Though long gone, CCC still impresses

Though long gone, CCC still impresses by Bob Karolevitz I've never been a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps, but after seeing what the young men did with the Pere Marquette lodge north of St. Louis, I'm impressed.

Back in the early 1930s, they cut huge logs for the building, planted trees around it and erected a seven-ton fireplace out of native stone most likely quarried in the area.

But, for a long time, I only thought they built roads, stuck pine cones in the ground and did a few other things, mostly in the Black Hills. Obviously I was wrong!

Shortly after he took office on March 4, 1933, Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt began immediately to face up to the economic woes of the Great Depression and to relieve the monstrous unemployment at the time.

He met with federal officials outlining his New Deal and cajoled Congress into passing the Emergency Work Progress Act which he signed just 27 days after his inauguration. One of the agencies established was the CCC.

By April 7, enrollment began, and by July a quarter of a million young men � unmarried, physically fit, out of work, between the ages of 18 and 25 � were assigned to 1,300 camps from one end of the country to the other.

They just didn't toil in forests and roadways either; some of them learned trades like carpentry and blacksmithing. But no matter what they did, they got just $30 a month, $25 of which they had to send home.

The program was administered by the War Department, with military uniforms and much surplus equipment from World War I.

Military discipline was practiced, and the men rode to work in old G.I. trucks.

Detractors claimed the CCC was like Hilter's youth camps, but the Corps obviously had a different mission in America.

The enrollees fought forest fires, built 853 air strips, erected 3,116 lookout towers, established 8,192 parks, repaired 124,087 bridges, planted zillions of trees and stocked over a billion fish in lakes and reservoirs, most of which they created. The list of their accomplishments goes on and on.

Of all the New Deal programs, it was the most successful and not subject to constitutionality. A total of three and a half million 17 to 28-year-old men, and 225,000 veterans of World War I (when the Corps was opened to them), worked in the camps before its demise on June 30, 1942. It was then absorbed into the armed forces.

CCC proponents argue that the training given to the men was a major factor in the Allied victory. They said that, despite some political ridicule, the Civilian Conservation Corps provided a trained cadre of leaders at a time when they were needed most.

I'm not touting for a return of the CCC program, but I'm thinking that it would probably be one way to solve today's unemployment problems while upgrading our deteriorating infrastructure.

Of course, not many young men would work for $30 a month, no matter what good they'd do. The Pere Marquette lodge is a good example of the latter.

Like I say, I'm impressed!

© 2004 Robert F. Karolevitz

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