March 24, 2000
25 pages Open
Bernard Splichal recalls growing up with Czechoslovakian parents in Bancroft,
Nebraska (later Correctionville, Iowa) as the son of a movie theatre operator on pages
1-2. He also recalls working as a farmhand amid the severities of the Depression on
pages 3-5. He offers an account of how he came to enroll in the CCC on page 6.
Mr. Splichal shares his memories of his fellow campers and the initial enrollment into his
camp (page 7; see also 18), as well as the general living conditions in the camp (page
8). On page 9, he discusses the sports available at the camp and the relationship
camper had with the local town. The work he did, complete with details on the daily
routine and the work detail is covered on pages 10-14.
Mr. Splichal also comments on the camp commander and other leaders in the camp,
the demerit system, and the barracks (15-16). He remembers going into town on the
weekends with his accumulated liberties and the occasional deserters from camp (17-
18). He also tells about the lack of African Americans in the camps, the interpretation of
the CCC as "socialistic,"and how many locals disparaged the CCC workers (18-20).
Pages 19-20 contain his feelings on how the CCC was effective, and how it changed his
life, citing specifically the accomplishments in soil conservation (20-21). He comments
on why the CCC ended and was significant to American history on pages 22-23, and
concludes with information on his satisfying memories of the CCC (23), his life after the
CCC (21-22; 23-24), and his children (23-4). His efforts to keep CCC reunions active is
also touched upon (24).
Interviewee: Bernard Splichal
Interviewer: Benjamin Houston
Date: March 24, 2000
H: It is March 24, 2000, and I am at the home of Bernard Splichal to ask him some
questions about his tenure with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Mr. Splichal,
where and when were you born?
G: I was born in Bancroft, Nebraska, on July 7, 1919. To further qualify, it is a small
town in northeastern Nebraska right on the edge of an Indian reservation. My
father was a theater owner and operator of silent movies, and he had a
confectionary shop where he made candies and ice cream. Naturally as time
progressed, we moved on to a new generation of movies, the first talkie movies,
which were films and a disk, like a phonograph disk that was synchronized to the
talking on the film. So, a lot of times during the course of the movie, the
sequences would get out of [sync] and you would have the mouth moving and
then, a few minutes later, here is the talking. It was quite an operation to run a
complete movie through without the customers beating on the floor and rattling
chairs and stuff like that.
H: Did you grow up there your entire life?
S: Prior to the Depression, well, this would have been about 1928. We had a
tornado there, and my father got up on the house. It blew all our shingles off our
home. So, he thought he would get up there and show them how and the
scaffolding let loose, and he fell on the cellar door. You know, it used to be on the
exterior of the homes. Of course, it broke his fall, but he broke his neck. That led
to us moving from Bancroft, Nebraska, to Iowa. There, he again stayed in the
motion picture business. That is where we started our first talking movies and
eventually went to soundtracks on the films.
H: Do you have any siblings?
S: Yes, I have one brother and three sisters. We all grew up together, of course, in
Nebraska, and then we finished school in Iowa, this little town of Correctionville,
H: Were your parents native-born to America, or had they immigrated somewhere
S: My father immigrated from Bohemia in 1916, I believe it was. He was about
eighteen years old. He immigrated into Galveston, Texas, and he worked
whatever labor trade he could work. Through some of the land grants, he won a
land grant for a piece of property, land in South Dakota. So, he traveled to South
Dakota and claimed his fifty acres (or something like that) and sold it. He was
somewhat of a baker by trade, so he bought himself a small bakery in Dodge,
Nebraska. During that time, he was a single young immigrant who could barely
understand the American language. They had a fire, and it burned down his
bakery. All the good citizens there felt sorry for him, so they helped him get
started back in the bakery business. Once he got it operating, he sold his bakery,
and that led us to Bancroft, Nebraska, where all my siblings were born.
H: How about your mother?
S: Her parents also immigrated from Bohemia, but she was born out in the sand
hills in Nebraska. They homesteaded, all the native Czechoslovakians, and
Bohemians kind of all homesteaded in these one or two counties out there.
[They] farmed primarily on raising hard wheat and corn and survived from their
livestock and chickens. Things were rough then. The weather was harsh, and
transportation was very limited. They lived nine miles from the nearest village or
town, and they had to travel by buckboard or wagon even to get groceries or to
barter their products, their chickens and cream and eggs and so forth.
H: Did you have any extended family living in your house along with you and your
S: Not while we were there but in later years, my mother cared for her father, my
granddad, until he passed away. My grandmother passed away out on the
homestead farm. She was probably in her late sixties, I believe.
H: Did you go to school, growing up? How far did you get?
S: I went through the third grade in Bancroft, from kindergarten to the third grade.
Then, in Correctionville, Iowa, I went from the fourth grade through graduation. At
that time, I majored in what they called normal training, which was to qualify you
to teach country school. My older sister (a year older), likewise, did the same
thing, and she taught in rural schools until she completed her higher education.
