May 5, 1998
25 pages Open
Mr. Holmes was born May 13, 1922 in Laurens, South Carolina, the fifth of ten children.
His father was a cabinetmaker, sailor and occasional farmer (page 1). Following a
move to Jacksonville, Florida and Waycross, Georgia, for sharecropping opportunities,
Mr. Holmes left school at the age of seventeen to join the CCC (page 2), motivated by a
need to support his family with his mother's death and spurred by his brother's prior
involvement with the Corps (page 3). He goes into more detail about his siblings, his
father's love for President Roosevelt, his memories of the Depression and the burden of
debt and food shortages growing up on pages 6-7.
By his account, Mr. Holmes joined the CCC in Brooker, with little knowledge about what
he was getting into (page 4). He recalls the rendezvous at Camp Blanding, along with
some mildly troublesome individuals on page 5. This is followed by his memories of
taking the train to his first assignment at Yosemite in California, working on gooseberry
plants and his responsibilities as a mess boy (7-9). Page 9-11 also covers Mr. Holmes'
recollections of recreational activities, cooking, drinking, and uniforms, as well as the
military lifestyle in the camps, supplemented on page 12 with memories of the food,
barracks life, and the tendency towards practical jokes that many of his fellow campers
On page 13, Mr. Holmes tells of the breaking down of the Yosemite camp in the
wintertime, as well as inspections in camp, the entertainment possibilities in the camps,
and the library. Page 14, he details a typical day working as a baker in the mess, and
on page 15, the duties of the mess sergeant (see also page 26 regarding cooking). He
also reminisces (page 17) on the occasional disagreements and fights that sometimes
resulted in discharges.
Page 18-19 contains Mr. Holmes' thoughts on the prevalence of homesickness,
accidents and desertion among the Corps men, as well as the rangers and Licensed
Experienced Men who he served with. On page 20, he discusses the exclusion of
women and blacks, as well as the inclusion of World War I veterans in the Corps. Mr.
Holmes also treats his perceptions of the morale of the men and the influences of
weather on daily life in the Corps (21). Later in the interview he talks of the newspaper,
religious life, academic advising, and positives and negatives of his Corps experience
Page 22 has Mr. Holmes reflecting on the results of his CCC enlistment. He followed
his CCC work with a stint in the merchant marine where he encountered the famed
Liberty ships (23), and after being employed by private companies, he joined the Navy
(24-25), and saw action in the Pacific on an attack transport, specifically involved in the
Okinawa battle (26). He recalls vividly his worry about the Japanese "Zero" fighter
planes and his memories of the atomic bomb (27).
Mr. Holmes closes the interview with his thoughts about the CCC's connection to the
war effort and to American history (29), that a contemporary revival of the CCC would
be of benefit to society, and his subsequent career as a farm manager and forty-year
tenure in the post-war Merchant Marine (30-32).
Interviewee: Talmadge Holmes
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: May 5, 1998
P: It is May 5, 1998 and I am at the home of Wiley Talmadge Holmes and we are in
Brooker, Florida. When and where were you born?
H: I was born in Laurens, South Carolina, on May 13, 1922.
P: What size family were you born in?
H: There were ten children in my family.
P: Where were you in the pecking order?
H: I was number five.
P: How many males and how many females?
H: There were three girls and seven boys. One brother died right after birth, so
actually there were nine of us who grew up.
P: What did your father do?
H: My father was a cabinetmaker. When I was born he was a Pamlico sailor. He
was in the Coast Guard. He owned a farm, but he did not like to farm so, the rest
of the family did most of the farming. He stayed in the Coast Guard up until my
grandfather died. Then he sold the farm when we left there.
P: So you grew up in Laurens?
H: No, we left there when I was two years old and we went to Jacksonville [Florida].
We were there about two years. Then we moved to Waycross, Georgia, right
outside of Waycross and [we] worked on a farm there. We were sharecropping
for a farmer there growing tobacco and cotton, mostly tobacco.
P: How many people lived in your house at this juncture?
H: It was just the family. At that time, the three younger ones were not born, yet.
P: What was your housing like?
H: We always had a fairly nice house. I cannot remember what it was in
Jacksonville. We lived in a pretty nice place there about two blocks from the St.
Johns River. In Waycross we lived in a big farmhouse. The corner of the front
porch set on the root of a big oak tree, and it shaded the whole house.
P: What about your schooling? Where did you go to school?
H: We left Waycross when I was five years old and we came to Hillsborough
County, Florida and my schooling was in Hillsborough County. I went to
grammar school in a school called Turkey Creek. It was a strawberry school.
