• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

A rare honor for a unique man

Robert Dunn of North Liberty receives Congressional Gold Medal in Cedar Rapids
The Dunn family; Jerry (at left), Robert, Scott, Trisha and Bob, show the Congressional Gold Medals awarded to Robert and the late Jean Dunn for their service in the Civil Air Patrol during World War II. The medals were presented during a brief ceremony Thursday, June 7 at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

CEDAR RAPIDS– Robert Dunn has joined a very elite group. The 85-year-old North Liberty resident was presented with a Congressional Gold Medal Thursday, June 7, at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids. The medal was in recognition of Dunn’s service as a Cadet in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) during World War II and presented by Col. Joe Hackett, Commander of the Iowa Wing of the United States Air Force Auxiliary (better known as the CAP).
Dunn was a 12-year-old seventh-grader at McKinley High School in Cedar Rapids in November 1941 when a ninth-grader asked him if he would be interested in joining a new Army Air Corps (the Army Air Corps became the Air Force in 1947) Auxiliary organization; the Civil Air Patrol.
“We had four high schools in Cedar Rapids (McKinley, Roosevelt, Wilson and Franklin) and each one had a cadet squadron,” Dunn said in an autobiography provided to the Leader. “Each squadron had about 15 members and we would meet once a week. After December 7th (1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor) it became more obvious that we needed more organized meetings.” Weaver Witwer, owner of the Me Too grocery stores, had closed a store at 1556 1st Avenue NE (later a Hy-Vee store) and offered the building to the CAP, which then consolidated the four squadrons and utilized the store as their headquarters. Shortly before the move to Witwer’s store, the cadets gathered at the Veterans Memorial Building to meet a fighter pilot from Marion who had served with the American Volunteer Group (better known as “The Flying Tigers”) in China, and who had a number of “kills” (planes shot down) to his credit.
While a cadet, Dunn met some other interesting and special people. In late 1942, a CAP Major, Eugene (Sumner) Foster arrived as Commander. Maj. Foster had been part of an east coast squadron, which had helped in the sinking of two German submarines off the coast. “In an intercepted message from a sub captain he said, ‘Those damned yellow airplanes make us dive every time.’” Dunn met Admiral William “Bull” Halsey at the Cedar Rapids airport after the battle of Midway in 1942. “Admiral Halsey was asked to make a tour of the U.S.A.,” Dunn recalled. “He landed at the Cedar Rapids Airport in a Navy Lockheed Loadstar. I was assigned to stand guard while the plane was at our airport.” After giving a speech, Admiral Halsey returned to the airport and shook hands with Dunn, thanking him for guarding the plane. “I don’t think I washed my hand for a week. What a thrill. Halsey said he hoped the Japanese would be history by the time I was 17-18 – old enough to fight. ‘We need young people like you,’ he said.”
The most special and important person Dunn met through the CAP, however, was a fellow cadet named Jean Ruth Rogers, originally a member of the Roosevelt Squadron.
“When the squadrons consolidated and started meeting at our new headquarters, I had the chance to be around Jean,” Dunn said. “To make a long story short, Jean and I were married February 25, 1950. We were married over 55 (almost 56) years when she passed away December 17, 2005.”
Jean Dunn was also recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal, accepted by their sons Bob, Scott and Jerry, and daughter Trisha.
Jean participated in activities alongside the boys, including standing guard for a B-29 bomber on display at an airshow in Cedar Rapids. There was one activity she and other girls in the CAP were excluded from, however. Major Eugene (Sumner) Foster, Commander of the Cedar Rapids Squadron at the time, took the cadets to the Sioux City Airbase for two weeks every year (1942-1945). Sioux City, Dunn noted, was the final stop for B-17 bomber crews before flying to Europe (Great Britain).
“I have a photograph of her guarding an early B-29 at the Cedar Rapids airport. Jean was always ticked off because only male cadets were allowed to go to Sioux City Air Base during World War II.”
Robert Dunn, now Major Dunn, became a pilot and continues to serve the CAP as the senior member of the Cedar Rapids Composite Squadron with over 70 years of service, including time spent commanding a squadron in Colorado. One of the CAP’s many missions is search and rescue with an emphasis on looking for downed aircraft.
“We spent every weekend looking for airplanes and people lost in the mountains,” Dunn wrote. Part of his training as a pilot began during his Cadet days. “The senior members of the Cedar Rapids Squadron painted a big, big Iowa map on the floor (in Witwer’s store). They had the surrounding states edges all around the Iowa map. The Navy gave us a Link trainer (early flight simulator) with a hood over it and we practiced instrument flying. We had the Cedar Rapids Airport laid out on the map along with other cities.”
Despite making some picture perfect landings, Dunn was stymied as to why he was landing (crash landing, actually) some 848 feet underground. “I could not figure out why until one of the laughing seniors told me the Cedar Rapids Airport was 848 feet above sea level. Well I was 14 years old and they gave me credit for doing a heck of a crash landing. I forgot to set my altimeter, and I made three landings underground.”
Being among very few people to receive a Congressional Gold Medal will also stay with him.
According to the house.gov website, Congress has commissioned gold medals as their highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. A variety of medals have been created to honor individuals, institutions or special events in American history. George Washington received the first Congressional Gold Medal in 1776 by direction of the Continental Congress. The Wright Brothers were honored in 1909, and Charles A. Lindbergh was recognized in 1928. Other notable recipients include Rosa Parks, Charles M. Schulz, Pope John Paul II, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Jackie Robinson, and The Tuskegee Airmen and Native American Code Talkers.
Then-Senator Tom Harkin (D, IA) introduced legislation in the Senate to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Civil Air Patrol members who served during WWII. Harkin, a Vietnam-era Navy pilot who served as the Commander of the CAP’s Congressional Squadron, said at the time, “The men and women of the Civil Air Patrol stepped up and served their country when it needed them during the darkest days of World War II, and it’s time we recognized them and thanked them for their service.” The bill authorizing the medal was signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2014.
Current Senators Joni Ernst (R, IA) and Charles Grassley (R, IA) sent letters of congratulations to Dunn and Iowa’s Secretary of State, Paul Pate, made an appearance and presented Dunn with a special Iowa challenge coin. Pate served with Dunn in the 129th Cedar Rapids Composite Squadron, as the unit’s commanding officer.
“I’ve had a very active life,” Dunn said. “As International Service manager for FMC/Link Belt I have traveled in all the countries in South America from the straights of Magellan to Panama. I have been around the world three times as I was in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea at three different times and was asked to go to Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates at three different times.” He also had to fight off two different hostage attempts by Arabs, was asked by the CIA for help in sabotaging a very large crane headed to rebuild burning Kuwaiti oil fields, and investigated a fatal crane accident involving radioactive materials (which he was exposed to).
“Boy, what a wonderful life I have had.”