There are more than 1,500 Civil Air Patrol units performing search and rescue missions around the country, but the Sandy Springs unit boasts a singular historic distinction.
This year, the unit is celebrating the 50th anniversary of a logo featuring Snoopy, the Flying Ace who pilots his doghouse-turned-airplane in the comic strip “Peanuts.”
The logo appears on a patch — authorized by the late “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz — that has been worn by the unit’s cadets ever since.
“The patch represents taking on a difficult foe and facing our challenges and coming out on top,” said Brian Berry, a pilot and the Sandy Springs unit’s historian. “It’s unique, it’s bold and simple, and it’s authorized.”
The Civil Air Patrol, or CAP, is an auxiliary of the Air Force that specializes in aerospace education, cadet programs, and emergency services. A civilian nonprofit organization, CAP is known for providing search and rescue missions.
CAP was created in 1941 to fly anti-submarine combat patrols during World War II. There are currently more than 1,500 units with 57,000 members.
The Sandy Springs unit started meeting in 1963 at Sandy Springs High School. Today the squadron meets weekly at St. Jude’s Catholic Church.
Senior members teach cadets ages 13 to 21 about aviation and the military. They are trained how to survive in the woods and how to search for missing aircraft. Cadets who complete training receive the Snoopy patch.
The patch was designed to adorn the Sandy Springs unit’s uniforms in 1967 by Cadet Commander Joe Congleton. He modeled the patch on the cover of Schulz’s 1966 cartoon book “Snoopy and the Red Baron.” Congleton added the words “The Flyin’ 45th” to refer to the squad’s charter number.
Lt. Harry Topliss wrote to Schulz to ask permission for the use of Snoopy’s image on the patch. In a brief letter dated July 25, 1967, Shultz replied,
“You certainly may have my permission to use Snoopy in your squadron patch. I am flattered that you wish to do so.”
In the years since, copies of the patch have traveled with CAP alumni to space, to the Middle East, and even on Air Force One, the president’s airplane.
Significant wearers have included former Georgia cadet and astronaut Eric Boe in 2011; Andrew Steadman, a White House military aide promoted in 2016 by President Obama; and Thomas McArthur, a Coast Guard rescue swimmer who saved 12 lives in 2010.
“[The patch] represents the continuity of the squadron that has done great things in the past and plans to do great things in the future,” said Berry. “It shows a determined Snoopy facing a difficult foe and taking a few hits on his doghouse and yet with either a grin or a grimace on his face, is working through his problems and facing his challenges.”
Congleton is part of that sense of determination. He received a nomination to the U.S. Air Force Academy, but couldn’t qualify for medical reasons.
He studied at Georgia Tech before dropping out to go to flight school with the U.S. Army.
He was selected to fly the AH-1G Cobra fighter helicopter in 1969. He flew Cobras in Vietnam until April 1970, when his base was attacked and he was severely injured. He earned the Air Medal and a Purple Heart for his service.
For more information about the Sandy Springs unit, see ga045.org.