OLYMPIA – Richard Hagmann was working at a war production plant in his native Los Angeles in 1941 when a friend of a friend told him about a new group that flew airplanes to patrol the nation’s borders.
Just out of high school the summer before, Hagmann had long been interested in aviation. Along with several other friends, he signed up for the Civil Air Patrol and was sent to El Paso, Texas, where he was a member of the ground crew for a unit patrolling the Mexican border.
He wasn’t an officer – he eventually made staff sergeant – but CAP uniforms had red epaulets, which meant some enlisted men from other services would salute when he went into town.
“I’d salute back, but I was just a grunt,” he recalled.
That grunt never could have imagined that some 70 years later he’d be sitting in front of the state Senate, which Tuesday honored him and three other Washington residents who were early members of the Civil Air Patrol. A Senate resolution also marked the CAP receiving the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest civilian award the nation presents – last December. Hagmann, 91, and the other early members or their family representatives were presented with replicas of the medal during the Senate ceremony.
The CAP had a wide range of planes, and he worked on anything that flew in. When he was ordered to active duty from the Reserves in May 1944, the Army Air Force had a small problem placing him.
“I knew too much when I took the mechanic’s test. They couldn’t send me to mechanic’s school,” he said. Instead they sent him to armaments school and he trained on B-17s and B-24s. The war ended before he was shipped to the Philippines.
Hagmann’s love of aviation continued after the war, and he worked at North American Aviation on a wide range of planes from the F-86 to the XB-70. After retiring in 1970, he moved to Spokane, where he had visited his brother and always found the city “clean and green.” He worked as a civilian at Fairchild Air Force Base for about 15 years as a vehicle mechanic, and recently has made a few guest appearances at the local CAP. At one, he was honored with a promotion from staff sergeant to lieutenant colonel, which he said was a pretty good jump for an old grunt.
He welcomed the recognition for the CAP, not for himself and the other old-timers, but as a way of getting a message out to today’s teens. “I’d like to see more of it, so they can get this younger generation … to take time to see the good that some military training will do for a person.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.