WASHINGTON -- During World War II, volunteer pilots in the Civil Air Patrol, flying their own aircraft, patrolled the U.S. coast in search of German U-boats.
Seventy years later, Civil Air Patrol members are hoping to win overdue congressional recognition of their service.
The Senate has voted to award the group a Congressional Gold Medal. But those who support bestowing the nation's highest civilian honor to the patrol members are about 100 sponsors shy of the 290 needed to pass the measure in the House.
"This is our last chance to honor the few that are still alive," said John Swain, the patrol's Washington representative.
Congress has awarded gold medals to the Tuskegee Airmen; Navajo Code Talkers; Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs; the first black Marines, known as the Montford Point Marines; and Japanese-American members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who sponsored the Senate bill to award the gold medal to the Civil Air Patrol, said it would offer "long overdue recognition to a small group of people who answered the call to duty at our nation's time of maximum danger." The House bill was introduced by Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif.
The Civil Air Patrol was established in 1941, a week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but gained a more critical mission after oil tankers and other supply ships were sunk off the U.S. coast by German submarines.
The planes were credited with 173 sub sightings and dropping bombs or depth charges on 57.