By Debbie Gregory.
Earlier this month, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to Mary Pat Shely for her service in the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the United States Air Force, during World War II. The ceremony took place at the Aviation Museum in Lexington, Kentucky.
The World War II members of the Civil Air Patrol were previously awarded the gold medal as a group in 2014. Since then, the organization has worked to find the individual surviving members.
Shely was surrounded by friends, family and current Civil Air Patrol members as U.S. Representative for Kentucky’s Sixth District Andy Barr presented her witht he medal.
“This deserved and distinguished award did not, in the case of the Civil Air Patrol, come without pain or sacrifice,” Barr said. “By the end of World War II, 65 Civil Air Patrol civilian aviators had paid the ultimate sacrifice helping to protect the shorelines of the United States and our merchant vessels against enemy submarine attacks, while actively saving the lives of countless Americans and our allies.”
As a young girl, Shely taught herself to fly in a Piper Cub bought for her by her father. As a young woman, she was a talented athlete and a champion in tennis, fencing, swimming, and golf. Following her service, Shely went on to be a teacher.
Shely, who is now in a wheelchair, may have had a hard time hearing some of the things that were said, but her cousin, Jim Stewart, said he knows what it meant to her.
“I know that age has come on with her, but I know deep down in her memory she remembers all of this and this means a lot to her,” he said.
“I think for us, we are able to see her history through her scrapbooks and all the wonderful things she’s done in her life, but tonight actually is for her, and it’s nice that she can be recognized,” Jim’s wife, Gail Stewart, said.
Shely as deep roots in Kentucky, as her ancestors settled in historic Boonesboro shortly after its founding by Daniel Boone. She still lives on her family’s historic Kettle Springs Farm.
Over the years, Shely has become an important member of her community and was given the Good Neighbor Award by the Southwest Clark Neighborhood Association in 2016.