Then, she went in subsequently into the University of Nebraska.
H: You must have liked school if you wanted to be a teacher.
S: It was an adventure to me then. I was the type of young person who did not want
to follow the mainstream. I was the only boy in the Latin club, and I was the only
boy in normal training, and I performed in the arts of theater and operettas, which
I thoroughly enjoyed because I was kind of a show-off and, also, being born in
the movie industry because it was a novelty at that time. It was treated like, I
think, the generations now treat television, that it was bad and that it caused a lot
of our young people to learn some bad habits from the old shoot-'em-up cowboy
shows and a lot of the gangster movies that were popular at that time. And there
were a lot of fairly accurate historical movies made in the 1920s and 1930s that
were realistic, cowboy-and-Indian type.
H: Was the CCC your first job, or did you work before you enlisted?
S: After leaving high school, there was little or no appointment except farm labor.
We worked the harvest even while I was still in high school. We would hitchhike
off and work in the wheatfields and chop corn. In the fall, school started. This is
when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. Then, we would go back home and finish,
well, most of the young fellows did not want to finish school, but that was the type
of employment. It was all related to the agriculture industry, or farming industries.
H: In terms of the Depression, how badly was your family affected by that?
S: First of all, when you are in the entertainment business as my father was, that is
usually the bottom of the spectrum of spending money, so it was a struggle to
survive and to keep a family. He had excellent work habits, and he kept a large
garden, and we had an orchard, and mother was resourceful. So we lived
primarily off the land, plus what the movie industry would bring into us. Also, dad
did a lot of bartering. He would swap movie tickets for bread at the bakery to get
credit there, and he would swap with the farmers for eggs and butter. The theater
was heated by coal or wood, and he bartered for wood, and we heated the
theater. He improvised his own air conditioning system. We built a cage outside
of the back of the theater, and it was filled with Coke. It was the box with Coke,
and then he put holes [in the hose] with water [in] it where it drips through, the
Coke. Then, he had a large fan that would suck the air through that dripping
water, and it would cool the theater. For that time, it was satisfying for the
summers we had there in Iowa.
H: Recount some of your memories of the Depression, either good or bad. Does
anything in particular stand out in your mind?
S: I guess during the Depression you did not realize, really, how bad things were
because you never knew what the good things were. But, you always needed a
pair of shoes, you needed a coat every year, and you needed another pair of
pants. You had clothing to wear to school everyday, and then you had your good
Sunday clothing. When you wore out your everyday stuff, you moved down to the
next level until you wore that out. Mother kept the girls and us boys, we were
dressed fairly decently in clothing. Also, I worked. You asked about employment,
but I worked in the movies with my dad. I ushered, and I did a lot of floor
sweeping and cleaning. Also during those years, we had several incentives for
movie patrons. We had china night where, one night a week, they could come in
a pick up a piece of china with their ticket. That was good. Then, in probably
about 1935 or 1936, we had bank night. We had a register where people would
sign in and they had a corresponding number, and then we had the
corresponding numbers in a box. Every Wednesday night, dad would add $5 or
so to the pot. It was like our lottery it is today. The larger it would get, the larger
the attendance would be. When it got to be up around $100, we had people lined
up down the street waiting for the number. He could run a cheap movie where
the rental price of the movie was probably around $10 or $15, and he could take
in, probably, $40 or $50 dollars, which was big bucks then. Bank night was quite
a sensation until it finally ran itself out. The reason I mention bank night and
china night and, also, we had SCREENO. About the middle of the movie, we
would stop and we had a little air ball to spin with a disk that was projected on the
screen, and it had a dial. All the patrons would come in, and we would give them
like a BINGO card, only we called it SCREENO. We would stop and I would spin
the dial, just like you did BINGO, and people would punch the numbers. When
they got a SCREENO across or down, they could pull a prize. We had a prize
board that dad would negotiate with the local merchants, for five pounds of sugar
or a bag of flour, and they were on a pegboard. So, they just picked their prize.
That was kind of an unusual attraction at that time also. China night did not
demand much, except each week we had a different piece of china. We still have
some of that china. Well, I have it distributed among some of my daughters. It is
kind of rare now. But, it was kind of a new thing, as a kid, to get up before the
audience on the stage and conduct these programs. Dad could not speak
English well enough, so he said-he called me Bunda-Bunda, you go do it. So, I
was kind of captive to perform in those things.
H: Is Bunda a nickname, or does it mean something?
S: Well, my name is Bernard, and I think it was kind of a Czech rendition because
my granddad always called me Bunda.
H: You said you did not know or really appreciate how bad things were, but were
you aware that the Depression was afflicting not only your family but the rest of
S: I was very much aware because of the conflicts between the farmers and the
packing houses and the wholesalers. We had two major railroads cross there at
our town, the Illinois Central and Chicago Northwestern, and they had stockyards
in those days where the farmers would bring their cattle and hogs and sheep in.
