviation in Middletown, Del. He was a volunteer for Meals on Wheels and donated time to the Perry Point VA Medical Center. He also was a member of Civil Air Patrol, the Rotary Clubs of Middletown and Newark, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (Stephenson Lodge #135), OX5 Aviation Pioneers, Quite Birdmen and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and was an early supporter of the Delaware Agricultural Museum & Village in Dover, Del.

In 2006, Edwards was present for a ceremony unveiling the Rehoboth Beach Historical Marker, which was erected in memory of four Base 2 subchasers who died during World War II. In 2007, Civil Air Patrol promoted Edwards to the rank of colonel.

Edwards is survived by his wife, Blanche, and a son and two daughters: Edmond Jr., who lives in Missouri; Linda Jones of Shillington, Pa.; and Patricia Dawson of Bear, Del. His funeral will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at R.T. Foard & Jones Funeral Home, located at 122 W. Main St. in Newark. Friends and family may visit one hour prior to the service. Burial will be private.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Heartland Hospice, 256 Chapman Road, Newark, DE 19711, or the Delaware Agricultural Museum & Village, 866 North DuPont Highway, Dover, DE 19901.

- Steve Cox, PA Manager, Nat-HQ

Ace Browning, Maj, CAP
History Hoarder
71st Wing, Minnesota


96 y/o.. What a ride it must have been...

Blue skies my friend....


Another hero has gone West and for that we are all poorer.
Lt. Col. Randy L. Mitchell
Historian, Group 1, IL-006

Gunner C

Any idea of how many are left?  I know their ranks are pretty thin.

James Shaw

I believe less than 10. Last list I had was 12 and two have passed on that list. I am not sure about the others.
Jim Shaw
USN: 1987-1992
GANG: 1996-1998
CAP:2000 - Current
USCGA:2018 - Current
SGAUS: 2017 - Current


Jim, post the list here and maybe we can do some Google work on it.

There was a WWII CAP video available for purchase awhile back, including interviews with sub chasers. It was either done at one of the reunions, or by a historian. Should grab a copy next time I hear about it.

I know National has several interview audio recordings - Jim, you'ld probably know more (or be able to find out more) about those. I think Len might have done them when he first became Nat HO.

Ace Browning, Maj, CAP
History Hoarder
71st Wing, Minnesota