CAP Cadet History Project

 Harlan was elected the first Commanding Officer by his fellow cadets.  He soon proved to be a natural leader, and remained CO until he left home for basic training.  Mr. Schadegg opened his school office to the newly elected cadet CO so he could create and type the bylaws, organization, and documents for the squadron.  He used the Senior CAP organization as a framework, and adapted it for cadet use.  Using the CAP table of organization he promoted and selected his staff.  Harlan made himself a Cadet First Lieutenant, with two Cadet Second Lieutenants, and five NCOs as staff officers.  He designed the cadet patch and stationery.[1]  The stationery proudly announced the squadron was “America’s First C.A.P.C. Squadron – Organized October 15, 1942.”  CAP cadet officer grade insignia did not exist, so he used cloth ROTC officer “pips” from St. Thomas Military Academy in St Paul, sewn onto the shoulder.[2]  Cadet NCOs wore the same chevrons as the Senior Members.  They were also allowed to wear the “functional title” tabs – little strips of blue cloth embroidered with their position title (squadron commander, squadron staff, and flight leader) – under the left-sided cadet shoulder patch.

[1]  Skeptics remember, this is from Harlan’s memory.

[2] The pips had the same format as today: two pips for C/1st Lt, one for C/2nd Lt.  Since he created the cadet command structure without guidance, and mirrored the Senior Program, Harlan included cadet officers.  When CAP authorized the cadet program in October, NHQ prohibited cadet officers, and stated the highest grade a cadet could hold was C/First Sergeant.  MN Wing continued to use the structure that was in place.

On April 25th, 2013, I had the honor of interviewing Lt Col Harlan Petersburg, USAF (ret), and his wife Arline in their home.  Lt Col Petersburg started the Minneapolis Cadet Squadron in September, 1942, and was the first Cadet Commander.

Six hours of conversation are summarized below, along with scans of his original documents.

Lt Col Petersburg  was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his service to our country, and for his role as a pioneer of the cadet program.

    Harlan created agendas for each meeting, which were held Thursday nights, 7:00-10:00.  The cadets had inspection, drill, and classes every meeting.  He created a long-term training schedule and guest speakers taught the core training including panel signaling, interior guard, Civilian Defense, and airplane construction.  Harlan was a no-nonsense type of leader, and the cadets followed his example.  They were serious about their training and Harlan recalled there was no need for yelling or drill sergeant-type behavior.  His meeting agendas have reminders such as “Warn [cadets] to answer ‘Here, sir’ while taking attendance” and “Set cadets straight on demerits once and for all.”  A demerit system was set up for infractions such as tardiness, absence, and failure to pass inspection.  Too many demerits led to suspension and could eventually result in discharge.  No ribbons, awards, or certificates were given to the cadets.  To raise funds for the squadron cadets held bake sales, a dance, and later charged dues – 10 cents per meeting.  Proceeds went towards the purchase of handbooks, and supplies for the squadron’s first aid and photography units.  News of the successful and growing CAPC squadron spread.  Cadets were drawn in from area high schools.  Other cadet squadrons were formed in Minnesota, and Harlan even received a letter from the young CO of the 714-2 Squadron in Worthington, MN.  The Cadet Lieutenant asked for advice on how to raise money, where to obtain insignia, and how to deal with the undisciplined “girls” in his squadron.

    Nine months after his first CAP meeting Harlan graduated from high school, and it was time for him to put his training to use.  Harlan received a discharge from the CAPC June 10th, 1943.  He also received a glowing evaluation on his enlistment record, which rated his cadet service and summarized his training.  Lt Schadegg rated him superior in every category, and wrote at the bottom “I commend him with the highest esteem.”  The Minneapolis Star Tribune highlighted the departure of Harlan and nine other cadets in a June 1943 article entitled “Air Cadets Off For ‘Big Show’.”  It went on to say “After nine months of service with the first organization of its kind in the United States, six cadets and four cadet officers… will leave their buddies in CAPC and find new ones as members of the army air forces.”  He had six months to depart for basic training, but he signed up to ship out on July 11th.  He grinned, shrugged, and said “I felt like they couldn’t win the war without me.  I had to be in combat.”

Harlan in a modified civilian coat, 1942 

The CAP Cadet patch is on his left shoulder.  He did not remember  what type of wings or button he was wearing.

 For the first few meetings the cadets oriented with the Senior Member Squadron and learned drill, military courtesies, and discipline.  They obtained their uniforms through CAP, then were taught how to wear them.  They learned by “doing” and by word of mouth since training materials for the cadet program did not exist.  The cadet program was strictly for military indoctrination – cadets were not allowed to fly.  Eventually the cadets took full command of the squadron, with Mr. Schadegg as cadet advisor.

 [1] When he was asked when the squadron was authorized in September, Harlan answered that he did not write it down, and did not remember.  He smiled easily and added “I didn’t anticipate it being history.”

[2]. CAP authorized cadet membership for students who were Juniors and Seniors, ages 15-18.

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"Flight Officer Milton Schadegg (extreme right), Minneapolis supervisor of cadets for the Civil Air Patrol, is shown saying farewell to a group of 10 cadets who, shortly after their graduation from Central high school, will enter the army air forces.  Seated, center, is Cadet Lt. Harlan Petersburg, cadet squadron commander."

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 1943

Harlan was born May 21st 1925 in Slater Iowa, the youngest of three sons.  As a boy he palled around with their town’s doctor and dreamed of one day becoming a physician.  It was his only ambition.  That changed with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the declaration of war.  He knew, like all the other boys his age, he would join the military when he graduated from high school.  At the beginning of his Senior year his father moved the family from Blair, WI, to Minneapolis to pursue work in the burgeoning war industry.  Harlan enrolled at Central High School in courses such as advanced physics, advanced chemistry, and Aviation Science.  Fortuitously, his teacher for physics and Aviation Science was Milton Schadegg, a Flight Officer in the local CAP squadron. 

Harlan Petersburg turned twenty years old while navigating a combat mission over the South Pacific in May 1945.  He laughed when he recalled “They didn’t even give me the day off – not that I would have taken it off even if they had.”  Just two years earlier he was still in high school and commanding the first official Civil Air Patrol Cadet Squadron.  Today, at age eighty-eight and after a lifetime of accomplishment, his thoughts still return to his days as one of the first CAP cadets.  This is Harlan Petersburg’s story – but it is also the story of the birth of the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program.

Harlan in his old cadet uniform, circa 2012.  Note the cloth grade pips on his shoulder and the functional title (Squadron Commander) under his CAP patch.

In early September 1942 Mr. Schadegg invited Harlan and nine other boys to attend a CAP meeting at the Minneapolis Armory for a little taste of military training, even though the boys could not join CAP.  After one meeting Harlan was hooked on CAP and the Army.  A new dream and ambition became the focus for the seventeen year old: to join the Army Air Force and become a pilot.  First, he suggested a new organization to Mr. Schadegg, “Why couldn’t we have an organization called the Civil Air Patrol Cadets?”  Since the boys could not join CAP, he envisioned a squadron comprised of high school seniors, commanded by students, in which they could be trained before their inevitable service.  The idea was approved quickly and the Cadet Squadron was formed in September.[1]  CAP approved cadet units nationwide on October 1st, 1942.[2]  The Minneapolis Cadet Squadron 711-4 was the first approved by National Headquarters October 15th, 1942.  By then, the squadron had grown to forty-one students, including five girls.