They put them in the stockyard, and they were held until they got a freight train
load, a boxcar load. Then, they would stop and load them up and, of course, the
same with the milk industry. The farmers all collected their milk and cream, and
periodically they hauled it into Sioux City, which was the market for it. But, the
farmers who were protesting the prices would fight the farmers who wanted to
sell because they wanted some income. They got out there with clubs and
pitchforks. There was a rail around the stockyards, and as kids we would sit on
the rails there and cheer and watch them beat each other up. With the milk, they
would get a truckload of milk, and the protesting farmers would throw a thrash
machine belt, a wide belt with spikes in it. They would throw it across the road
and blow their tires up, and then they would jump the truck and pour the milk
down the highway. It was a combination between not having too much and not
enough. But the market, milk then was like $0.08 a quart, and eggs probably
$0.10 a dozen, and stuff like that. But there was a lot of violence. During the
political time [in 1932] when Herbert Hoover was campaigning and Roosevelt,
there was very harsh protests between the political parties, just pure hatred.
H: Did your family have strong political leanings?
S: My pop was happy jackass [the symbol of the Democratic Party being a donkey].
He was a Democrat, and why, he did not know. He just thought that was the
thing to be. Mother was more vocal, but, naturally, women then did not get out
and express themselves. On the home front, she could really let it go. She was
H: You talked about how your family was able to weather the Depression by
improvising. Did that remain true throughout the entire Depression, or, over the
long term, did it have any other effects?
S: I think it was a kind of the way-of-life that projected itself through us growing up.
All of us have always been kind of prudent of how we invest or why we used
what we had. I mean, none of us were extremely wealthy, but we are moderately
successful. Of course, I had a career in the military, and my brother had a career
in the Navy. My older sister worked her way through school, through a master's
degree, through teaching and also at the University of Nebraska. My younger
sister worked her way through. She loved animals, and she worked for a
veterinarian. She finally got a degree in sociology and psychology. My in-
between sister was not as capable in schooling. Through mother's constant
management and supervision, she did graduate from a Catholic high school in
Lincoln. Both of my younger sisters graduated from a Catholic high school, and
they got a very sound education with basic principles. And Iowa had an excellent
school system in the 1930s, I thought. The education I received from them was
equivalent of a couple years of the average college now.
H: Were you the only member of your family who participated in the New Deal
programs or, your other siblings, were they in NYA or the WPA?
S: No. Of course, dad stayed self-supporting all through the Depression years. It
was meager, but he had pride and he was a hard-working person. My mother
was the same way, coming from a farming family in the Nebraska sand hills,
which was a hard life. I think they learned to survive with what they could earn
from the land and from their own skills and abilities.
H: Did any of your brothers join the CCC?
S: Yes. My brother also was in the CCC a year after I was. I was in 1937, and I think
he was in 1938-1939. Then he went into the Navy. We both participated in
athletics pretty good. He was an excellent basketball player in the state. Of
course, I played football in high school and for a couple of years in college.
H: When you did sign up with the CCC, what motivated you to go?
S: At that time, I would say probably 90 percent or more of the boys who joined the
CCC were out of necessity. They either went to augment their support to their
families or, in my case, I was at a dead end. I wanted to pursue teaching, and
there was no way I could go into school. The CCC had a program at that time
where they would put $22 a month into trust and you got $8 a month for your own
personal spending. After a year, I had $200 and some odd dollars. I managed to
go to school for a year and a half. Then, the war effort started getting onto us, so
I left the teaching school. Well, mainly, I had run out of money. My mother, in the
meantime, had moved to Lincoln and bought a boardinghouse where she
boarded girls, and she survived off of boarding college kids. So, I managed to go
to business school for another six months. Then, the draft was barking at the
door, so I enlisted in the Army Air Corps [in 1941].
H: So, the money that was put in the trust was usually, for most people, the money
that was sent home.
H: But they kept it for you for later, for education?
H: What was the name of that specific program, do you remember?
S: I do not know what the title was.
H: How old were you when you joined? You said 1937?
S: Yes, I was seventeen.
H: How did you come to know about the CCC? How did you hear about it?
S: I guess through the environment, through osmosis. You would hear the
discussion about the CCC, and you went to the labor offices to see that there
was nothing available, but there is the CCC if you are interested. They explained
the options there, too. In my case, I could join the CCC and put the money in
trust, and then I got it when I completed my tour, or term of enlistment.
H: Did a lot of the people in town end up going in, or were you the sole pioneer?
S: In the agricultural areas, most of the CCC enrollees were from small communities
or from the distressed cities. Farmer boys who were healthy and young, if their
father was farming, they stayed home and farmed. So, there were not too many
farm boys in the CCC from that area, from Iowa and Nebraska and Minnesota.
