Civilian Conservation Corps Circa 1936
A FIRST HAND ACCOUNT
by Harry Steinberg, M.D.
Harry Steinberg, M.D., a retired ENT surgeon and sculptor, lives in Los Angeles . The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established to give employment to hundreds of thousands of young men for whom there were no jobs and no available education. They drained swamps, planted forests, built roads and dams. The CCC gave a running head start to tens of thousands of the uneducated and unskilled.
"Gone were the whispered requests of women asking for one of them 'female rubbers.' (Useless when her man came home drunk and raped her.)"
When I heard that CCC camps were being established and that they were being run by the Army, I recalled that I held a First Lieutenancy rank in the medical corps, that I would receive good pay and could leave the service whenever I wished to establish my own practice. I applied and was accepted as a medical officer at a CCC camp at Bastain , Virginia .
I noticed many positive changes in the men sent to the camps. Many were unable to read or write credibly or follow simple orders. With training, they all improved rapidly, developing self-discipline as well.
We are often faced with situations that emphasize man's inhumanity to man. I received calls from the county jail. Sometimes prisoners would be whipped. This required the presence of a doctor. If I were called, after examining his heart I would always declare the prisoner unable to have another stroke after the first. The jailer had a business. He made it a profitable one. CCC men were occasional victims. The camp men would each donate 50 cents for a quick bailout. Jailers were appointed politically. Being a jailer was a profitable business. The jailer would often appoint a relative to be his assistant. His job, it seemed, was to keep the jail full. The state paid the jailer $1 a day for each prisoner, plus $1 a day for food. The prison fare was a biscuit, gravy and coffee for breakfast and with beans added to the same for supper. A good profit was realized. To keep the cells full, the assistant jailer would frequent the premises of a local inn and when a likely "victim" left the inn, the officer would ask to smell his breath. A fresh swallowed beer or whiskey was sufficient for the officer to declare the person too drunk to drive and he would take the man to the jail to "sober up." If the arrested man resisted or tried to run away, he could be held in the jail awaiting the arrival of the Circuit Court judge. Meanwhile, the arrestee could be placed to work on a chain gang.
I left the service of the CCC camps to take over the duties of a retiring physician for the Virginia Hardwood Lumber Company in Bastain. The medical care I provided included drugs for the 200 workers and their families at the mill, and also the care of the residents of Bastain and Bland County . I became a big frog in a small pond.
Pat and I moved into a pre-Revolutionary log cabin. The walls were covered with hand-adzed wood, floor to ceiling, that was 12 inches wide with a wonderful mahogany luster. There was a cooling house for milk, eggs and meat built of field stone with hand-blown glass for all the windows. A kitchen and bathroom were added to the cabin at a much later date. One day I asked a patient of mine if he ever wanted to live in the city. He said, "Lord no, Doc. Do you know they have their toilets in the house with them?" I could only express my shock!
I received $2 a month for the care of each worker's family, and $1 a month for each single worker. I charged non-mill workers $2 an office visit. The visit was often paid for by barter; a laying hen with 18 eggs for an office visit or a ham of my choosing for the delivery of a child. I had a garden for growing vegetables, cared for by a neighbor's child. The hams were treated to become Virginia hams. The grocer used his grandmother's formula. We received maple syrup, grouse from a hunt, special baked goods and help when wanted. All in all, this was a good life.
I might still be a country doctor had not the problems of world politics put an end to my life in paradise. I received notification to report to Fort Belvoir , Virginia , for a year's service of active duty with the U.S. Army in 1941.
Now gone was the 1:00 a.m. call at my cabin door of "Get up, Doc. My wife's a' birthin'!"
Gone were the whispered requests of women asking for one of them "female rubbers." (Useless when her man came home drunk and raped her.)
Gone were the "Rites of Spring"-the tapping for maple syrup. The Spring Fair. The arrival of the traveling tent show. The fishing when the creek was at "full run!"
Gone were the times when my Ford was flooded out at a crossing in the stream, and my dog, Chunky, left the car to swim across and run, barking, up the road for help.
Gone was the glory of the baby's newborn cry and, though tired, sharing a full breakfast with the happy family.
And, surely, gone was the feeling of fulfillment and the acceptance of mutual appreciation of a service paid for with the coin of gratitude, or with barter of work or a gift of farm products for a service rendered.
And gone was the steam whistle and smell of fresh-cut hardwood, and the camaraderie of the woodcutter's camps that I visited weekly.
Excerpted from A Nation Lost and Found by Frank Pierson and Stanley K. Sheinbaum. Copyright © 2002 by Tallfellow Press, Inc . All rights reserved. Excerpted by arrangement with Tallfellow Press, Inc. $24.95. Available in local bookstores or click here.