That was in strawberry country. That was the main thing. They went to school in
the summer and the schools were out during the strawberry season, so the kids
could harvest the strawberries. This was right outside of Plant City. Then I went
to junior high in Dover, Florida, which is just a few miles down the road towards
Tampa. It was also a strawberry school. Then I went to high school back in
Turkey Creek. I went there until the tenth grade. I never did go completely
through school. I loved school and I wanted to be a school teacher, but it did not
work out that way. When I was seventeen, I quit school and went to the CCC
P: Why did you quit school?
H: At that time there was quite a number in the family and my mother had passed
away and my dad was raising all the kids. It was pretty hard, and he just could
not afford to send me to school any longer. There was not much money to be
made at that time anywhere, so the CCC was going good. My older brother had
been in for some time, and he talked to me about it. We went down and checked
it out and that is when I joined up in the CCC in 1939.
P: Do you remember the time of year?
H: I remember it was in the summertime.
P: You would have been about seventeen?
H: I was seventeen.
P: What was your father doing at this time?
H: At that time he was working for Tempest Ship Building Company. He was still
doing carpentry work.
P: Did he have a pretty good job?
H: Yeah, a fair job for that time. They were not working full time. Back then, they
tried to give everybody some work, even the private companies. They would
work some people three or four days a week and that was the way he was
working when I went in the CCC.
P: What was your brother's experience in the CCC?
H: He went in when he was seventeen. He was four years older than me. Then he
served one year in the CCs and I do not remember much about where he was or
anything. He was up in New Jersey somewhere. Then he went from there to the
P: So he had a very positive experience in the CCC?
H: Well, it was short. I think he only stayed six months, maybe a year. I do not
P: So why did you join the CCC?
H: To help my family. At that time they would send twenty-five dollars a month
home and give the boys five dollars a month.
P: What did you spend your five dollars on?
H: I thought that was a lot of money then. We would get to go to town once or twice
a month, when it was your turn to go. We would go to the movies and stuff like
P: Where did you join up?
H: Right here, on this land in Brooker.
P: Did you know Jake [Keene]? He was working here and he was the clerk.
H: Jake was the clerk who signed me up in the CCC right here in 1939. [He is] my
P: How much information did you have about the CCs, other than what your brother
H: Not much. It was not like it is now. They did not broadcast it or anything. Just
what I was told and it was not very much. All I knew is that they fed us and
clothed us and gave us a little money and sent money home. Back then that was
what you were interested in.
P: When you signed up here in Brooker, did you request a place to go?
H: No. I do not think they gave us a choice. They were making up a new company
to go to California.
P: Did you know that when you were signing up?
H: Not when I was signing up. I did not have any idea where I was going until I got
here. When we signed up, everybody went to Camp Blanding and from Camp
Blanding onto the passenger train.
P: What did you do in Camp Blanding?
H: That was just to rendezvous. We did not do anything there. That was just where
we boarded the train. I think it was Camp Blanding. It could have been here
[Gainesville, FL] where we boarded the train, I do not remember that. Jake could
P: Did you get uniforms here?
H: Yes. We got everything here. When we left here, we were fully equipped.
P: Did you have a physical exam?
P: Did they ever ask you about whether you had been in any trouble with the law or
had any problems, debts or anything that might prevent you from being in the
H: I cannot remember. I did not have any and I had never been in trouble.
P: Did you come with some friends?
H: I was alone. I did not know anybody.
P: There were examples of some individuals who had been in trouble with the law
who were given an opportunity to either do jail or the CCC?
H: I heard about that.
P: Did you come across any of those people?
H: I did later on, but at the time I joined up, I did not know anything about it. Course,
they were not going to tell you.
P: How did your father react to you joining the CCC?
H: He was for it. He figured it would be good for me to do that.
P: He had to sign the permission slip?
H: Oh, yes. He had to sign the permission slip because I was seventeen.
P: What did he think about Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal Programs?
H: He thought it was good. To him, you could not say anything wrong about
Franklin Roosevelt as a person or otherwise, even though we know sometimes,
there are things that everybody do not know. At that time, he was helping the
country and that was what really mattered.
P: How would you say the Depression affected your family?
H: It was pretty rough. Back in South Carolina, where I was born, my grandfather
owned a big piece of land and he had three sons, so he cut the property up into
three sections. He gave each one a third of the property and my dad had a third.
My grandfather lived with us. My grandfather was sick for a long time and he
ran up a lot of debts because of his illness. My dad was one who could not stand
to owe a big debt. It drove him up the wall. So he did a very foolish thing and
sold the farm. We could have all stayed on the farm and made a better living, but
he did not think so at the time. We had it real rough.
P: You had to move quite a bit?