Our camp had enrollees from all the Midwestern states. Of course, they all got
scrambled up anyway.
H: Where did you sign up?
S: I signed up in Sioux City. Of course, I was assigned Whiting, Iowa, which is the
nearest camp. We called them camps.
H: What was the sign-up process? Did they screen you carefully? Were there
certain requirements that you had to go through?
S: Health. Well, really, you did not take a physical until you reached your camp.
Then, the attending doctor-usually one of the local physicians was also the
contract doctor-primarily checked for diabetics and any heart ailments that were
obvious and, of course, venereal disease and stuff like that. But that became one
of my first assignments. When I got into the CCC, I was assistant to the country
doctor. I helped him give physical. At that time, they were not giving shots yet
for the various diseases.
H: Why did they choose you for that job?
S: I guess just because I made myself available. I showed interest in it. Mother
always thought I should be a doctor, next to being a priest.
H: Were there character requirements for getting into the CCC?
S: Whether you had a criminal background, if you are referring to that type of
character, no, I do not think there was much of an investigation. Of course, I
guess if you were an obvious criminal, you probably could not have made it
because they did have strict behavior rules and restrictions while we were in
camp. We were disciplined. In other words, you could not run amuck.
H: So, you were not aware of any people who were in the CCC in lieu of being in jail
or anything like that.
S: I do not recall that option. Now, there could have been, probably might have
been, where a young man could possibly have the choice of reform school or the
CCC, but it had to be a mild case. It could not have been any violent type of
H: When you got there, what did they tell you about the projects that you would be
doing? And did you feel that what they told you was accurate?
S: Really, they did not define too much. They just said you are going to this camp,
and after you got out there, you found the type of work that they were involved in,
which [in my case] was flood control and drainage and [fighting] erosion. So, you
just took part of it because, a certain part of it, everybody had to do. Now, there
were other electives, like I said I worked as a medical assistant for awhile, and
then I worked with the civil surveyor and surveyed the drainage projects. Then,
an opening came for a librarian, and that excused you from all [work] details so I
thought, oh boy, that is it. So, the rest of my time in the CCC, I took care of the
library. I did not have to do KP [kitchen patrol] or any of the other unsavory
duties, but I did go to work. Everybody goes to work, except for the company
clerks and the mess cooks and people like that.
H: Did you feel that you got these jobs partially because you were educated?
S: I do not know if that played a part in it, but, mostly, if something was available,
you made it known that you were interested in it and you convinced them that
you were able to do it.
H: When they talked about the money and the living conditions, did it end up being
like how they told you?
S: To tell you the truth, the environment that you went into where you got three
square meals a day and a bed to sleep in and clothing, there were not any
complaints in that.
H: It sounded pretty good to you.
S: Yes, everybody was happy to get it. The condition of so many of the enrollees
who came in there, they were practically in bare feet and skin and bones, and a
month later, boy, they were robust with color in their face. They were healthy
young people. And they learned somewhat of a trade. Our work was all flood
control and drainage and stuff. We did a lot of handwork with sickles, backhoes,
blades and axes. Everything was manual. You would cut trees down with cross-
cut saws and chopped them up with double-bit axes. There were not too many
skilled jobs. Some of the real talented mechanical people, we had cleat-track
drivers, people who could drive the cleat-tracks. Then, we had one drag line.
Those were contract operators, but they used the enrollees to assist in
maintenance, oiling and things like that, but that never struck me as what I
wanted to do. I enjoyed the freedom of swinging an axe, physical.
H: Was Camp Whiting the place that you would have preferred to go to? Did you
have any sort of choice, or were you willing to go wherever they were going to
S: No, there really was not any choice, and further options were never really
offered. Now, the way a lot of the people moved around is when they changed
the projects, like if this camp had run out of work where we were and another
camp in Minnesota or Texas or somewhere else needed a group of enrollees,
they would just load them up and transfer them. But, I do not recall them coming
and saying, do you want to go somewhere else, or would you like to? Some
people expressed that, yes, if you have an opening somewhere, I would like to
go. But, most of the boys in our camp were from the Midwest. They were from
Minnesota and the Dakotas and Nebraska and Iowa. Of course, there are so
many camps. Iowa, itself, must have had at least a dozen camps, and Nebraska
had quite a few, and Missouri was loaded. They were all projects that we are still
enjoying the fruits of what these camps did.
H: Did you get any sense of some camps having particularly good reputations or
particularly bad reputations?
S: No, our intercommunications were not that elaborate. You did not care much
about what somebody did at another camp or if another camp was lousy or
anything. We did have intramural sports, or inter-camp sports. We played
softball, primarily. We even had a couple of golfers. I remember one of our clerks
was a golfer, and he was good enough that he was chosen to participate in some
golfing activities. We were managed by the U.S. Army, and most of our officers
were West Point graduates. They had a different social level than most of us
enrollees did. They wore full uniforms all the time with their Sam Brown belts and
leggins and swagger-sticks. They were strictly military.
