Civil Air Patrol honors nine former members for World War II service with Congressional Gold Medals

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

Middletown, CT June 22, 2019

Connecticut Wing Civil Air Patrol held it annual conference this past weekend in Middletown, CT. Using old newspapers and member documents, Connecticut Wing Historians were able to piece together stories of nine different members who's lives intersected from October 1941 until September 1945.

The story told on Saturday was one of volunteerism, service and sacrifice. These nine individuals went from their everyday life in December 1941 to flying coastal patrol missions in search of German U-boats just 4 months later. Leaving their families and businesses to protect a vulnerable nation. The story is one that needs to be told to inspire the next generation of Civil Air Patrol members. A total of 65 volunteers -- 62 men, two cadets, one woman -- died on active CAP service during the war, with 150 aircraft lost. 4,612 men and women served in a CAP active-duty operation -- coastal patrol, tow target, courier or southern liaison patrol service. Overall, CAP flew about 750,000 hours during the war.

Brig. Gen. Gerald McDonald Assistant Adjutant General of the Connecticut Military Department, Presented the families with a challenge coin, Colonel Jack Ozer, Civil Air Patrol Northeast Region Commander presented the certificates and Colonel James Ridley Connecticut Wing Commander presented the medals to the families of these honored volunteers.

Congressional Gold Medal Families-left to right, Nancy Pigeon, Sally Bader-Hoagland, Ed Baker, Joanne Baker, David Markham, Landon Markham, Holly (Tomasik) Markham, Kayla Markham, Elizabeth Tritschler McKinney , Irene Jakubowsky, Jack Willis, Gail Zanlungo, Colonel James Ridley, General Gerald McDonald, Colonel Jack Ozer and Jean McKinney- Photo Credit Olga Simoncelli

Major General Francis J. Evon, Jr., the Adjutant General of the Connecticut National Guard was able to stop by the event after returning from yellow ribbon ceremony welcoming home some of our National Guard units from overseas.

Colonel Ridley stated "The wing historians did an amazing job discovering not only the honorees themselves but their stories as well. Having the honor of presenting these awards to their children and grandchildren at our annual conference which was a perfect venue for this ceremony. We are going to continue to research our past and schedule more of these type presentations in the future!"

The Congressional Gold Medal Honorees included two sets of husbands and wives and a Brother and sister-in-law, Families of the honorees, all now deceased, traveled from all over the United States to honor these Volunteers.

Ruth Bedford (left) from Greens Farms CT, was already a pilot when war broke out. She traveled to Bar Harbor Maine to be an operations board officer. After coastal patrol was taken over by the Navy, Ruth continued her volunteerism with the Red Cross in England until the end of the War. She led a life of volunteerism and always enjoyed flying. Briggs Cunningham II (left), her brother in law, also from Greens Farms, CT was a sportsman and pilot he flew over 492 hours on coastal patrol with Civil Air Patrol in Atlantic City, Bar Harbor and Palm Beach. Both Ruth and Briggs were founding members of the Danbury Squadron of Civil Air Patrol. Briggs Cunningham would go on to be a prominent figure in racing both yachts and cars.

Sumner and Bertha Foster (Right) from Greens Farms, CT. Sumner was a ham radio operator and Pilot. Sumner is listed in December 1941 as a founding member and Communications officer for the Danbury Squadron. He had two confirmed U-Boat sightings and is reported to be the radio operator who intercepted a message from a U-Boat captain who said, "Those damned yellow airplanes make us dive every time.”

Bertha joined Civil Air Patrol with her husband after leaving Connecticut. She joined in Iowa and was listed as Adjutant at The Council Bluffs, Iowa Squadron in 1944

Dorothy and Lawrence Pigeon, from Broad Brook, CT spent most of 1942 and the beginning of 1943 in Bar Harbor Maine. Dorothy and Lawrence were married just prior to their service. Dorothy shared operations board duties with Ruth Bedford and fondly remembers Briggs Cunningham buying everyone at the base a lobster dinner. She wrote the history of the base which included the fire that demolished most of their buildings in the winter, requiring the base personnel to rebuild. Larry Pigeon a Harvard graduate was among the group of three individuals first to leave Connecticut for Coastal Patrol in his own airplane. with Don Willis. He spent time in Atlantic City but ended up as operations officer at Bar Harbor. Coastal Patrol 20.

Don Willis (left) was the owner of a garage in Manchester, CT. He left a wife at home and leased his business in 4 short months so he could go protect our nation flying coastal patrols.

He along with Larry Pigeon was one of the first pilots deployed to coastal patrol missions in April 1941. His family shared a letter that he wrote just four days after he was sent out describing the work and the people at his base in Atlantic City. Don stayed in CAP until December 1943 when he joined Air Transport Command with the U.S. Army Air Corps. Don spent the remainder of the war flying troops to and from the Asian and European theaters.

Russell Greene, (Center) was an experienced aviator by the time the war broke out and joined Civil Air Patrol at it's inception. A founding member of the Danbury Squadron, Russell flew for the Tow Target group in Massachusetts. Planes principally flew either tracking missions, to allow searchlights to acquire and track a moving target, or tow target missions, with a canvas target sleeve towed behind a CAP aircraft to allow anti-aircraft gunners to practice and perfect their gunnery skills. Anti-aircraft training involved weapons ranging from .50-caliber machine guns to 40 mm, 90 mm and 120 mm cannons.

Rudy Tomasik (Right) joined Civil Air Patrol as a Cadet at 17 immediately at the onset of World War II. Rudy hoped to join the Army Air Corp, but he was drafted and deployed during the Battle of the Bulge with Headquarters Company, 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Division of Patton's Third Army. As an Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I&R) scout, Rudy was commended two Silver Stars and one Bronze Star. He returned to Connecticut after the war and rejoined Civil Air Patrol where he was a member for years, Squadron Commander and owner and operator of Woodstock Airport.

Left to right Colonel Jack Ozer, General Gerald McDonald, Sally Bader-Hoagland, Colonel James Ridley during the awards presentation

Additional information about Connecticut Wing Civil Air Patrol can be found at or on Facebook at

Additional Information about the Congressional Gold medal may be found at

Timeline relationship board put together by Cadets for the event - Photo Christine Waldron

Left to right Colonel Jack Ozer, General Gerald McDonald, Colonel James Ridley and Irene Jakubowski during the awards presentation

Civil Air Patrol, the longtime all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, is the newest member of the Air Force's Total Force. In this role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 aircraft, performs about 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 80 lives annually. CAP's 57,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. CAP also plays a leading role in aerospace/STEM education, and its members serve as mentors to 24,000 young people participating in CAP's Cadet Programs. Visit www.gocivilairpatrol.comfor more information.

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