H: We moved to Jacksonville and we moved one time into Georgia. We moved
twice while we were in Georgia, but it was for the same person. We just moved
from one house to another house. Even when we got down to Florida, there
around Plant City, it was still real rough.
P: Did you have enough food to eat?
H: I can remember one time that we did not have anything. We never did have a
lot, but one time I remember vividly because there was a boy I was friends with
who lived down the road. He probably did not have anything to eat for supper,
either, so he was going to eat supper with us and we come to find out that we did
not have anything. That is the only time that I remember when we did not have
P: What did you eat normally? What would be a typical meal?
H: We ate a lot of lima beans and potatoes. That was a staple thing. When you live
on a farm, you live on somebody else's farm, you do not just go get what you
want. It is up to them to say, OK, you can go get this, or we are going to sell it or
whatever. Even though they raised a lot of vegetables and stuff, we got quite a
bit, but they had to make ends meet, too, and they just sold everything.
P: How about your brothers and sisters? Did most of them get an education?
H: The only one that really got a good college education was my brother who was
two below me. He went through high school.
P: Everybody else had to work?
H: Everybody else had to work. We did not get to have an education. My older
brothers did not get an education. They were more or less self-educated. They
wound up to be businessmen and pretty sharp. I had one brother who was an
engineer for Dupont. My brother M.C., those were his initials, went from high
school into the navy and out of the navy he went through the Polytechnic Institute
in New York, and got an engineering degree. He worked for the state of
California until he passed away.
P: When you joined the CCC, they took you at Camp Blanding and put you on a
train for California. Was that the first time you had ever been on a train?
H: First time.
P: First time you had ever been out of Florida?
H: Other than when I was a kid.
P: What was your attitude when you got on that train? Were you frightened, were
H: I was frightened. I had never been away from home. I did not know anything. I
was just a country boy. So many things were going on. They would say go here,
I would go there. Whatever they said, that was what I did. I was nervous and
afraid, like everybody else.
P: How long did it take you to get to California?
H: Five days.
P: Did you stop along the way?
H: We stopped for every train along the way. They pulled our train off and let them
P: Where did you go?
H: To Yosemite National Park. Most of my time was spent at Yosemite.
P: What did you do specifically at Yosemite?
H: When we first went there, I worked with the forest rangers. They set up this
company to dig what they called gooseberries. They [the
gooseberries] were causing damage to the trees. They were like a
root knot and they were killing the trees in the park. What we did
was dig them up and haul them down to this big area where they
burned them. That was what I did at first. Then I started working as
the mess boy in the galley, washing dishes and serving food.
Everybody would come sit down and you just put the big bowls on
the table and everybody ate like that. You kept the bowls full.
Before I left there, it did go more or less to a cafeteria style. And
then I would clean up afterwards, all three meals. That was my job
all day long. You had a little break between each meal, you would
have like an hour, hour and a half. Of course, after the dinner meal
you had all the cleaning up to do, mopping the floors and getting
ready for the next day.
P: Did you get any time off? Did you have to work seven days a week?
H: You would take turns getting time off, getting weekends off. The only time you
got a weekend off was whenever you got to go to town. Now the boys who
worked in the woods, digging the gooseberries, never worked on Sunday. They
were always off on Sunday. But us, who were preparing meals, worked seven
days a week. When we got a weekend off to go to town, we got time off.
P: Where did you go?
H: A lot of times we would just go into the valley there at Yosemite. Sometimes they
would send us up over to Merced, in California. We could spend the night and
come back the next day .
P: So while you were out of camp, what would you normally do?
H: A lot of the boys would get pretty drunk. I drank a little bit. That was where I met
my wife's brother, her younger brother Archie. We got to be real good friends.
We were in the same camp. I can remember one time, we went down and we
had a big jug of wine and just carried it around. This gallon jug of wine. This little
colored boy came along and he kept pestering us for something. Money, I think
or something like that. We gave him a quarter, so he would carry our jug around
for us. When we wanted a drink, we would take a drink and then he would carry
P: What else did you do?
H: We liked to go the movies or go around the parks.
P: There would not be much to do in Yosemite back in that time would there?
H: No. About the only thing you could do in Yosemite was sightsee. They had
tourist attractions and we could go down there as long as we did not mess
around with anybody.
P: How were you treated when you came to town?
H: We were treated good. We were never mistreated.
P: Did you have to wear your uniform?
H: Always, all the time.
P: Did you wear dress uniforms or your work clothes?
H: You wore your dress uniform, khaki. That was when I first went in. Later on,
they would let you wear dress clothes, if you had dress clothes. They changed it
a little bit before I got out. We did not really have money to buy dress clothes
P: What would you spend most of your five dollars on?
H: Wine, eating and movie, and that was it.
