Today, when a single government agency can’t conduct its business efficiently, let’s remember back 75 years when four federal agencies provided meaningful work and training to millions of young men over the course of nearly a decade.
Seventy-five years ago today, a conservation army was mustered for duty in the forests, fields and parks of this country to begin what would ultimately be more than nine years of continuous work. The conservation army that undertook this peaceful occupation was Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps- the CCC. Among the results here in Arizona: trail systems in Grand Canyon, visitor amenities in South Mountain and Papago Parks, improvements at Colossal Cave and forestry improvements in all of our national forests. Nationally, the work of the CCC stretches from Acadia in Maine to Yellowstone in Wyoming, from Gettysburg in Pennsylvania to La Purisima in California. In fiscal year 1937 alone the CCC built a total of 2,476 vehicle bridges, 11,559 miles of truck trails and they strung over 10,000 miles of telephone and power lines, largely to the benefit of our National Forests and National Parks. Multiplied over 9 years, the numbers become almost incomprehensible and the fact that we continue to derive benefit from this work three-quarters of a century later is unfathomable in our modern throwaway society.
In a cooperative effort not seen before or since, the Departments of War, Labor, Agriculture, and the Interior, worked together to select suitable enrollees, provide medical checks and inoculations, issue supplies and work clothes and arrange transportation to the many camps scattered throughout the United States and its territories. The CCC was not run by the military. The camps – usually home to about 200 enrollees – were placed under the command of a reserve military officer, but military discipline was prohibited and enrollees were only under the control of the commanding officer during their hours in camp. In fact, many of the reserve officers called up to run the camps were themselves unemployed because of the national economic crisis and thus, they had a good deal more in common with the enrollees than some historians have been inclined to point out. During the workday, enrollees labored and learned under the watchful eye of foremen and supervisors from the technical services such as the Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation and the Soil Conservation Service.
Ultimately, some 3 million young men passed through the ranks of the CCC between 1933 and 1942. Enrollees were housed, clothed, fed and paid $30 a month, of which as much as $25 was sent home to needy family members; after all, what good was $30 in the pocket of a lad living in a forest camp? The economy needed dollars to circulate and the monthly CCC allotments helped make that happen. Furthermore, the establishment of a CCC camp typically meant an additional $5,000 in monthly expenditures in the local marketplace because the camps bought many supplies locally, which created jobs in communities nationwide.
The work and history of the Civilian Conservation Corps is largely forgotten. Reinvigorated enrollees lay down their shovels to take up the fight against fascism. The “boys” of the CCC became the men of Corregidor, Midway, Anzio and Omaha Beach. Vocational skills gained in the CCC camps were put to use in our factories building tanks and airplanes. Nearly to a man, former CCC enrollees will tell you that the CCC was the best thing that ever happened to them, but as a nation we tend to remember more about the World War they fought between 1942 and 1945, than we do the quieter time from 1933 to 1942 when our nation was home to the Civilian Conservation Corps and its peaceful occupation.
In honor of this special day, here are some interesting CCC and New Deal anniversary links that have appeared on Google and elsewhere recently:
A nice remembrance appeared in this morning's online edition of the Deseret News out of Salt Lake City.
An interesting page from channel 8 in Austin, Texas. Included on the page is a link to a video clip. I don’t think any state beats Texas for its consistent, enthusiastic recognition of the work of the CCC
A nifty article that ran in USA Today a few days back. National coverage like this is rare and usually comes out only during a significant milestone event or anniversary, but it’s still nice to see the coverage and some recognizable faces and names among those being interviewed.
Here’s a blog post from the California State Parks, announcing a special 75th anniversary exhibit to run at the state capitol. Also noted are observances at parks around the state.