German submarines began showing up in the waters along the East Coast of the United States in 1942, a pressing threat from a war taking place an ocean away.

Coastal towns and cities that had not yet started consistently blacking out lights were easy targets for enemy attacks. Tankers and cargo ships were sitting ducks, but the Navy and Coast Guard didn’t have the resources to protect them all.

Then civilians stepped up to form the Civil Air Patrol.

Oscar Shevenell, of Portland, served as an observer with the Civil Air Patrol from 1942-43. Photo courtesy of Maine Wing Civil Air Patrol

Among them was 2nd Lt. Oscar Shevenell, an unassuming Portland man who worked at a car dealership and had a wife and small children at home. More than 80 years later, he was honored this month for the role he played in protecting the coast of Maine.

The patrol established 21 bases along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U.S. In 1942 and 1943, they patrolled the waters from Maine to the Mexican border with armed aircraft, thwarting submarine attacks and guarding shipping lanes. The air crews are credited with escorting more than 5,600 convoys, reporting 173 U-boats and attacking 57, flying 86,685 total missions, logging 244,600 total flight hours, and flying more than 24 million miles in all.

In Maine, more than 100 men and women volunteered as pilots, observers and in support roles from bases in Portland and Bar Harbor.


Shevenell’s family accepted his Congressional Gold Medal – the nation’s highest civilian honor along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – during a ceremony Sept. 2 at the Maine Wing Civil Air Patrol annual banquet. Shevenell died in 1987.

In 2014, Congress awarded the medal collectively to the 200,000 World War II air patrol members for their “extraordinary humanitarian, combat, and national services during a critical time of need for the nation.” Since then, only 185 medals have been presented to patrol members or their families.

Shevenell’s sons said they were honored to accept the medal on his behalf, but were quick to point out that many others deserve the same recognition.

Joe Shevenell said he would like to see others involved with the wartime air patrol in Maine honored for their service.

“This is a big deal for our little family and for our father,” he said. “But there were a lot of other heavy hitters. Our dad was just one of many who served their country during World War II.”

Oscar Shevenell was born in 1911 in Dover, New Hampshire. He discovered his love of aviation by the early 1920s when barnstormers – pilots who landed their light planes in fields and staged impromptu airshows – began visiting the area to wow locals with their rollovers, twists and turns. It inspired him to learn to fly.


“The whole idea of getting off the ground, he loved it,” Ray Shevenell said.

Civil Air Patrol National Commander Major General Edward Phelka, right, presents the Congressional Gold Medal to the family of 2nd Lt. Oscar Shevenell for his service during World War II. Photo courtesy of Maine Wing Civil Air Patrol

When he was courting Kathleen, the woman he would later marry, Oscar Shevenell buzzed over the house where she was staying in Eliot with his plane, nearly knocking the chimney off. He didn’t hesitate when she told him he had to give up flying to marry her. They got married in 1940 and moved to Portland, where he worked in the parts and supply department at Forest City Motors.

When the Civil Air Patrol became active in Maine under the command of newspaper entrepreneur Guy P. Gannett, Shevenell was eager to join. As an observer, he sat in the front of the two-seat propeller planes when they flew patrols to spot German U-boats. The submarines were usually spotted when they surfaced to recharge batteries.

“They saw a lot of submarines,” said Ray Shevenell, the oldest of Oscar Shevenell’s five children. “They would report them to the officials on the ground and describe where they were on the ocean.”

“He really enjoyed it because he was serving his country,” Joe Shevenell said.

After a year with the air patrol, Shevenell enlisted in the Navy and was sent to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, where he was a drill instructor for sailors being sent to the Pacific Theater.

When he returned to Maine after the war, Shevenell worked in construction, then later trained as a screenprinter. He opened Allen Screen Printing in the Old Port in the 1960s and ran it until his retirement. He didn’t talk much about his time with the Civil Air Patrol, his sons said, but his love of aviation was always evident. They remember going with him to watch planes coming and going from the Portland Municipal Airport, now the Portland International Jetport.

Shevenell’s involvement with the Civil Air Patrol in the 1940s went largely unnoticed until a chance encounter Joe Shevenell had while vacationing in North Carolina. During a conversation with a man he met who is involved with the air patrol, Joe Shevenell mentioned that his father had been an observer during the war.

He showed the man a photo of his father taken during his service, and soon arrangements were made to present the Shevenells with their father’s medal.

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