A West Hartford resident who protected our coasts from ‘sea to shining sea' was recently awarded the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal for his brave service.
Michael Popovich, who is 101 years old, is a World War II veteran and first fell in love with aviation when he was a young boy.
“Must have been 11 or 12 years old. On a hot day in Watertown. I was digging potatoes in August. So this bi-plane flies over the top of my head. I says ‘jeez that's nice and cool.’ I says, ‘I'm going to do that, rain or shine’,” Popovich said.
That is exactly what he did.
Popovich learned everything he could about aviation and became a skilled mechanic, so when he found a plane at the right price, he scooped it up, but the threat of war loomed.
“They said, ‘you can't fly anymore,” he said. “So we all joined the Civil Air Patrol.”
Thousands of volunteers with a love for flying looked for a way to help in the war effort, so the Civil Air Patrol was formed one week before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“They were in a lot more danger than I thought we ever realized,” said Popovich’s daughter Joyce Petrella.
Popovich performed critical wartime operations. The pay was low but the stakes were high.
“Our duty there was to try to spot submarines, or anything that's unusual,” Popovich said.
After several years in the Civil Air Patrol, he joined the U.S. Air Force.
When he was discharged, he put his keen mechanical ingenuity to use at Pratt and Whitney.
Last month, his years of noble service were recognized when he received the Congressional Gold Medal.
“It came to me as a surprise! I'm just overwhelmed...I was speechless,” he said. “I said jeez, I know that they said that the C-A-P was supposed to be part of the Army...but they never recognized it. We're just working for the Army, that's all.”
“We are beaming inside and outside,” said Popovich’s daughter Carole Carso.
Popovich never lost his endless curiosity. He enjoys fixing broken clocks and watches, and building gadgets like a telescope.
Popovich instilled that sense of wonder in his three daughters.
“He always taught us to look up. We always looked up through his telescopes...always looking up at planes. Sometimes if you catch a little plane overhead if you wave, they'll wave back,” Carso said.
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