At the outbreak of World War II, there were calls within the United States to organize the nation’s civilian aviation resources in the aid of national defense. The result of this was the formation of the Civil Air Patrol, which came into being in 1941, under the direction of national commander Major General John F. Curry.
During World War II, those who served in the Civil Air Patrol volunteered their services, and often their own civilian aircraft, to aid and protect the American military and citizens, notably by monitoring for enemy submarines off the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts.
By 1942, German submarines were making numerous attacks against American merchant vessels along the East Coast. For the first part of the year, an American ship was being sunk almost every day off the coast— not only freighters and tankers, but also passenger ships. The attacks were especially prevalent off the coast of North Carolina, in an area surrounding the Outer Banks which was dubbed “Torpedo Alley.”
In response, the Civil Air Patrol established coastal patrols with the aim to deter, report and prevent such attacks.
The first Civil Air Patrol base in North Carolina was at Skyco, on Roanoke Island, and on August 10, 1942,Civil Air Patrol pilots began making their patrols to protect the coast. Jointly with the Navy and Coast Guard, Civil Air Patrol aircraft took off from the base to escort convoys along the coast, monitor wrecks that might damage vessels, and conduct search and rescue missions.
A second North Carolina coastal patrol base was established in 1943. In the period after the patrol’s North Carolina bases were in operation during World War II, only two vessels were torpedoed by enemy forces off the coast.
At the start of World War II, a man from Winston-Salem named Vernon Rudolph signed up with the Civil Air Patrol. Records from Civil Air Patrol Coastal Patrol Base 16 shows that he first arrived for duty at the Manteo base on July 27, 1942. Rudolph not only volunteered his own service, but that of his personally owned aircraft. After the war, Rudolph returned to his local Winston-Salem business, a little donut shop that would eventually become the internationally successful Krispy Kreme.
In its second year of operation, Civil Air Patrol organized its cadet program. The cadet program accepted both boys and girls, between ages 15 to 18. There was no requirement for cadets to enlist in the military after graduation. However, the skills taught in the program would provide valuable training and teach practical skills that would aid cadets in various wartime service industries. The list of topics taught by the Civil Air Patrol cadets is extensive and includes subjects such as meteorology, military drills, military law, first aid, aircraft recognition and more.
Following the creation of the US Air Force as a separate branch of the armed services (previously it was a part of the Army, titled as Army Air Force), President Harry S. Truman signed the law establishing Civil Air Patrol as the Air Force’s civilian auxiliary on May 26, 1948.
The same year, a patrol squadron was formed in Elkin. The squadron would be commanded by Captain Robert E Church, a patrol reserve officer. The purpose of the squadron was to both recruit and train adults and cadets. According to The Elkin Tribune, in an article from February of 1948, Civil Air Patrol offered a “special invite to veterans of WW2, who can act as instructors in military drill, security, radio transmission and receiving and manual arts.”
The work completed by patrol members was formally recognized in 2014, when the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to those members of Civil Air Patrol who served in the agency during World War II. The medal recognizes the approximately 200,000 “unpaid volunteer members of the Civil Air Patrol [who] during World War II provided extraordinary humanitarian, combat, and national services during a critical time of need for the Nation.”
Records are scarce about the patrol’s presence in Mount Airy. We do know that for a time, there was a Mount Airy Squadron though the exact dates of its operation are unknown. A preflight study manual for patrol cadets, dated from around 1947, shows that there was a Mount Airy squadron at that time. In the pages of this preflight study manual we can discover more about what cadets at the time studied, such as physical exercises, map reading, navigation, and more.
The formation of the Civil Air Patrol during World War II marked a significant milestone in the United States’ efforts to organize civilian aviation resources for national defense. Civil Air Patrol volunteers played a crucial role in protecting American military and citizens. Coastal patrols established by the patrol in North Carolina successfully deterred enemy attacks and contributed to the safety of shipping convoys. The cadet program provided valuable training and practical skills to young individuals, preparing them for various wartime service industries. The legacy of Civil Air Patrol’s wartime efforts remains significant, with its impact still recognized today.
If anyone has any information about the local Mount Airy Civil Air Patrol squadron, call Amy Snyder at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History at 336-786-4478.
Katherine “Kat” Jackson is an employee at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. Originally from Australia she lives in King and can be reached at the museum at 336-786-4478.