If you ever want to get Thomas O’Connor involved in something, you might be well advised to start by convincing his friends.

When the Farmington resident joined the Civil Air Patrol in 1942 as part of the first cadet squadron nationwide, it was because his friends were signing up. He had just turned 15.

When O’Connor joined the Army a few years later, he said, it’s because a good friend enlisted. And when he was discharged from the Army in 1945 and joined first the Marine Corps. Reserves and then the Air Force? Well, you get the idea.

“You’ve gotta have your friends,” O’Connor said.

In the Army, O’Connor served as a flamethrower operator at the tail end of World War II.

“It’s not the easiest,” he said. “I was 138 pounds, and the deal was 40 pounds on my back.”

O’Connor was stationed in Korea after the treaty was signed with Japan. He was there to make sure Japanese soldiers did what they were supposed to do. He was an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force.

O’Connor’s time with those other branches of the military eventually came to an end. But he never got away from the CAP, an auxiliary branch of the Air Force that among other things helps with search and rescue operations. Now, in recognition of his service, he will receive a Congressional Gold Medal.

Congressman John Kline presented O’Connor with a framed copy of the legislation last week. The medal itself will take a year to mint.

For all CAP deals with airplanes, that wasn’t O’Connor’s original interest. He didn’t get his pilot’s license until the 1950s. He liked the discipline the organization instilled. It’s something that has stuck with him over the years.

O’Connor has been commander of five CAP units and started one of his own in Merced, Calif. He came home from one of the organizing meetings and told his wife she needed to sign up because they wouldn’t have enough people otherwise.

That might not have been the truth, strictly speaking, but she continued to participate. She was active in CAP until her death in 2002.

“I got her in,” he said. “She got real involved.”

O’Connor is currently part of a CAP squadron, the 130th, based at Lakeville’s AirLake Airport. It is the third largest in the country, he said.

“I don’t do a heck of a lot, but I’m on a pedestal, you might say,” he said. “When I first went out to the squadron out here, all the cadets had to shake my hand. I was the oldest cadet, you might say, which was kind of fun.”

The CAP instills military-style discipline in its cadets, but not all members go on to military careers. O’Connor has helped with search efforts over the Boundary Waters. CAP planes were the first to fly over the site of the World Trade Center towers after the Sept. 11 attacks, relaying information to authorities about what they might expect on the ground.

“You never know how many times you’re going to be called out,” said O’Connor, who hasn’t piloted a plane since triple bypass surgery in 2002 “Sometimes it’s one after another and sometimes it’s few and far between.”

O’Connor also works with local cadets on national drill competitions.

The congressional recognition O’Connor is scheduled to receive is part of a larger recognition of the organization as a whole. O’Connor is being recognized as a founding member. He said it’s an honor.

“It was mind boggling,” he said. “I never had any idea or any thoughts of it.”