Charles Compton, WWII Subchaser, Passes at 103
Col. Charles Compton, the World War II subchaser who flew missions out of CAP’s first coastal patrol base, died June 16 in Evanston, Illinois. He would have turned 104 on June 19.
Compton flew as an observer at Coastal Patrol Base No. 1 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, until the base closed at the end of August 1943. When CAP’s volunteer service during World War II was recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal in December 2014, he was one of the numerous wartime members presented with a replica of the medal.
He also served in CAP during the 1960s, commanding an Illinois Wing squadron in Evanston while his sons belonged to the organization.
Compton reconnected with CAP following a chance meeting in 2010, when the Illinois Wing’s Palwaukee Composite Squadron held an awards ceremony at the retirement village where he lived and invited veterans to attend. Col. Robert Dempsey, now commander of the Illinois Wing, met him then and was surprised to learn of his service as a World War II member.
Compton was thrilled to rejoin CAP and receive an honorary promotion to colonel, Dempsey recalled. Until then, his fellow Presbyterian Village residents in Evanston mainly referred to him as the father of Ann Compton, then the longtime White House correspondent for ABC News Radio.
“After that, they called him 'Col. Compton,'” Dempsey said. “He really liked that.”
The Illinois Wing subsequently established a composite squadron named for him and chartered on his 101st birthday, and “he had a big influence on our cadets,” said Maj. David Gillingham, Col. Charles Compton Composite Squadron commander.
Despite his storied past in CAP, Gillingham said, “he was always talking about the future of aviation.” That included urging the cadets to become familiar with drones, the squadron commander said. Every June 19, squadron members gathered at the retirement community to celebrate Compton’s birthday with him, Gillingham said. “We would meet with him and have a cake, and he would preside at the awards ceremony for the members.”
While senior members and cadets alike benefited from his company, it was particularly “just wonderful to see him light up when he talked to the cadets,” Gillingham said.
Compton was an experienced pilot by the time he joined CAP, having started a flying club while attending Dartmouth College in the late 1930s and flown Piper J-3 Cubs and Laird biplanes. He earned his pilot’s certificate in 1937.
He was working for an aircraft component manufacturer when he reported to Atlantic City and duty with the coastal patrol at Bader Field. He flew as a pilot in command and as a mission observer for about a year, until the cessation of coastal patrol operations on Aug. 31, 1943.
Planes from the base conducted escort and reconnaissance flights of merchant ships in the coastal waters from Atlantic City to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The airborne CAP members would identity and log all ships and fly racetrack patterns around the vessels or convoys for the purpose of keeping away German U-boats less likely to approach ships with aircraft overhead.
The subchasers flew two daily missions lasting about three hours, with multiple shifts keeping planes above the ships during all daylight hours, Compton recalled.
Single-engine aircraft flew in pairs and carried 100-pound bombs, while twin-engine aircraft operated alone and carried 300-pound depth charges.
When the Coastal Patrol was deactivated in August 1943, Compton tried to join the U.S. Army Air Forces. He was deemed medically unfit for military service, however, because he had had a kidney removed.