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Polo man earns nation's highest civilian honor

POLO – A Polo man never got the chance to have a medal pinned on his chest for his war service – but that doesn’t mean he didn’t earn it. 

It just took Congress more than 7 decades to salute Melvin Haak. Unfortunately, they were
4 years too late.

Haak died from bone cancer in October 2012 when he was 89. Now, 71 years after he climbed out of the cockpit, Civil Air Patrol Tech. Sgt. Haak was recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony Saturday afternoon.

The medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress. According to the U.S. Senate website, since the days of the American Revolution, Congress has “commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions.”

His wife, Elaine, 89, and his three children were on hand Saturday to accept the award on his behalf. A small gathering of friends and family joined them at the ceremony at East Jordan United Methodist Church, just outside Sterling.

“Thank you so much for your husband’s service,” Civil Air Patrol Region Commander Col. Jerry Scherer said as he gave the award to Elaine. “I wish we would have been able to award this to him in person.”

He wasn’t the only one.

Melanie Rude, one of Haak’s two daughters, wished he would have received the award years ago.

“This was overdue,” she said. “The war ended in 1945.”

Still, though, the family was grateful for the belated honor. 

“This is awesome and very meaningful to get the award now,” said his other daughter, Melissa Haak.

Melvin Haak served as a pilot in the Civil Air Patrol for 4 years during World War II, from 1941 to 1945.

The patrol was formed in 1941 as a way for volunteers to put their planes and flying skills to use in defense of their country. It was originally under the jurisdiction of the Army Air Corps, until 1948 when Congress established the group as the auxiliary of the then-new Air Force. Thousands of volunteers like Hawk stepped up and performed critical wartime missions. During the war, every county in Illinois had a Civil Air Patrol group. Sterling and Rock Falls were in Group 4, in which Haak served. 

“Here is a 22-year-old giving himself to his country at a time when the country was not as friendly toward Civil Air Patrol,” Scherer said. “The members had to perform missions and they had to perform them in a very professional manner because they were under the scrutiny of the U.S. Army at that time.”

Even though it has taken several decades for Haak to be recognized, Scherer said his service has not been forgotten.

“His efforts at a young age have not gone unrecognized,” Scherer said. “It may have taken some time, but we believe our members that did serve need to be recognized. This was an effort from the Civil Air Patrol and Congress to get the medal instituted.”

Because a lot of the work the Civil Air Patrol did was taken for granted, Scherer said, it took a while for the patrolmen to be recognized.

“Congress has recognized the sacrifice for the personnel involved,” Scherer said. “Congress finally came around after a lot of nudging from the Civil Air Patrol and from the Air Force saying ‘Here are these individuals who gave service to the country but were never recognized.’”

Before World War II started, Haak had planned to enlist in the Army, but because he was the oldest son in a family of farmers, he was not allowed to enlist. There were 11 siblings in his family, which included six older sisters. Undaunted in his desire to serve his country, he joined the Civil Air Patrol.

“During World War II, they needed people to produce food for everyone,” said Martin Haak, Melvin’s son. “The oldest son on a farm family had to stay on the farm and produce the food. Because the Civil Air Patrol is a civilian organization, that was the only way he could serve.”

After the war, Haak spent 52 years as an auctioneer. He was also an instructor at the Reisch American School of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa.

“He was an auctioneer on his own,” Melissa Haak said. “He did it all on his own.”

He married Elaine on Aug. 12, 1945 at East Jordan United Methodist Church, the same place where his Congressional Gold Medal was awarded.


Go to to learn more about the Civil Air Patrol

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