‘Corps’ helped build America

Throughout its history, America has faced many challenges. One was the devastating collapse of the national economy during the Great Depression years of the 1930s when faced with financial ruin, banks closed and industry ceased.

During the years that followed, the elderly lost their life savings, farmers their land and thousands of unemployed men roamed the country, looking for non-existent jobs. It was for these that the Civilian Conservation Corps was formed in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” policy for recovery for the economy. It was not a military organization, although it was run on military lines, its officers being mostly ex-Army men.

The volunteer enlistees had to be single young men aged 17 to 23 years old with no criminal record. They received training in the manual trades such as carpentry, bricklaying, and dams and bridge building. They lived in army-type camps which they often built themselves.

Their pay was $30 a month, most of which they sent home to help their struggling family. They were provided with food, clothing and medical care. If by chance they found a better paying job, they were free to leave the Corps, given an honorable discharge and transport back home. The young men worked on bridges and dams construction and on re-forestation all over the country. They also worked on overhead electric lines and repaired railroad tracks. With the arrival of World War II (which turned the country’s economy around), the Corps was discontinued in 1942.

It was later estimated that 3,000,000 men had served in the Corps. Used to hard work and discipline, they later made good military men.

This writer recently spoke with a 95-year-old gentleman who had served in the Corps, working on bridge building in Tennessee. He was one of the few corpsmen to own a car. It was a battered 1925 Model T Ford sedan. Not allowed to keep it in camp, he kept it parked at a nearby farm. Every Saturday he picked it up, crammed four of his pals into it and drove to the nearby town to see the Saturday night movies. He charged his riders 25 cents each. It paid for the gas.

Today, there are reminders of the work done buy the Civilian Conservation Corps in our own area. Among them are the Fish Hatchery in Randolph and Long Point State Park at Bemus Point.

One wonders, if today there was an organization like the Civilian Conservation Corps it would aid our ailing economy.

Agnes “Pat” Pfleuguer is a Dunkirk resident.