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Mary Elizabeth Clark

July 8, 2022

On July 8, 2022, at Jackson County Airport, Mary Elizabeth Clark was 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 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”.
Mary  Elizabeth Clark, who flew her Civil Air Patrol missions out of Reynolds Field was
born in Jackson in 1917. After graduating from St. Mary’s High School, went on to
Jackson Junior College (now Jackson College), completed her studies there in 1937,
and awarded the Dr. Ethelene Jones Crockett Distinguished Alumni Award in 1982. 
Ms. Clark joined the Jackson Civil Air Patrol in 1941, trained in search and rescue and
for the role of bombardier. During World War II, she served overseas in three
countries.  She remained in the Patrol until 1945, after which she had a long and
distinguished career with the Red Cross both domestically and internationally until
1951. When she returned to Jackson, she again returned to her pre-war employer, the
John Crowley Boiler Works until her death in 1981.
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, whose first president was Amelia
Earhart.  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 on December 1, 1941, to mobilize the nation’s civilian
aviation resources for national defense service.  Its objectives included airborne
homeland defense and anti-submarine patrols off both coasts of the United States. The
Civil Air Patrol was composed of volunteers operating on a military organizational basis;
using their own aircraft to carry out the missions. 
According to Maj. Al Pheley, CAP Deputy Commander, Jackson Composite Squadron
and Mid-Central Group Public Affairs Officer, the Jackson CAP Squadron 635-1 was
formed in 1941 by a group of civilian pilots. This group practiced bombing skills used
for targeted drops of emergency food and supplies during Ms. Clark’s service.  Pheley
said 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, on 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 Civil Air
Patrol continues to this day, but its mission has changed to one of emergency services,
search and rescue, and a cadet program that emphasizes leadership, citizenship,
technology, and aviation/aerospace education.
The legislation declaring that the Congressional Gold Medal be awarded to World War II
Civil Air Patrol volunteers was enacted in 2014. The July 8, 2022 ceremony was led by
the Civil Air Patrol’s National Commander, Major General Edward Phelka, along with
Michigan Wing Commander, Colonel Christopher Ballard, and other dignitaries.
Michigan Representative Sarah Lightner presented the Gold Medal. The program was
held in the Richmond Brothers hangar at Jackson County Airport.

   

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