P: Did you save any?
H: No. When I started getting promotions, I made a little more. After I worked in the
mess hall, I started helping the cooks. I was cooking. I got to be assistant cook
there for quite awhile and then they sent me to cook and baker school over at the
army base. Then I was the company baker after that. I worked at night and
baked all the bread and the cakes.
P: Had you ever done that before?
P: Ever been interested in it before?
P: Were you pretty good at it?
H: I got pretty good at it. I got promoted all the way to mess sergeant.
P: Mess sergeants were CCC, not army?
H: Right. You had two sergeants. You had a mess sergeant and you had the
company sergeant. Both CCC.
P: Talk to me about the military command.
H: The military commander was an army reserve officer. Lieutenant. Some had
different ones, but ours was a lieutenant.
P: Any other military personnel?
H: No, just that one guy.
P: How big was your camp at Yosemite?
H: There was about 300.
P: Tell me a little bit about your baking. What would you bake?
H: Pies and cakes and cinnamon rolls. Biscuits, always. Anything you could think of
that you had the stuff to make it, that would make it a little different. Give them a
little change here and there.
P: Did you have set menus?
H: Pretty well set, yes.
P: You would know at the beginning of the week what you were going to do for the
H: Oh, yes. That was the way the mess sergeant had to order supplies. They sent
out menus and they would order the supplies ahead of time accordingly.
P: How was the food?
H: It was good. It was to me anyway. Everybody seemed to gain weight pretty well
P: A lot of people I have talked to, when they came to the CCC, were kind of thin,
almost emaciated and ended up gaining fifteen, twenty pounds. Did you notice
H: Yeah, I guess I weighed about 100 pounds when I went in. When I got married I
only weighed 120, but I never was a big person until I got to be about fifty-five,
then I got fat. I was always a real slim person.
P: When you first joined, was there any hazing that went on?
H: No, no. We did not have that. Not that I remember. Lot of jokes were pulled and
stuff like that.
P: Do you remember any of the practical jokes?
H: Cutting off the hot water when the guys were bathing in the wintertime and stuff
P: Describe the barracks to me.
H: I guess there were about sixty in each barracks. There were four doors. Some
of them had two. All the bunks were lined this way. The lockers were all against
the wall. Everybody had their own footlockers.
P: These were heated?
H: Yeah, we had heat. Coal.
P: In Yosemite you better have heat!
H: We did not stay in Yosemite in the wintertime. We left Yosemite in the wintertime
and went down to Big Sur, just south of Monterey. We were there at that camp in
the winter. It got pretty cold there, too. But we had heat in those barracks.
When we lived in Yosemite, we lived in tents. They were eight-men tents.
P: When you lived in tents or barracks, did you have to make your bed every day?
H: Every day. That was the first thing you did when you got out of it. And it better
be made good, too. The sergeant came around and inspected us all the time.
When you were gone, he would come through and inspect. You never knew
when he was going to come through.
P: What happened if you did not meet inspection?
H: You would have to do extra duty stuff like cleaning yards or doing this and that. If
it was too bad, then you got your privileges taken away from you. [You] could not
go to town or do anything.
P: What did you do at night for entertainment?
H: Not much of anything. Play ball until it got dark, stuff like that.
P: At Big Sur, did you have any pool tables or anything like that?
H: No, no place I was at ever had a pool table. We had a rec room and we had ping
P: Did you have a library?
H: Yes. We had books in there to read.
P: Did you have an academic program?
P: Did you have medical facilities?
H: Yes. We had a couple of medics on duty all the time and one doctor.
P: Give me a typical day for you when you were baking.
H: Mostly it was night. You had to use the same stoves and ovens for baking that
they used for cooking, so most of the time you would go in about ten o'clock at
night. There would be three of us in there working. We would fix up the dough
and whatever we were going to make and make it for the next day and work until
we got finished.
P: How late would that be?
H: Well, it was according to what you were baking really. When you finished, you
cleaned up after yourself and then your day would be over.
P: So some nights you could only work four or five hours?
H: That would be a short night.
P: So most of the time you worked the same amount of hours as anybody else?
H: Yes, about seven or eight hours. A lot of times we would be getting through
when the morning cooks were ready to come in.
P: What would you do when you finished work? Sit down and have breakfast?
H: Breakfast and go to bed. When we were doing that, the ones who worked at
night slept in a separate area, so we would not disturb them.
P: You would get up in the middle of the afternoon?
H: Whenever you woke up.
P: And the rest of the time was free?
P: Did you like those hours?
