AUBURN — With enemy U-boats menacing ships in the Atlantic just off the American coast, volunteer pilots took to the air, often in their own small planes, on heroic World War II missions.

Four of those early Civil Air Patrol pilots from Maine were honored with Congressional Gold Medals in ceremonies at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport on Saturday.

Col. Donald Hancock, a resident of Norway, was present at the event to receive his medal from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who said their feats of courage and dedication “had a lasting impact on the history of freedom and in strengthening a culture of service.”

Hancock joined the CAP in 1942 as a cadet at the Auburn-Lewiston Airport, which was used by the U.S. Navy for training its pilots. He and other CAP members trained at the field in Minot owned by Roland Maheux, who was squadron commander. Hancock also trained at the Lewiston Armory.

He later joined the U.S. Army and served with occupation forces in Japan and Korea.

Collins presented Hancock with a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal, which has a history going back to George Washington and including as past recipients Dr. Jonas Salk, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Wright brothers and astronauts who carried the American flag to the moon. The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Posthumous medal presentations were made to family members of Capt. Merritt Roakes and Col. Prentiss Godfrey.

Roakes joined the CAP in 1942 and served Coastal Patrol Base 19 in Portland as an engineering officer. He was the first licensed aircraft mechanic in Maine and he managed all aircraft maintenance at the Portland-Westbrook Municipal Airport to keep the CAP planes flying.

Godfrey, a mission pilot and check pilot at Coastal Patrol Base 19 in Portland, flew anti-submarine patrols in 1942 along the coast of Maine from the New Hampshire border to Port Clyde. Bangor International Airport originated as “Godfrey Field,“ named for Col. Godfrey’s father who donated the land.

Members of the family of Col. Walter Soule are from out of state and a presentation will be made at a later date.

Speakers said these early CAP members helped discourage and eventually stop U-boat attacks that threatened U.S shipping, especially oil tankers off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Many used their own aircraft to conduct volunteer combat operations and other emergency missions under hazardous conditions.

Collins told attendees Saturday that, after World War II, a defeated high-ranking German naval officer was asked why the devastating coastal submarine attacks that came so close to shutting down American shipping were suddenly brought to an end. She said the officer, referring to the distinctive paint jobs on CAP aircraft, replied, “It was because of those darned little red and yellow planes.”

In conversation following the ceremony, Collins said the CAP, in its early days, “was the pioneer of today’s Homeland Security. They were protecting our borders, just as we have an enormous department that is doing that today, and they were taking real risks to keep their country safe. Their mission was invaluable.”

She emphasized that the original CAP members “did it on their own; they were volunteers, they trained others, they provided their own equipment. It was really extraordinary when you think about that,” she said. “It’s a wonderful chapter of our history and it’s my hope that the Congressional Gold Medals will help recognize these unsung heroes of World War II.”

The color guard for the ceremony consisted of cadets from Bangor, Augusta and Lewiston-Auburn.

Maine Wing Commander William Jordan was host for the event. Col. Daniel Leclair, former Maine wing commander, also addressed the large audience of family members and invited guests. He told them that many original CAP members who joined following its founding on Dec. 1, 1941, just six days before Pearl Harbor, were those who could not enlist because of health reasons or because they were too young, too old, or women.

Also participating was Col. Christopher Hayden, commander of the Northeast Region Civil Air Patrol. The invocation and benediction were given by former Bates College Vice President William Hiss.

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