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Jacksonian Receiving Congressional Gold Medal* for World War II Service

On July 8, 2022, at Jackson County Airport, Mary Elizabeth Clark will be posthumously awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal for her World War II volunteer service in the Civil Air Patrol. Ms. Clark (1917-1981) is the first resident of Jackson County to be awarded this medal, which is the country’s highest expression of appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions to the country by civilians. On behalf of the family, her niece Jennifer Clark of Virginia, will receive the award at a Civil Air Patrol Ceremony. Many family members, friends and CAP
volunteers will be in attendance. The awardee, Mary Clark, earned her pilot’s license and commercial rating, owned racing airplanes, and was the first Jackson pilot to fly in the transcontinental women’s air race, the “Powder Puff Derby”.

Ms. Clark joined the Jackson Civil Air Patrol in 1941, and later joined the American Red Cross in 1943, during World War II, serving overseas in three countries before returning to work in the family business in Jackson and pursue her interest in flying. For four decades Ms. Clark was a trailblazer in the emerging field of women’s aviation and was instrumental in creating and managing regional and national air races; she flew in many, won several, and set a speed record in 1966. Ms. Clark was a lifetime member of the 99s, an organization of women pilots. The huge growth in the number of women pilots after World War II was due largely to aviation pioneers like Ms. Clark, who, with their management, organizational and aviation, skills, and adventurous and competitive spirits, proved that women were capable aviators.

The Civil Air Patrol was founded December 1, 1941, to mobilize the nation's civilian aviation resources for national defense service. CAP was composed of volunteers operating on a military organizational basis; these volunteers used their own aircraft in executing their CAP duties. The Jackson CAP Squadron 635-1 was formed in 1941 by a group of Civilian pilots. During Ms. Clark’s service, the Jackson CAP practiced bombing skills that could be used for targeted drops of emergency food and supplies. They also performed guard duties at the airport, aerial inspections of city and town blackout conditions and provided effectiveness reports. They towed targets from the backs of their planes so that others could practice firing live ammunition at the airborne targets. On April 29, 1943, the Civil Air Patrol was transferred to the U.S. Army Air Force. Five years later, May 26, 1948, following the creation of the U.S. Air Force as a separate branch of the armed services, CAP became the Air Force’s civilian auxiliary.

*The legislation declaring that the Congressional Gold Medal is awarded to World War II Civil Air Patrol volunteers was passed in 2014.