H: Was your camp near any sort of town? If it was, was there a good relationship
between the camp and the town, or the local people around the camp?
S: The locals in Whiting, which was just a small town, did not disrespect nor respect
enrollees. The nearest next larger town was Ottawa. They had a roller rink there,
and they encouraged us to go there. Then, of course, Sioux City was about thirty-
five, forty miles away from there, but they could care less about CCC boys. You
were just kind of absorbed in the environment.
H: How much time did it take from when you officially enlisted to when you got to
S: Probably a day.
H: They did not waste any time.
H: You were talking earlier how some of the industrial workers were contracted but
the people in the camps helped them out. Was that a common arrangement?
Were you working for private landowners when you were working on the soil?
S: I think the drainage projects and flood control was probably part of the county
government. It was assisting the local farmers, primarily. Now, how it was
handled in the New Deal that President Roosevelt did, like the farm support
programs, it was probably part of the whole system.
H: How did your family feel about you being away at this camp?
S: They were probably glad that I had something to do. There were not really any
particular sentiments about it.
H: What did you take with you to the camp? Were you allowed much?
S: I took myself and what I had on. You went immediately into military garb. You got
the full issue of socks and underwear and shoes and workclothes and a dress
H: How did you get to the camp?
S: I think I was provided transportation from Sioux City to the camp. Bus, I believe it
H: So, when in 1937 did you arrive there?
S: October 1, I think I checked in, and I left in the end of September of the following
H: Were you the only one from home who was there, or was there a contingent?
S: At that time, I was the only one from our little community.
H: And then your brother joined you a year later?
S: My brother followed me later.
H: So, presumably, you did not know anyone at the camp when you got there?
H: What was your reaction when you first got off the bus and you were at the camp?
Were you nervous? Were you excited?
S: I was probably somewhat relieved that I had something stable to go to, because
prior to that, you did not know from one day to the next what your destiny might
be. I knew my parents could not send me to college, and at that time, I had
strong ambitions to do that, to go to school. I just felt relieved, that, now, I have a
place to eat and sleep and clothing and something to do, a job to do.
H: Was it boot-camp-like when you got there? Did they give you haircuts when they
assigned you your uniforms, or was it pretty casual?
S: It was very casual. There was not a whole lot of formal activities. You went
through the procedure, going through the administration, the company clerk, and
you were assigned your barracks and bunk and issue of clothing and laundry
sheets and a pillow and a mattress. Then you were somewhat on your own.
H: About how many were in your camp?
S: I am thinking there were probably 130 in our camp. I mean, it could be not that
accurate, but it was somewhere in the 130-140 [range].
H: When you got there, did you have to go through any sort of hazing in order to join
S: Not really. They called you a rookie, but I think everybody was probably about in
the same situation. First of all, they were glad to be there, to have something.
H: So, from the very start, there was a sense of comraderie?
S: Yes. I never experienced any ill-feelings, where you would have fights and things
of that sort. There might be a situation where they exchanged words a little bit,
but everybody always seemed to be pretty well resolved that this is okay.
H: Did they put you to work right away or did they give you an orientation?
S: Yes, you were assigned a work detail. You had leaders and senior leaders, and
whatever your leader directed you to, say, we are going to work this area so and
so, you get on such and such a truck. They took the equipment. The axes and
saws were all part of your group. In the morning, you had your mess call, or early
breakfast. Also, we had reveille and put up the flag. Then, we had to put our
barracks in order and had a walk-through inspection, which was not formal
during the week. But your bed had to be made up, you capped your pillow, and
all your shoes and clothing were in their proper alignment and ordered. Then,
when you come back from working all day, you are usually muddy and tired and
all that kind of stuff. You would have to wash your boots and your shoes, if
necessary, and get a shower. Then, you had your evening meal, or mess.
H: You mentioned that you tried to snatch up the best jobs when you could, being a
medical assistant and a librarian. Was there a kind of hierarchy of jobs in the
S: Probably. I think so because there were a number of enrollees who were there
for a short term, like six months for a year, and some enrollees were in there a
couple of years. Of course, those were the people who had found the lead, you
know, the squad leader and senior leader. So, there was. They had a little bit of
favoritism passed around.
H: In favor of the people who were going to be there longer?
S: Yes, in favor of them, or what your personality might be. It was a pretty normal
society, where people sought their own type and personality.
H: How difficult was the work? You described a little about what you did in terms of
the manual labor, but can you elaborate on that a bit more?
