Q1: What prompted you to write this book? How does it differ from other histories of the Civil Air Patrol’s coastal patrol operation?
Amusingly, the book itself resulted from historian “mission creep.” This began as a conference paper for the 2018 annual meeting of the Society for Military History. Following my presentation, I was approached about my paper by a press, specifically if I would turn it into a book chapter. I agreed and began revising the paper, but unfortunately, the press’s budget was cut. I then decided to expand the chapter in a shorter essay. During a brief visit to Maxwell AFB to deliver a talk to Civil Air Patrol’s 2019 Cadet Officer School, I met with Air University friends. They encouraged me to submit the work to AU Press and the rest, as they say, is (publishing) history.
As to “why the coastal patrol”? The story is not necessarily new in a broad sense; my primary purpose in this subject was to examine it as a historian. The bulk of CAP coastal patrol writing is by journalists or interested parties. These works have focused primarily on anecdotal accounts, press releases, or secondary media sources. They lack citations and analysis. These accounts cover only the successes and avoid the larger policy issues. After almost 80 years, the time is past due for a detailed, primary-source-based account of what happened, to take the subject out of the periphery and restore it to conversations of the American home front and the role civil aviation played in the war effort.
People have asked me if anything new could be learned about the coastal patrol. Other individuals expressed dismay at my choice of returning to CAP’s early days. To everyone, I have responded that there is much more to the story than is known. Reliance on only a few secondary sources has resulted in a continuous diluting and distorting of what did (or did not) occur with the CAP coastal patrol operation. With this work, I wanted to provide readers, be they amateurs or professionals, with a rich array of sources to allow them the means to further the study of this unique civil-military operation and the Civil Air Patrol itself.
Q2: What do you want readers to take from this work?
I hope readers take away two key lessons from “An Honorable Place in American Air Power.” First, an appreciation of what a small group of men and women with a pittance of resources managed to accomplish in 18 months to help defend the nation’s coastline. Second, that the organization these men and women helped survive postwar is today a valuable, viable, and arguably underutilized Total Force resource.
Q3: Did any unanticipated findings emerge from your research?
I can list many particular elements that emerged as surprises, but two notable examples immediately come to mind. I never read that the coastal patrol operation almost shut down in November 1942 for want of a nail, or more accurately, want of aircraft parts and maintenance. This particular story was written out of the official history of the operation. The other surprise is that CAP coastal patrol aircraft operated as far south as Tampico, Mexico, and not merely from the Canadian-Maine to Texas–Mexico border. While there were small, subtle references to flying out of Tampico, the particulars of this unique effort faded from memory in the immediate postwar years. It also demonstrates a greater international involvement of CAP than many have known or acknowledged in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Q4: What relevance does CAP’s coastal patrol operation during WWII have for today’s reader?
CAP’s coastal patrol operation is essentially a story of taking an idea and transforming it into reality. There are trial and error, failure and success, loss, and reward. The criticality of the operation—and its success—convinced military leaders that civilian aviators could play a wider role in homeland defense, transforming the nation’s civil aviation community into a resource rather than a liability. In World War II, uniformed leaders had understandable trust and reliability issues over using CAP, based primarily on unfamiliarity and inexperience with the civilian volunteers and the new organization. The early field results of the coastal patrol convinced military leadership that, yes, civilians could be semi militarized and integrated into more sophisticated military operations.
Today within the civil aviation and Air Force communities, CAP remains an unfamiliar entity. Unlike the hungry early years of World War II, CAP now has an array of readily available resources—human and technological—to supplement or enhance operations for the Total Force, Department of Defense, and state and local governments upon request. While there are legislative limits to CAP's particular operational roles, the only real limiting factor for what the organization can accomplish is a lack of imagination.