H: Yeah, I liked that. I liked the cooking part. I stayed with it until I got out. I was
promoted from baker to first cook and then mess sergeant. We stayed two
seasons in Yosemite and one winter in Big Sur and two seasons in Monterey. I
was in eighteen months. Along then the war was beginning to start in Europe
and a lot of the guys went into the army.
P: By the time you got to be mess sergeant, your pay would have increased.
H: Yes, it went to forty-five dollars.
P: How did you like that work? That was more than just cooking.
H: Actually the mess sergeant did not cook. He was in charge of everything. He
had to see that everything was set up right, everything was cooked right. You
were in charge of the ordering, [had to]be sure that you got what you were
supposed to get and all that kind of stuff.
P: You were the one who got all the complaints?
H: Yeah, right. Everyday. Back then, I can remember one time one company
shorted us a side of beef and I had a pretty good round with him.
P: Was ordering food the most difficult part?
H: Yeah. Everything was not available. A lot of times you would order one thing
and you would get something else. If it was a meat item, you would get a meat
item, but maybe it was not what you ordered.
P: Could you get pretty good meat?
H: Yeah, we got pretty good meat. We got it by the quarter and did our own meat
P: Where did the meat come from?
H: I do not really know. Most of the time we got it through private vendors. All our
fresh stuff came from private vendors and most of our staples came through the
P: Did you have to eat much Spam?
H: No, I cannot remember us even having Spam back then.
P: If you had stayed awhile longer, you would have gotten it. (Laughter)
H: I do not think we had Spam back then.
P: So you had a pretty well-balanced diet?
H: We did. We had fruit, not an abundance, but we had fruit and vegetables. Fresh
vegetables whenever we could. As long as you did not go above your budget.
We had a pretty strict budget.
P: When you were cooking, did you think about vitamins and things like that?
H: No, you just thought about filling your stomach. You did not think about those
things back then.
P: Was there plenty of food if people wanted seconds and thirds?
H: Usually. A lot of times there was only so much especially if you had a special
meat and you ordered just so many, then there were no seconds. If after
everybody had gotten some and somebody wanted some more and there were
leftovers, we would give it to them rather than throw it out. Very little stuff got
P: How many people, as mess sergeant, were you supervising?
H: There were about five cooks, two or three bakers. About a dozen, I cannot
P: Did you have a lot of conflicts?
H: I always had conflicts.
P: Somehow people in the business of cooking food tend to get into disagreements.
How did you deal with it?
H: You would deal with it the best you could. If you could not handle it, you just took
it to the first sergeant and say, here it is, you handle it.
P: What would they do?
H: He would handle it pretty good. We had a good first sergeant. He was about
seven feet tall and his name was Goodspeed. I could never forget that. Very
seldom anything got to the lieutenant. Usually the sergeant handled it good. He
was a fair, nice guy. He was firm, but if he said something, you better remember
it. He was not army either, he was picked from the crew.
P: When you were working with these people, there had to be fights. How did you
deal with those?
H: Usually you just broke them up and if they did not want to break it up, I said, OK,
let us go put the gloves on. Then it was over with. And when it was over, it was
over. You better forget about it. Settle it and get on with it.
P: Were people discharged from the CCC?
H: Most of them left because they wanted to. You could sign over if you wanted to
stay. I signed over twice. I was there for three, six month periods. But very
seldom would you get discharged. I can only remember a couple of times that
fellows got in trouble in town, and they got discharged for it. Getting in a fight or
different things. I do remember two or three of them got sent home because of
P: Did a lot of people leave before their time was up?
H: No, I cannot remember any deserters. I cannot remember having anybody who
just left because they wanted to leave [either to] runaway or desert.
P: Part of it is because you were in two of the most beautiful places in America.
You would be pretty lucky to be in those two places. Maybe if they were in some
remote place, it might not be quite so pleasant of an experience.
H: Some of the camps were like that. They were away from everything and it was
P: Were you homesick?
H: Yeah, I was. Most of the kids were. Nothing but just boys.
P: You were young to be a mess sergeant. You must have just been nineteen.
H: I think I was nineteen when I was mess sergeant.
P: How did you get along with your fellow CCC members?
H: I got along pretty good. I only got my butt kicked a couple of times. Overall we
got along pretty good. I remember one fight that started in the store room in the
evening. This one cook went in there and shut the door and started beating up
on this real young kid. We had guys break the door down. They sent him over to
the army the next day. He was sort of a bully type. He was a cook, but he was a
bully and was picking on this new recruit. That was about the worst we ever had
in my department.
P: Did you have any accidents while you were at camp?
H: Yeah, one real bad accident. They had a weekend party that went down to
Salinas, California. One of the trucks got out of control, I think the brakes went
out on it and it flipped over. I think six got killed in that. It was pretty bad.