S: Yes, the labor was labor. I mean, you would go and reach your work area. Once
you left camp, it might be a half-hour or even an hour before you got to the work
area. Once you got there, you were assigned that these trees had to be cleared
or this brush had to be cleared and burned, whatever the disposition was. Using
an axe and a cross-cut saw was very physical. That is how I really got into
excellent physical shape, because of that year of swinging an axe and saw and
bench-hooks. You handled everything manually, even moving logs and
everything. It was very stressful, physically. It did not do much for your mind. It
allowed you to relax your mind.
H: How long were the workdays? You were out there eight, ten hours?
S: Yes. Altogether, it was probably ten hours from the time you started until the time
you completed. I mean, you were not necessarily at the work site, but a lot of
labor work is that way.
H: Did you work on the weekends?
S: No, that is where the liberties come in. If you did not have any demerits, so to
speak, you could get a pass for Saturday and Sunday. Of course, that was one of
the liberties that I got by being a librarian. Otherwise, you were assigned KP
duty. You had to stay and help the cooks.
H: What did you do if it rained? Was the weather ever an obstacle to the work?
S: Yes, it slowed up what you were doing. Then, in the winter, it slowed up. The first
thing we would do is build a big bonfire. Our food was brought out to the field.
Usually, the cooks would take over the bonfire, and we put a pot of coffee on
there. We had a lot of stew, "slum-gullion" stew, and then we had a pre-packaged
sack of sandwiches. You had a peanut butter and a cheese and a couple of
meats. Amazingly, there was not much left. We hardly ever wasted. That seems
like a lot of food now, but we sure went through it. And that old coffee and
H: Were you ever required to do work that was based on emergencies, like fighting
fires or anything like that?
S: No, not fires. We worked on the flood control. When the levees let go or when the
water reached] the top of the levees and a leak had started, we tried to sandbag
H: Where was that?
S: That was on the Little Sioux River that wound through there and the drainage
canals. We had some real good battles with water.
H: When did that happen, do you remember?
S: It was in the spring of 1938.
H: What was a typical day?
S: On a typical day, we would start the morning off at reveille. They would turn the
barrack lights on, and we dressed and had reveille formation up in your
campground and raised the flag. It was non-military, except for saluting. They
had a recording that played the reveille. At night, they played taps. Then, you
went back to your barrack and put things together and then went to the mess hall
and had breakfast, whatever you chose.
H: Pretty good food?
S: Oh yes. The food was plain, but it was what I would call good.
H: It stuck to your ribs.
S: Yeah boy. It was family-style. We had, like, picnic[-type] tables, and we had a
pitcher of coffee on it and bowls of oatmeal or scrambled eggs and toast and fruit
and a pitcher of milk. You could eat all you wanted. If you emptied a dish, the
person who emptied it had to go refill it. After breakfast, you went back to the
barracks and finished putting it in order, making your bed up and lining your bunk
up, your shoes, and whatever workclothes you needed for that day, whether it
was cold or rainy or wet. You went out to where the loading area was for
whatever area you were going to work. When you got to your work area, you
were assigned your specific job at the work area. In the meantime, they would
prepare the camp for lunch, or mess, and build the fire. They did not have
portable latrines at the work area, so if you had to relieve yourself, you went and
found a tree to get behind. Most of the boys would carry a wad of toilet paper
with them in their jacket. You would do your work and have your lunch period,
have about an hour break for lunch, and then work until the trucks were ready to
load up and return to the camp, which was probably four o'clock or four-thirty.
When you returned to camp, as I mentioned before, you cleaned up your
equipment and your shoes and boots and prepared for your evening meal. Then
we would have another formation, only we lowered the flag. We had a bed check
at nine o'clock, so we did not have time to do too much. We would turn to the rec
room where we had one pool table, and then the library. Another thing, we had a
classroom where we had volunteers, including myself, who taught certain types
of learning, such as reading and history. I picked history. The boys had
volunteered to attend classes and spend the evening attending the class and
receiving whatever they could out of that, whatever the instructor had to offer.
That program never really received the attention I think it should have. A large
proportion of the boys never completed high school. Some of them could not
read, and they were real backward. The efforts were made, naturally, to the
lowest level, trying to help them. I never had too much success with history
because the attention level for that just was not there. So I would end up talking
to myself or go back to the library.
H: Did you learn any new skills from the work that you did that you have kept with
you? You said that you certainly improved your physical condition.
S: Really, the main thing I think everybody learned was work ethics. You learned
that you had to work so much to survive. What you did was, in return, a benefit to
your well-being, to your health. You had opportunities, like I said, if you wanted to
read, we had a pretty good collection of books at the library and we had the
offered classes in mathematics and reading and history and geography. There
was not a great deal of interest on technical training. There was very little, if any,
technical training. The boys who chose to work as mechanic assistants on the
cleat-tracks, or caterpillars or whatever you want to call them, or drag lines, that
was done more like an apprenticeship. You kind of committed yourself, that this
is what you wanted. Most of the operators worked for the Army Corps of
Engineers. I mean, they were civilians, but they were from the Corps of
Engineers, so they were well-qualified people and were somewhat motivated with
what they were doing. I worked with a surveyor. He was an old-time Corps of
Engineer surveyor, and he finally told me, you just cannot figure fast enough for
me. It was hard because, doggone, when they would get the transit, I was
reading, like, you are going to cut through an irrigation ditch or something, and
they would start calling out their elevations and you had to take that and read it
against a benchmark number. That was not interesting, but it is a good field. It
takes a certain breed to work in civil engineering.
