Do you remember the story of Hansel and Gretel’s parents? They didn’t have enough food to feed their family. In America from 1929 to 1941, at least 25 percent of American “bread winners” were unemployed. There were no jobs and no unemployment benefits, nothing. For every son who enlisted in our military, there was one less mouth to feed at home, less water in their soup.
In his March 21, 1933, inaugural presidential address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the “Act for the relief of unemployment through performance of useful public works and other purposes,” the Emergency Conservation Work. Ten days later, March 31, Roosevelt signed the legislation into law.
Five days later, April 5, 1933, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6101 establishing the organization and appointed Robert Fechner, director (March 1933 to December 1939). The Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) took 15 days from proposal to enactment. CCC provided economic relief, rehabilitation and training for 3 million single men who were unemployed U.S. citizens between 18 to 25 years of age.
Upon passing a physical exam, each enrollee volunteered for a six-month term. Enrollees lived in a work camp and earned $30 a month. A compulsory $25 from his $30 was sent home to financially help the enrollee’s family. With milk at 14 cents a quart and bread at 10 cents a loaf, $25 purchased bags and bags of groceries for the family. The enrollees received $5 a month plus meals, uniforms, education, housing and dental/medical care. They gained an average of .277 inches in height and 7.23 pounds over a six-month term.
At the time of entry into the CCC, 70 percent of the enrollees were malnourished and poorly clothed. Only a few had more than a year of high school education or any work experience beyond odd jobs. CCC improved 3 million lives and eliminated potential school attendance problems. By 1942, those 3 million men easily transitioned into the regimented military life.
CCC Company 118 opened on May 5, 1933, a month after Executive Order 6101 was signed. Company 118 was located in East Jaffrey, N.H., about 10 miles north of the Massachusetts border along Route 124. U.S. Army Capt. Whittemore was the commander of Company 118, Camp Annett.
During my formative years, my dad shared many of his experiences during his 18 months at Camp Annett. I have his photo album with several dozen black-and-white pictures taken with his Kodak camera. Dad was given a photo of Whittemore squatting with his arm around his German shepherd. On the back of that picture, Dad wrote, “Captain Whittemore, 1935, a good egg.” The expression “a good egg” was a compliment meaning Whittemore was a firm, but fair commanding officer.
Having celebrated his 19th birthday in February 1935, Dad took the CCC oath of allegiance in March 1935: “This is the training station we’re going to leave morally and physically fit to lick ‘Old Man Depression.’” Dad had some of his mother’s physical traits, the same shaped face and nose, being tall (6-foot-2) and a slight build, weighing 170 pounds.
The enrollees worked from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. with a break for lunch. They attended academic classes from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Feb. 28, 1936, two Camp Annett baseball teams played a baseball game in the snow. They wore snowshoes and used oversized tennis racquets for bats. The two teams “afforded the crowd many laughs.”
For most of Dad’s fellow enrollees, Camp Annett was their first time away from home. They built fire roads, cut wood, fought forest fires, dug and tiled a municipal swimming pool for the nearby community of Peterborough, N.H.
The members of Camp Annett used handsaws to fall trees and cut rounds for firewood. That’s right. There were no chainsaws in the camp. Working eight hours a day, the young men became physically fit.
In 1930, Ford dealers sold a new Model A Ford for $395. Dad saved every penny he earned. In 1936, he bought a used 1930 Ford two-door sedan for $99. Henry Ford said, “You could have any color you wanted as long as it was black.”
The CCC enrollees are proud of their construction projects. Many have lasted more than 84 years. After spending 18 months at Camp Annett, Dad caught a ride to Boston to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard on Sept. 24, 1936.
Before World War II, the U.S. Coast Guard didn’t have a boot camp for new recruits. Each recruit was assigned to USCG cutter to learn how to salute, care for his uniform, pack his sea bag and tying knots. Dad became a member of the “Black Gang,” the slang for a sailor assigned to the engine room, the “heart” of a ship. If the engine room is not powering the props with all systems functioning, you and your shipmates have survival problems.
On Oct. 31, 1956, USCG Chief Warrant Officer 2 Arthur O. Beaton was honorably discharged with 20 years and one month of service. I remember as if it was yesterday; Dad told me, “Ken, all I have to do is live, and I’ve beat the system.” He collected his retirement for almost 42 years.
CCC was one of the many programs that got Americans working to pull our country out of the Great Depression.
The U.S. Congress declared war on Japan Dec. 8, 1941. During the war, a total of 16 million men and women served our country. In addition, 18 million women were hired to work in our factories building planes, ships, trucks, tanks, artillery and everything war related including the atomic bomb.
Greatest Generation, thank you for our freedom.