It was man's desire to fly that led to the rise of the aeroplane in the early 20th century, changing the way we could travel and explore. Civilian aviation became an industry, a new hobby for brave men and women who sought to explore the uncharted skies and to do what was once thought impossible.
However, this new breed of adventurer was almost grounded quicker than it could take off. With World War II rearing its head, civilian flyers were quickly pressed into military service or left on the wayside, and non-military flight was outright banned across Europe.
In order to prevent the same thing from happening stateside, American aviator Gill Robb Wilson put together a blueprint that would become the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a non-profit civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force that would assist the armed forced during the wartime effort.
Now, the CAP celebrates a 75-year legacy of creating and fostering aviation interest in local communities, assisting in disaster relief, and aiding the Air Force in non-combat missions. The CAP hosts more than 56,000 members in nearly 1,500 communities nationwide, one of which is located here in the heart of the Lowcountry.
The Lowcountry Composite Squadron, based on Hilton Head Island, is led by Major Crystall Eudy, who presides over the organization's 32 cadets and 34 senior members. The organization has been designated as a Quality Cadet Unit for six consecutive years by Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters at Maxwell Airforce Base, and has met the criteria necessary to be awarded again this year.
"The cadets have leadership opportunities they never would have been exposed to. The best thing is watching the cadets grow and become leaders and go on to lead younger cadets," said Eudy. "Our cadets have the opportunities to travel, fly, learn, lead and create.
"Rocketry, aviation, cyber security, search and rescue, survival, space studies, remote control aircraft, engineering, military careers, and STEM are a few of the topics cadets and adults can excel in."
One unusual opportunity was presented on March 29, when Lowcountry CAP cadets were selected to assist in the burial of Capt. Albert Schlegel, a World War II pilot who was shot down and executed by German forces in France.
More othan 70 years later, his remains were identified and shipped back to the states for a proper burial. Capt. Schlegel, whose only surviving relative lives on Callawassie Island, was laid to rest at Beaufort National Cemetery. The Lowcountry CAP cadets served as honor guard for the funeral service.
Eudy's family has experienced the benefits of the CAP firsthand. Her husband, Maj. Mark Eudy, serves as Deputy Commander for Cadets and her son, Cadet Colonel Noah Eudy, serves as Cadet Commander.
"I used to be scared of heights," said Noah. "[My parents] had to bribe me to get on the plane."
Noah recently received the coveted Spaatz Award, given only to cadets who show top marks in leadership, fitness and aviation knowledge. He has also earned his pilot's license and is planning to study aviation business administration. Getting on the plane, it seems, made all the difference.
For more information on the CAP, visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com.
To volunteer for the Lowcountry Composite Squadron, visit www.lowcountrycap.com.
Sam Posthuma of Bluffton is a freelance writer and production assistant for The Bluffton Sun.