Axel Ostlingwas born in a New York City suburb in 1938. His mother was an immigrant from Scotland, his father was a first generation American whose parents were from Sweden. Axel grew up in a tenement neighborhood in the Bronx, populated by mostly Swedish and German immigrants. As a boy, his father taught him about flying, and the men who invented flying. His boyhood interest in aviation led to a hobby in model airplanes, and a subscription to Air Trails magazine. As he tells it, "In one issue I saw a photo of a cadet in uniform, holding a large model aircraft. That's for me, I thought." He wrote a letter of interest to National HQ, and asked for the closest squadron. It took "a long time" for them to reply, but eventually they pointed him to Clauson Point Cadet Squadron.
As soon as Axel joined the squadron at age sixteen on September 23rd, 1954, his interest in model aircraft died, and he focused on "the real attraction... the camaraderie." He immediately loved being part of something bigger, the challenge of leadership, and the rewards of a meritocracy. He quickly realized he wanted to be a leader as well. Axel became a model cadet, motivated to "be the best that he was able." CAP "became his life outside of school."
Lt Col Ostling described the squadron's culture: "We had a lot of very good cadet leaders in Bronx Group... The cadet officers and NCOs ran things. We were given real (though, in hindsight, modest) responsibilities and held accountable for them. During official activities (squadron meetings, encampments, et cetera) you'd probably think [they were] pretty strict. There were real divisions between the cadet NCOs and the privates, between the NCOs and the officers. Even between the cadet sergeants and the first sergeant (who was considered a very big deal). 'Off duty' was a bit more relaxed, although there was a tendency for cadets to hang around with others at roughly the same rank or position." Promotions were strictly based on merit at this time, and had nothing to do with academic levels/achievement. As far as uniforms, having a "very sharp, perfectly tailored uniform was expected. Male cadets wore cotton khaki uniforms, skin tight... ironed with precision. We were all expected to do this ourselves. No excuse that our mom had done it." Shoes were strictly brilliantly spit-shined leather - Corfams were not allowed. Except for the drill team, no one wore fatigues. Female cadets wore the cotton blue cord uniform, "starched to rigidity." The squadron emphasized teamwork, discipline, and personal responsibility.
Clauson Point Cadet Squadron met in the subbasement of a building on what is now Lehman College. The basement was designated as a Civil Defense bomb shelter in the event of nuclear war with the Soviet Union - the walls were covered with maps of New York City for use in emergency management. Across the street was an antiaircraft battery. Meetings were 1900-2200 on Fridays. The squadron had between 70-80 cadets, about 2/3 male - this was typical for New York Squadrons. The squadron had two male flights, one female flight, and one male recruit flight. During a typical meeting they held opening formation with inspection, collected dues, and spent the remainder of the first hour in drill. The second and third hours were devoted to classes. A final formation and announcements rounded out the meeting. The squadron focused on cadets, and cadet activities, especially participation in the Bronx Group drill team - the drill team was considered the "varsity sport" of CAP. They did not participate in SAR or ES missions, although some did train as pilots and observers. Cadets didn't interact directly with senior members often. Their day to day contact was with their cadet squad leader, flight sergeant, and officers. The cadet leaders were the "real leaders" of his squadron. Their senior members, most of whom were veterans of WWII and the Korean War, were very supportive. The senior members taught classes, gave orientation flights, made the "invisible things" happen, and managed special activities such as encampments.
The Bronx Group Drill Team practices at a drill team encampment, Ft Slocum, NY, 1955
Axel Ostling is on the far right.
Axel recalled that positions were earned by merit, but there was a prejudice against female cadets. He remembered it was a "VERY" big deal when a female cadet was appointed First Sergeant. "Everyone was so surprised. It had never been done before." Females could lead at low levels, but "there was a reluctance to give female cadets the highest posts."
Encampments in New York were quite large with about 1,000 cadets. Summer encampments were two weeks long, and were held at Air Force bases. Axel went to one each year as a cadet. He held the position of Flight Sergeant twice, and was Squadron Commander for 250 cadets. The Bronx Group Drill Team held encampments at Army and Air Force bases over long weekends created by holidays, or school breaks.
Soon after Axel joined CAP, he also joined the drill team. In Bronx Group it was the most elite organization, and he "Loved it!" Drill teams had 33 members in formation, 6 alternates, and one Drillmaster (team captain). They met every Sunday except during July and August. Throughout the year they trained for drill competitions, performed in exhibitions, and parades. Axel was in the Wing Competition each year, once in National Competition (1956), and rose to the position of Drillmaster in 1958.
Axel earned his Certificate of Proficiency 29 November 1956. He was a member of the Cadet Advisory Council for Bronx Group and New York Wing. He was also selected for the International Air Cadet Exchange to Denmark in 1958.
Axel enlisted in the US Army soon after his cadet career ended, but returned to CAP as a senior member. He remained active with the cadet program for decades, rising to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel.
He has provided a tremendous amount of leadership to the CAP history program at a local and National level. He also provided his own memories, manuals, research, and assisted in the creation of this website. Without him, this website would not exist.
The New York Wing drill team, representing the NER, executes eyes right during the end of competition pass in review at the National Dill Competition, Amarillo AFB, TX, July 28th, 1956. Comprised of cadets from the Bronx and Manhattan, they placed third in competition. Drillmaster (saluting) Louis Cordero, Guidon bearer Paul Nobel, 1st Element Leader Henry Olynyk, 2nd Element Leader James Agard, 3rd Element Leader Axel Ostling (behind the guidon)
Kingsbridge Armory, an active National Guard armory at the time. This was one of many drill team practice locations, with a 4 acre concrete floor.
Bronx Group Drill Team patch
"Fortune Favors the Bold"
Bronx Group Drill Team at the New York Wing Drill Competition, April 1956, held in Kingsbridge Armory.
Axel Ostling is the second cadet in the first element. Saluting is Drillmaster Eugene Kirshner.