Two South Dakota women are Congressional Gold Medal recipients for their work during World War Two. The official ceremony in Washington, D.C. in December awarded the medals. Monday afternoon Governor Dennis Daugaard hosts a ceremony honoring the women.
The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the highest honors for civilians. South Dakotans Lois Schmidt and Pauline Hanson Brehe are recipients.
Civil Air Patrol Major Todd Epp says American leaders are acknowledging their service. He says Brehe and Schmidt were part of the original South Dakota Civil Air Patrol.
"Both of these ladies were very early as volunteers, mind you; they didn’t get paid for this," Epp says. "They volunteered to do this, and they then went on to serve their country in other ways."
Epp says the women were part of the Civil Air Patrol in the 1940s. Brehe joined in 1942 as a senior member and served the Pierre squadron commander. She was a first sergeant and later served in the United States Army as a medical/surgical tech. Schmidt was part of the Civil Air Patrol in 1943 as a cadet; she still has her original flight manual. Schmidt returned to the organization in the 1960s and became a Lieutenant Colonel.
Epp says some members trained pilots on the ground or learned Morse code – anything to help.
"One of the reasons for the founding of the Civil Air Patrol was to help the military free up pilots for combat, so some of these other missions that we did, including here in South Dakota, we had a forest patrol. The Black Hills squadrons did that where they would periodically fly around the Black Hills and make sure there was no sabotage, but they would also spot for forest fires and so forth like that," Epp says. "Other people flew liaison missions which basically meant they would take parts and mail between various military bases and factories. Other places they pulled targets and things like that."
Epp says members on the coast would fly out on the water and patrol for German submarines and watch for stranded sailors. He says the Civil Air Patrol provided critical service during World War II.
"When our country was at its darkest hour, people like Pauline and Lois volunteered to do whatever they could to help," Epp says. "South Dakota can be very proud that we were very quick at organizing our wing of the Civil Air Patrol. It was in motion even before World War II, and the state of South Dakota saw it as very important to the war effort and making sure that all South Dakotans could contribute in defeating the Nazis and Japanese."
Epp says the Civil Air Patrol is still looking for people who were part of the organization in the early 1940s and may be eligible for the Congressional Gold Medal. He says some of the members have died, but their families can still receive the honor in their memory.