P: How about on the base? Did you get much in the way of safety tips?
H: No, not too much back then. About the most safety tips you got was when you
went to work with the rangers and they would show you how to use the
equipment without getting hurt.
P: When they left the base and when you first started, you were then under the
control of the park service?
H: No, we were under one of the higher guys who would be in charge of the party.
We had one person who the sergeant made charge of the party--if he did not go,
he made somebody else.
P: So you were still under the authority of the army, not the park service?
H: We were not under the authority of the park service. Only when we were
P: That was what I meant. When you went off to work, cutting roots.
H: You were under the authority of the park service. Other than that you were
under the army or the CCC, which was part of the army, really.
P: When you worked, there were LEMs, local experienced men. Did you have
several of them?
H: We always had the park rangers who worked with you in the park. So many men
would have a ranger in charge. He would tell you what to do. They broke you up
into crews of six or eight, whatever he needed for this job or that job, and one
man in each bunch would be in charge of the others. Then the ranger would tell
the crew leaders what he wanted and they would go from there. If there was a
problem, just this one person would go to the ranger and get it straightened out.
P: They were knowledgeable?
H: Oh, yeah. They were older park rangers, they knew their forestry work. When
we went down to Big Sur, a lot of them started working on the road construction
with the road departments. It would be the same thing there, because there
would be a lot of landslides, if there had been a lot of rain. A lot of times the guys
would be working hour on hour clearing the highway.
P: That was most of the work that you did in the wintertime, highway work?
P: When you were there, did you have any interaction with some of the World War I
veterans who were brought into the CCC?
H: No, I do not think we had any in our company.
P: Did you have any blacks?
H: No, they did not mix them back then. To my knowledge they did not.
P: They were in the CCC, but had segregated camps?
H: I did not know of a black camp, but I heard that they did have them. At that time I
did not know about it, but I have heard of it since.
P: How about when you were in, were there ever any women at these camps?
H: One place there was. When we went to Merced, that was the last camp I was in.
They had a lot of highway equipment barns out there. They had one of these
sergeants that worked with a road crews, with the highway department. They
said he was a pimp. (laughter) This one time, he brought these girls to the barn
and the guys would line up. I guess I was afraid or whatever, but I never went
P: But no women actually worked in the CCC, even as secretaries or clerks?
H: No, we had men as clerks.
P: Was that a problem? Was the morale good most of the time?
H: Most of the time it was good.
P: What about when the weather got bad, rainy for several days of the time?
H: You would always have little conflicts at that, especially when guys would be
playing cards and scuffling around. Most of the time they would just break it up.
P: The skills you learned at this job, did you take those with you after you left?
H: Not really. I was in Arizona on December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, coming back
SI had been out of the CCC for about two months, and I was staying
with a friend of mine who was working out there. We were all coming back to
Florida in a car together, there were five of us.
P: Where did you come back when you came to Florida?
H: I went back to Plant City.
P: What was your father's reaction when he got you home again?
H: Of course, he was glad to see me home.
P: How did he think you had changed in eighteen months?
H: I cannot remember. He was the type of person who did not say a lot. You never
really knew what he was thinking most of the time. He was quiet. It was good. I
sent him the money all those years.
P: How do you think the eighteen months changed you?
H: It changed me from a little boy to a man. I was just a seventeen year-old kid
when I went in there.
P: What was the most important part of this experience?
H: Growing up. Learning to deal with your own problems and learning how to face
life. Not depending on somebody else to answer all your questions. You have
got to answer them yourself sometimes.
P: You learned some good leadership skills?
H: I think so.
P: Are you glad you did it?
H: I would not change that for nothing. To me it made the difference in my life.
P: When you came back to Florida, after you left the CCC, what did you do?
H: I messed around working at a few odd jobs. Then I enrolled in the US Maritime
there and I
got what they
sailing out of
about a year
and a half.
P: Where did you sail?
H: Mostly to North Africa. We carried black power, fixed ammunition into North
Africa when they were fighting over there.
P: This was 1942?
H: I believe it was.
P: That was right before the invasion of North Africa.
H: I was there just before and after.
P: So your job was mainly keeping the boilers going?
H: Yeah, I worked in the engine department. It was hard work. It was not coal back
then. It was an oil burner. I was on what they call a liberty ship. Those old
liberty ships were built for one way trips. Some of them are still running.
(Laughter) [They had] triple action reciprocating engines. They were good old
P: Describe one of those liberty ships for me and the size.
H: They were not that big. They were only 500 feet long. All the ones I knew were
cargo ships. They had two cargo holds aft and three forward.
P: How big a crew did it have?
H: About twenty-five.
P: How many knots could they do?