H: Was there ever nothing that had to be done? Did you run out of work? Were you
ever bored at camp?
S: Yes, we had down days, in extreme weather, for example, and some projects
that were you completed this and then the other one was not quite ready for you,
that they negotiated for. So, your idle time was [spent] mainly on camp
maintenance, [such as] cutting wood. In my book here on the fly leaf, there is a
picture of woodsaw, right here. We would cut wood for the camp stoves and
clean up the grounds.
H: Were there ever any accidents at camp? Did you have a safety program in the
camp that you followed?
S: Yes. We did not have a safety program as such, except for common sense, but
we did have some minor accidents. People would cut themselves with the axe or
fall or sprain a leg or something of that sort. I recall one time, we stored our
double-bit axes and they had the blade up and down in a long box across one
side of the truck, and one of the boys sat on it. He pulled his pants down, and he
had a series of cuts in his buttocks, in that fatty meat. We had some tape, and so
I took the tape and cut butterfly sutures, I guess you would call them, and I just
pressed it together and taped it to hold it together. I mean, the cuts were not that
bad. But there were no fatal accidents.
H: What about the camp commander and the people above you? What were they
S: There were articles written about our commanders there. During my time, they
were military. They were not really involved too much in the activities of the
camp, except the management of it. They loved their inspections and, of course,
the reveille and retreat formations and our standby inspection. Boy, they believed
in that spit-and-polish. I think that it mostly exemplified their position. I do not
think they ever treated the enrollees in a sense of military discipline. You had to
do your work and meet your formations and make bed check. If you got picked
up by the civil authorities in town or something, they would support you if they
could. There were some boys who got in serious trouble and got separated or
H: They also had a demerit system, you said?
S: Yes, it was based on, like, your inspection. If you did not polish your shoes right
or your bed was not made right or you were late at bed check, things of that sort,
that is how they made the KP rosters for the weekend and for the holidays.
H: Did you have a foreman overseeing you at the work?
S: Yes, we called them leaders. You also had, I guess you would call him, a
foreman from the Corps of Engineers who overall supervised the work because it
was technically civil-engineering work.
H: Were they easy to work with?
S: Oh yes. I never had any differences with them.
H: What about the LEMs, the Licensed Experienced Men? Did you have any
involvement with them?
S: I guess they were who I would call the contract people. No, we did not have any
problem with them. They kind of accepted what they got from us.
H: Do you feel there were enough leaders in all the work that you did, or were there
sometimes too many Indians and not enough chiefs?
S: It stayed fairly well-balanced. I did not think it was any more out-of-balance than
the military would be or in private enterprise, in leaders and foremen and
assistant foremen and so forth.
H: What were the camp and the barracks themselves like?
S: They were typical military wooden barracks. Ours were single-story, wood floors
and wood and coal-burning potbellied stoves to heat them and overhead lighting
and shelves and a footlocker. That was about all there was to them. The latrines
were always centrally located outside. So, in the cool of the night, if you wanted
to go to the bathroom, you had to trip outside. The showers were gang showers,
open showers. The latrines themselves were the old dump type. I do not know if
you have ever seen them, but when they got so full of waste and water, then they
would dump. It was odorous, about like an old outside privy.
H: Did your family send packages or were you pretty isolated from them?
S: No, not at that particular time. I do not think that type of thing was too prevalent. I
could hitchhike home on a weekend if I chose to, but as far as family support,
sending you gift baskets and boxes and stuff like that, I do not recall that there
was that much of it. I think my dad had a couple of old Atwater Kent radios. I do
not know if you know what they are, but they had a cone-shaped speaker. I said,
can I take them to camp? I said, maybe we can find somebody who will work with
them. He loaded them in his old Oldsmobile and hauled them over one Sunday,
but we never did get them operating.
H: So, when you did go either home or into another town on the weekends, what did
S: Wandered around, mostly. We would go to Sioux City occasionally. We did not
have enough money to patronize bars, as they were at that time, which there
were a lot of. Sioux City was pretty open. You just kind of wandered around the
streets, and when daylight came, you would just hitchhike back to camp. You did
not rent a room or anything. Most of the bars stayed open all night, so we sat
around and whittled your time away.
H: What about the CCC newspaper? Did you read it? Was it available?
S: No. Our camp did not have a publication. Whiting had a journal they published,
but they do not even mention it in their historical write-up.
