One of the most interesting segments of time in American history is one that few youth of today know anything about.
The 1930s and early 1940s saw the formation and success of the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps, which provided a warm bed, clean clothes, hot meals and work to millions of unemployed men.
Helped families. Most figures agree that nearly 3 million unemployed men benefited from the CCC, and many say it changed their lives forever. An enrollee in this program, designed to help an ailing economy after the depths of the Great Depression, not only received room and board, but they were given medical care and vocational training, plus $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home to their families.
There are wonderful stories of men who were completely down and out, dressed in rags and shoes with holes in them, with no hope for a better future. The CCC provided them with the means to turn their lives around.
In the book “We Had Everything But Money,” the stories of such lives are heart-warming.
Enduring works. Hank, a man from upstate New York, was broke, hungry, out of work. He signed up for the CCC and was sent to Company 1208 near Speculator, N.Y., and helped build a beautiful campground still in use all these years later.
He learned work in a quarry, mining stone for fireplaces and fences. After a year, this man left to find work, but found none, so he re-enrolled. This time he was sent to a camp in Gallagher, Idaho, where he split logs for fence posts, helped build roads through the wilderness there, helped to build a ranger station and ended up helping fight forest fires.
Happy times. He said it was the happiest time in his life, and the experience helped him when he joined the Army in the years afterward.
Young men would often hitchhike to the nearest courthouse to sign up for the CCC, hoping and praying there would be a spot available for them. It often meant the difference between an entire family continuing to struggle or slowly getting ahead. It often meant saving a family from homelessness.
Traveled miles. One man tells of hitchhiking 40 miles to sign up, as his older brother had served earlier.
“Now it was my turn as the breadwinner for my widowed mother and two younger siblings,” Joseph Lee writes. “Like many other kids in the rural South, I had to quit school at an early age to work in the corn and cotton fields and do whatever odd jobs came along.
“Joining the CCC helped us get a start in life, and I’ll always be grateful for the experience we gained and for the monetary aid. The CCC turned millions of young people into responsible citizens, and sustained many families that otherwise would have been on welfare.”
Lessons learned. Lee, like Hank, said service in the CCC paved the way for his U.S. Navy service during World War II, and helped him to appreciate life in general. Men serving in the CCC built roads through incredibly challenging terrain, planted trees, built dams, bridges, surveyed lakes, fought incredible forest fires, improved timber stands, built many parks and improved existing parks throughout the country.
One man, Emil Hallin of Rapid City, S.D., writes, “The CCC gave us discipline and a work ethic, taught us how to get along with others, and enabled us to help our families back home. It was an experience that enriched my life.”
Sounds like a winning program in every way.
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