H: Between nine and eleven. If you got eleven out of them you were doing good.
They were not built for speed.
P: What were your working hours?
H: You had what was called a watch. You had either twelve to four, four to eight or
eight to twelve. You worked four hours on, eight hours off.
P: Did you like that, because you had to break up your time a little bit?
H: Yeah. It was a lot better. It was pretty hard on you to stay down there and an
eight hour shift would have been a little too much.
P: You were paid by private companies?
H: Yeah, by the private companies.
P: What did the government have to do with it?
H: Nothing, but they were under the safety supervision of the coast guard, but the
government did not have anything really to do with them. Most of what they
carried was government cargo. That was about all they had to do with it.
P: Were they required to carry government cargo?
H: I do not remember. We carried other stuff, but the government was a priority.
P: Who built the ships?
H: Private shipyards. Some were built in the Tampa Shipbuilding Company, some
were built in New Orleans, and New York.
P: So you worked a year and a half out of New Orleans to North Africa.
H: I do not think it was quite that long. It was about a year. Then I came home one
trip and got married. I had got a letter from the draft board, saying all kinds of
threatening things. They knew where I was. I made the mistake of going down
and trying to explain to them. The next day I was in the navy.
P: You could have gotten a 3A or something by working in the merchant marine,
could you not?
H: Just a few months after that, Congress passed a law that they could not draft any
more of them. They were grabbing them up because we had the experience. I
went into the navy and went through boot camp and came out with a rating
because I had a year's experience on the ship.
P: Then where did you go?
H: In the navy, I went mostly to the Pacific. I was doing the same thing, working in
the engine department on an APA, an attack transport. We carried troops and
cargo and ammunition.
P: Where were you specifically in the Pacific?
H: We went to Okinawa, Blue Beach. That was the biggest battle I was in.
P: How big were these APAs?
H: They were pretty good size. They would run about 500-600 feet.
P: Where would you take your troops? Would you put them on a landing craft?
H: They had so many cargo holds up forward for the cargo, explosives and then aft
holds were for the men. They had different decks and bunks in there for them.
We would take them as close in as we could get. I remember they were tearing
up the ships pretty good because there were high cliffs there. They had their
guns up on the top. Some smart admiral decided we would come around up
underneath them. We came underneath them to let the guys off and they could
not shoot down at us. That worked, that was the way they got the men on there.
P: You did not put them on landing craft, you took them straight in?
H: No, we took in as far as we could go. Then they lowered the landing craft that
they carried on deck.
P: Once you loaded the men and weapons off, you were finished with your duties?
H: We had to go out and wait for the next convoy.
P: Where did you go from Okinawa?
H: We went back to Pearl Harbor. I got sick and was put in the hospital in Pearl
Harbor with rheumatic fever. At that time the war was starting to wind down. [It
was] around 1945. I got out of the navy in 1945, just before the war was over.
They gave me a honorable discharge with a medical connection.
P: When you were on your ships, I guess you were always worried about Zeros
H: Always. I can remember the closest I ever got. You had your gunners and when
you were off duty, you were assigned to a certain place, usually to help pass
ammunition to the gunners. At that time I was on the forward gun and we got
strafed. I did not usually work down in the hole because I was one of the
smallest, so they put me up where I could pass it and not have to use so much
muscle because I did not have that much. They were strafing the ship and we all
hit the deck. They went about that far from my feet and this one guy, they cut
him in half. He was one of the gunners. That was the closest I ever come.
P: Okinawa was certainly a big landing, a big victory. At that time did you anticipate
that the war was going to end soon?
H: We did not think it was ever going to end.
P: What was your reaction when you first heard about the bomb at Hiroshima?
H: Like most everybody else I thought it was about time they did it. I thought about
that a lot since and I have discussed it with many people. That did a tremendous
amount of damage to a lot of innocent people, but it saved so many lives on both
sides. That one bomb. It saved thousands of Americans and Japanese lives
because it was over. I cannot say that I would have had the nerve to do it if it
was left up to me.
P: Let me go back and ask you a couple of other questions about the CCC. Did you
ever get the newspaper Happy Days?
H: I do not remember that, no.
P: What about religious services? Did you have any?
H: Yeah, we had a chaplan and we had religious services every Sunday.
P: Did you go?
H: Oh, yeah. Most everybody went.
P: Did they have an academic advisor?
H: The chaplan did a lot of that. If people wanted to study, he would help the guys
with their math or whatever. He was a very good person. Some of the people in
there had much less education than I did.
P: Did they have courses to teach them to read and write?
H: I cannot remember them having courses. I think he just did it.
P: Some of the camps did have educational programs. When you look back on
your CCC experience, what did you like most about it?
