After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the teen-agers of America were ordered to prepare so they could shoulder the responsibility of freeing the world from tyranny and oppression.  Young men who were desperate to do their part to win the war were asked to stay in high school, and study math and science, making them more useful in some of the military’s technical positions.  Education benefited the military and the student with a military role in mind.  The motivation for the ambitious boy was the fact that enlistees were not guaranteed entry into a specific military branch, nor a job within it.  If he was drafted, and was not academically prepared for the job he wanted, the local draft board would choose his branch and job.  According to the government publications, if boys were “well qualified,” and there was a need, then there was a “fair chance” of getting his branch or specialty of choice if beneficial to the war effort.  The government printed booklets that helped boys explore their options, outlined the subjects they needed to take in high school, and presented volunteer organizations where he could prepare and serve immediately.  This was where Civil Air Patrol stepped in.


To understand ACER and the draft:

The Army Air Forces in WWII, Chapter 15 Procurement at Flood Tide

To understand the spirit of the times, research into high school preparation, and how the government viewed CAP:

High School Victory Corps series of pamphlets, US Office of Education

War production statistics and figures:


Air Corps Enlisted Reserve - a way to guarantee branch preference:

     The Army Air Force was nervous in 1942.  It needed thousands of men immediately, and wanted a constant pool of 54,000 qualified men waiting in reserve.  But everyone else needed men also - tens of thousands of them.  The AAF faced stiff competition from the Navy's aviation program and civilian industry.  Qualified men were also pulled away by the draft.  Army Air Force qualification standards were even lowered to ensure the quotas were filled - but the standards were still high, and supplies were finite.  Candidates not only had to have the aptitude and intelligence to qualify, but also had to meet height and weight restrictions.  The AAF established the Air Corps Enlisted Reserve (ACER) in April 1942, as a way to recruit men directly into the AAF, circumventing the selective service, and held them in an inactive status until they were called up to fill training quotas.  This way recruits were snared before anyone else could get them. 

     In January 1943 the AAF was forced by a law change to shift its focus entirely onto seventeen year olds.  ACER became a delayed entry program for aviation specialties.  Seventeen year olds who met the requirements for the AAF were enlisted in a reserve aviation cadet grade, and their branch preference was secured.  On their eighteenth birthday they were called to active duty.  While waiting for active duty the ACER enlistees could be given preflight classes and training through CAP to ease their transition, improve graduation rates for the aviation specialties, and put young men into their specialty of choice.  ACER enlistees were given priority for training, promotions, and special insignia.  In some regions CAP senior members administered the psychological screening for the ACER enlistees.  ACER was successful in providing the needed pool of reservists and was suspended in March 1944.

See also training and ACER insignia.

...enlistees were not guaranteed entry into a specific military branch, nor a job within it...

Some of the very first CAP Cadets learn about the wind triangle, MN Wing, Nov 1942

CAP Cadet History Project

     Civil Air Patrol was not initially a way for citizens of any age to prepare for service.  It was only for skilled adults, who were already prepared to volunteer their aircraft and time in the service of their country.  CAP planned on adding a cadet program, but due to the immediate German u-boat menace on the American east coast, the priority was to establish the adult program.  On October 1st, 1942, CAP authorized young men and women in their last two years of high school to join the newly formed Civil Air Patrol Cadets.  In the beginning cadets had to have a senior member sponsor, each male senior member could sponsor one male cadet, each female senior could sponsor one female cadet.  The membership restrictions did not last long as thousands of Greatest Generation teenagers flocked to the Civil Air Patrol Cadets, drawn by patriotism, to be sure, but also by the lure of flight, and the possibility of choosing a war-time destiny.  CAPC membership swelled to 20,000 cadets in six months.  The immediate focus of CAPC training was to provide cadets pre-aviation and pre-induction education since young men needed every “leg up” they could get to qualify academically, physically, and psychologically to join the Army Air Force, especially for the coveted roles of pilot, navigator, and bombardier. 

     The Civil Air Patrol Cadets allowed girls to prepare, too.  They weren’t asked to fight the war directly, of course.  Their role was to keep America running, and do anything they could to win the war from home, whether it was to work in a factory, office, or farm.  Some young women were accepted into the fledgling Women's Army Corps, or WAC.  A 1944 CAPC recruiting brochure encouraged girls to “prepare themselves to serve with the WAC.”  In fact, many young women who were CAP Cadets went on to join the newly authorized female-only branches of the Army, Navy, and Marines.

Only the beginning:

     A number of civilian volunteer organizations quickly appeared to support the war effort.  Without diverse missions, with their usefulness only tied to one goal, they disappeared just as quickly as the war wound down.  CAP, on the other hand, diversified quickly and prolifically.  Ground search and rescue, courier service, flood relief, and forest patrol were just a few missions added onto coastal and border patrol.  Cadets could participate in all missions, except for war-related and dangerous activities.  When the Army Air Force withdrew all support in March 1946, Harry Truman had justification to keep CAP alive, and declared it a non-profit, benevolent organization four months later.  CAP could never again participate in wartime operations, but it carried on with new mandates: use the power of civil aviation to support search and rescue, assist with emergencies such as natural disasters, continue the cadet program, and educate the public about aerospace.  Over seven decades CAP has continued to adapt and survive with limpet-like tenacity.  However, the primary motivation is unchanged, for seniors and cadets: to serve the United States.

Aviation Cadet recruiting drive, New Jersey, circa 1943.  It is obvious on the original photo that the cadet on the far right has the ACER lapel pin in his left pocket button hole.  See metal insignia.

References are available at the bottom of this page. 

     They are the “Greatest Generation” – men and women born between 1914 and 1929 – and history will remember them as the victors of WWII.  They were also the power behind American industry which produced almost 2/3 of Allied materiel, and lifted the American economy out of the Depression.   Sixteen million men and women went to war, and twenty-four million went to work.  Eight million women shrugged off centuries of tradition by deftly stepping into manufacturing jobs left vacant by men departing for war.  They were all courageous because of their willingness to march into the unknown and unfamiliar.   Boys who had never seen the ocean took to the sea.  Boys who had never been out of their home state volunteered to be thrown into far-flung island battles.  Boys who had never been near an airplane signed up to fight the war inside an Army Air Force aircraft.  But first, the Greatest Generation founded the Civil Air Patrol Cadet program.