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State's longest-serving CAP member honored with Congressional Gold Medal

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A Farmington World War II veteran is being honored with the nation's highest civilian award for his seven decades of service.

Lt. Col. Thomas O'Connor, 86, joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in October 1942 as part of the first cadet squadron nationwide when he was just 15 – and he's still an active member today, the Farmington Independent reports. CAP is an auxiliary branch of the Air Force that helps with search and rescue operations, among other duties.

O'Connor served in many branches of the military, including the Army, the Marine Corps Reserves and the Air Force, but he was always a part of the CAP. He was commander of five CAP units and started one of his own in California, the newspaper says.

Renee Belina, CAP spokeswoman, says O'Connor is the longest-serving CAP member in Minnesota and remains active in the organization, which meets monthly in Lakeville, Sun this Week says.

Now, he's being recognized as a founding member of the CAP with the Congressional Gold Medal.

President Barack Obama in May singed legislation ordering a single medal to CAP in honor of the unusual service of all CAP World War II veterans. O'Connor, and other veterans, will receive replica medals, according to CAP's website. O'Connor is the only living Minnesota CAP member to receive the award, according to Minnesota's CAP Facebook page.

At an Aug. 26 Civil Air Patrol ceremony at Lakeville's Airlake Airport, U.S. Rep. John Kline, along with other state and local officials, presented O'Connor with a framed copy of the legislation, Sun this Week notes. The Congressional Gold Medal takes a year to be minted.

O'Connor is also scheduled to be recognized by Gov. Mark Dayton on Oct. 28, his anniversary with the CAP, the Farmington Independent says.

Past recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include some notable Minnesotans. Among them: Vice President Hubert Humphrey, cartoonist Charles Schulz, civil rights activist Roy Wilkins and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug.

Earlier this year, Obama also signed legislation awarding other World War II veterans the Congressional Gold Medal, including the famed Doolittle Raiders and the Monuments Men, some of whom have ties to Minnesota.

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