National News

Lester Wolff Celebrates 99th Birthday
Thu, 04 Jan 2018 09:44:37 -0600

Alexis Faire
Contributing Writer

The year 1919 brought several historic events in United States history. Prohibition was ratified by three-fourths of the United States, the League of Nations was founded, and it was the year of the 45th Kentucky Derby. Woodrow Wilson was halfway through serving his second term as president, Congress approved the 19th Amendment and Oregon was the first state to put a tax on gasoline. It was also the year former U.S. Rep. and Civil Air Patrol Col. Lester Wolff was born.

Born Jan. 4 in New York City, New York, Wolff attended college at New York University where he received his degree in marketing. Wolff knew he wanted to join the service, but he didn’t realize he’d run into an issue that would ultimately lead him to CAP.

“I had been rejected for service in the draft,” he said. “I volunteered for some other services, but I had asthma, and they rejected me.”

Wolff said he had a friend in CAP, so he decided to join.

His service began during World War II as a squadron commander and subchaser for the New York Wing. During the war, CAP performed search and rescue, parachute rescue and natural disaster support as it patrolled by air. Wolff was responsible for hunting enemy submarines off the Atlantic Coast. His duties continued throughout the war, especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

With CAP initiating in 1941, it was still viewed as a new organization several years after its inception. Wolff said he’s happy with how far CAP has come since the beginning.

“I think that the greatest memory was the fact that CAP was accepted,” he said. “We were just a bunch of ragtag guys, as we were flying around without very much direction.”

Almost 20 years after the ending of World War II, Wolff wanted to do more for CAP and wanted the organization to receive the recognition it deserved. In 1963, Wolff decided to run for Congress, and in 1964, he won the election. He would go on to serve eight terms before ultimately losing re-election in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president.

As of today, Wolff is the oldest living former member of Congress.

John Swain is a longtime CAP member and also serves as the organization’s director of government relations. He met Wolff in 1964 when Swain was a teenager in high school. Wolff was conducting a press conference to create legislation for a national aviation academy much like the Air Force Academy. Swain was there in uniform when Wolff noticed him. Wolff asked Swain if he would come on stage and be part of the press conference, and Swain agreed.

“While he was talking about legislation to create the national academy, he pointed me out and said, ‘This young man is an example of the kind of young people we’d like to go to the academy,’ ” Swain said.

He said the two have been friends ever since, and in 1973, Wolff contacted him after Wolff began commanding CAP’s Congressional Squadron on Capitol Hill.

“It’s made up of members of Congress,” Swain said. “He needed somebody to help him with that, so he called up, and that’s when I joined him to work with the squadron.”

Both Wolff and Swain believed there should be more recognition for CAP for those who served during World War II. In 2010, Swain coordinated a bill for CAP with the congressional effort of Wolff, then-Sen. Tom Harkin and others. Swain spent four years searching for co-sponsors and support, and in 2014, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to honor CAP members who served during the war.

“Our World War II members had been promised war-time benefits, military service benefits that never occurred,” Swain said. “Back in 2010, we thought this was our last opportunity to do something for them."

For the ceremony, Wolff was asked to accept the medal in honor of the hard work and sacrifices he and many others contributed during the war. With the attendance of political leaders such as John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, Wolff accepted the medal and gave a speech to represent CAP.

“I thought that was great,” he said. “I thought finally we did get that recognition. I think it was really truly one of the great experiences of my life.”

Over the years, Wolff has had the opportunity to evaluate strategies and tactics CAP has used since the beginning. He continues to brainstorm ideas on how he thinks the organization can continue to improve.

“I think that I’d like to see CAP get involved in handling drones, because I think that’s a future role CAP could take on,” he said. “I think that it would be a great step forward.”

Wolff said CAP has made one of the biggest impacts on his life.

“CAP is a great organization,” Wolff said. “I think it epitomizes the spirit that our country is founded upon of citizen participation in the security of our country.”

CAP Members Take on Communications Role for Arlington Wreaths Across America Observance
Wed, 20 Dec 2017 12:17:33 -0600

Sheila Pursglove
Contributing Writer

While thousands of Civil Air Patrol members in all 52 wings and abroad participated Saturday in 2017 Wreaths Across America obeservances — placing remembrance wreaths on graves, hosting ceremonies and providing speakers and honor guards at cemeteries, monument and other sites — many took on a new role at Arlington National Cemetery.

In previous years, CAP members helped lay wreaths on graves at Arlington and took part in wreath-laying

ceremonies at the CAP Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, while also providing the color guard for opening events at the Women in Military Service Memorial. This year, though, the National Capital Wing, along with members from the Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Tennessee wings, filled an operational role by providing total communications support using their operational missions experience.

“This year’s support changed significantly — it was more behind-the-scenes, and totally unique compared to what has been done in previous years,” said Col. Jane Davies, a former National Capital Wing commander, who coordinated the operation.

“Over the years, the project has really expanded. It’s more of a full-blown mission support now, and came about because of CAP members’ knowledge of incident command post techniques,” Davies said.

CAP began providing communications support to Wreaths Across America in 2012. That’s now members’ primary mission for the observance at Arlington.

All told, this year the campaign resulted in 1.57 million wreaths placed at 1,422 participating locations nationwide.

After a send-off ceremony in Harrington, Maine — home of the Worcester Wreath Co., which launched the Arlington annual wreath project in 1992 — 10 escort trucks carried fresh balsam evergreen wreaths along a 750-mile route. Along the way, the convoy prompted parades and ceremonies at schools, memorials and other locations in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C., to spread the Wreaths Across America mission: Remember, Honor and Teach.

Grand marshals for the procession were retired U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Roger Donlon, who received the first Medal of Honor for action in the Vietnam War, and his wife, Norma, a Vietnam-era Gold Star wife. Chevrolet provided 12 wrapped vehicles to transport Gold Star families and veterans.

Escort participants included American Gold Star Mothers, Blue Star Families, Gold Star Wives of America, veterans and the Wreaths Across America extended family. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, Patriot Riders of America and Rolling Thunder flanked the escort along with law enforcement from Maine.

Fifty-five trucks, each carrying almost 4,000 wreaths, were prepositioned at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.

When the 65-truck convoy arrived in Arlington shortly before 8 a.m. Saturday, up to 220 CAP members were on hand in the chilly weather to help distribute wreaths to thousands of public volunteers, who then laid them at more than 245,000 gravesites to honor the service and sacrifice of military veterans and fallen service members.

CAP members provided radio relays to the incident command post about the status of supplies in each truck, coordinating with Arlington National Cemetery operations.

The CAP efforts continued a legacy begun 17 years ago, when the Maine Wing’s Machais Valley Composite Squadron, led by its commander, Lt. Col. Wayne Merritt, laid wreaths at Arlington.

This year’s observances began with an 8:15 a.m. ceremony at the Women In Military Service for America Memorial. Special wreath-laying events followed at the Columbarium, the President William F. Taft Monument, the President John F. Kennedy Memorial, the USS Battleship Maine Monument and the Tomb of the Unknowns.

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