H: It was just an experience of seeing something that was new, learning about
different parts of the United States. Who would have dreamed that I would ever
see California or a place like that. You learned what they grew there, what they
did there, and different things. It was, to me, an all around learning experience.
It gave most people a different outlook on life. You looked at things differently
and you tried to learn from it.
P: What did you dislike most about it?
H: Confinement. You never get used to it, you cannot do this and you cannot do
that. There, you could not leave where you were supposed to be. You did as
you were told, when you were told and they way you were told to do it. That was
the hardest thing for everybody to learn.
P: How did that experience help you when you went into the navy?
H: Oh, it helped me a lot. I knew what to expect. The navy was even more so. I
got along good in the navy. I did not have any problems.
P: You learned discipline, responsibility, that sort of thing. A lot of CCC people went
into the military, did they not?
H: A lot of them did, most of them did. Not all. Some of them who were in the CCC
could qualify health wise, but they could not qualify for the military. Maybe
eardrum or eyes or whatever.
P: But in a sense, the CCC helped train the army and navy for World War II, did it
H: Oh, yes.
P: Why did the CCC end in 1942?
H: I think the war did it. Everybody was going into the military and there was
nobody to go into the CCC. They decided they did not need it right then. It was
started as a need to help the people. The country was booming in
manufacturing. They just did not need it.
P: So most people in the CCC could find other jobs then?
H: Yeah, other jobs.
P: Do you think it was an effective organization?
H: Oh, definitely. I do.
P: What would the CCC's major contribution be?
H: It helped feed quite a bit of the population. It made a man out of a boy and as it
was, it prepared them for the service or for whatever came along. It gave you a
jump on life. You knew that you had to go out and do something and you just
went and did it. It is so much different than now.
P: Do you think it would be a good idea to revive something like the CCC?
H: I do. I think it would be a tremendous asset to the younger people. Especially
the kids with drugs and stuff like that. But I do not think they would go. I think
you would have to build a barb wire fence ten foot high to keep them in there.
You would have to send them. I am not saying that people back then were that
much better. They were different. I do not think you could ever find young men
now like you found then, who would do the job in the military that the young
people did in those days. Back then we were fighting for something, not asking
why am I here. What is this for? What good is this doing? I think things like
Korea, since then, have changed a lot of the young people. The way they think
about things. It was not a war to start with. Nobody won. It was not over. When
we quit back then [World War II], it was finished.
P: When you left the service, what jobs did you have and where did you live from
1945 to the present?
H: I met my wife and she lived in Fort Myers. When I came home from the navy, I
worked at different jobs around there--the grocery store, Publix, when they only
had four stores. I was one of their assistant managers. Then I started working
with my brother up in Lakeland. He had a service that took care of these big
citrus groves. Then I went back into the merchant marines and I was in there for
forty years. I retired out of there in 1986. The only part I did not like was staying
away from home. I had a limited education. When I went in the merchant
marine, I said I was going to study and go up. I studied and went up as high as I
could go without being a licensed officer. In 1955, I worked with an engineer who
talked me into studying and taking my examination. I did and I made third
assistant engineer. I went from there to third, to first, to chief. That is as high as
you can go. I was on this one ship twenty years. That was the last ship I was
on--the USS Louisiana Brimstone. We carried liquid sulfur the whole time. It
was built special for that.
P: Was that dangerous?
H: All you need is a spark and you do not have no more. It is not dangerous by
itself, but you mix water with it and you get sulfuric acid.
P: Where were your ports of call?
H: When I first started, our home port was in Port Sulfur, Louisiana. That was
where the plant was, the company that I worked for. They manufactured the
sulfur there. They took it out of the ground.
P: What company?
H: Freeport Sulfur Company. There is Freeport Chemical, too, now. At that time we
went to Tampa, then we went into Savannah, into New Jersey and New York,
Boston and Maine. When I first started, they used it in making paper products.
They got to where the environmentalists said they were polluting the air too much
which it did quite a bit. They changed then to sulfuric acid. When we went into
Tampa and Savannah, they mostly used it for was fertilizer. Over the years, one
paper company converted to sulfuric acid and then they hauled it by rail in tank
cars. About the last seven or eight years, our only port was Tampa, but we were
almost steady running in there. Every three and a half days.
P: So you would be gone an average of how many days?
H: If we went to Tampa and back, it would be three and a half days and we were in
Tampa for ten hours. We would turn right around.
P: New York would be?
H: That would be two and a half weeks.
P: You did not do any cooking on board?
P: Do you cook now?
H: Not much. My wife says I do not know how. (laughter) I never did pursue that
much when I got out of the CCC.
P: I want to thank you for your time, Mr. Holmes.