H: When you were stuck at camp, I know you mentioned you played softball and
you had sports. Was that pretty much what you did, that and the pool table, or
were there other things to do?
S: Mostly, the thing I always enjoyed was, when I could, to hitchhike to Ottawa and
roller-skate. They had a roller-skating rink under a tent, and that was pretty
cheap entertainment. And swimming, during the time of the year when we could
swim. We had a couple of old sandpits, I guess you would call them, and we
would get transportation out there and we would swim. When the camp played
ball or had a ballgame with another camp, we all loaded in the truck. The mess
crew would bring a lunch along with us, and we would have a picnic and watch
the ballgame and chase the girls around, if we could catch any of them.
H: Presumably, you only had contact with girls when you went into town. There
were not any women in the camp or associated with the camp.
S: No. We had very little relationship with the outside world, particularly the females.
I think most of us were so scared of what could happen, we did not mess around.
H: Back in the camp, did you have any religious services available to you?
S: I never participated in any. They were available in the community. I do not recall
that we had too much spiritual guidance, in this camp. Now some camps had a
chaplain of some sort and a little more formal program for religious groups.
H: Did you ever break any rules?
S: Not any big rules, no. I never had KP. I never had any demerits. I might have
been late for bed check once or twice, and that was probably the worst of my
H: Out gallivanting around in town, at the roller rink?
S: Yes, not getting a ride back, because you had to hitchhike everywhere you went.
Occasionally, we would ride the freight trains, but that was pretty dirty. When you
rode the train, you would ride the top of boxcars, and that soot from the engine
would leave you black with soot.
H: Did you ever think about deserting? Apparently, there was actually, at least in
some of the camps, a fairly high rate of desertion.
S: There was a certain element, I think, of enrollees who were not capable of
adapting to that type of life or environment. I do not think you deserted in the
sense of deserting; they just did not have the ability to comprehend that, when
they said they were going to be there, they had to be there, and they were just
wandering off. But, organized desertion, I do not recall any of that. I mean, the
people were not dissatisfied to the point that they were going to walk away, and
the ones who did just were not capable.
H: Talk a little more about what your fellow campers were like. You said they were
from the Midwest, and often they were poorly educated. Can you elaborate on
that at all?
S: To put it in a comparative basis, I think it was a fairly good cross-section of youth
at that time. All the boys my age, unless your parents were of a more affluent
part of the community, all had the same attitudes. The ones who had gotten to
the point where they would enroll in the program, I think they were there at their
choice. A lot of them were pursuing further education. There were some there
who were extremely bright, and some who could not tie a knot the same way
everyday, but it was a pretty good cross-section of what youth was. I know a
good many of them have become pretty prominent people in society. Even going
to our national [reunions], goodness, they are mostly lawyers and doctors and
congressmen and entertainers, big-time entertainers.
H: Like who?
S: You ask me names, and my mind goes blank. Who played Ironside in the TV
program? [Raymond Burr]. He was in the CCC. He played a lawyer on a TV
network program, and there were several other Hollywood people who were in
H: Were there any African-Americans in the CCC?
S: Not in our camp, no. There were not many in the area, and an African-American
was almost a stranger. Now, Sioux City had a small section of the city that was
African-American, and Omaha did, but really, at that time, a colored person was
an oddity. That is when Al Jolson [actor] played Mammy and the two black crows.
It was just another piece of our society. I believe there were camps that were
African-American. One of the regional leaders [in charge of CCC reunions] in
Detroit is an African, and they had an African-American group.
H: Did you ever hear people talking about the CCC being fascist?
H: How about socialist?
S: Well, Roosevelt was criticized as being socialistic, and, of course, some of the
politicians (political world) and also some of the countries like Britain and so forth
called it a form of socialism. You know, like they are talking about our medical
program as being socialized medicine. Roosevelt's programs were social in the
sense that they were government-supported. You received from the government
wages or support, which is a form of socialism. An recent example that comes to
mind is my second son is a professor at Miami University in journalism and law.
He was in a conversation with a group, and one gentleman who was a high-
ranking military retiree was really slamming the country as being socialistic. My
son asked him, who pays your retirement? He says, Uncle Sam does. Who pays
your medical? Uncle Sam. And who provided your housing? Uncle Sam, the
government. Who do you work for now? The government. He said, now what is
H: Do you think the CCC was effective in what it set out to do?
S: It was very effective. It was very effective in respect to what it did for the young
people of that time, and, also, it was very effective long-range in providing
recreational areas, parks and roads, and assisting communities in problems that
they had in construction or beautification, landscaping and the environment. We
would not have a big share of our environment that we enjoy so much if it had not
been for what they called Roosevelt's Tree Army. We would not have the parks
that we enjoy, the Appalachian Parkway and all. Those projects were all done
through, if you want to call it, socialism, through the WPA and the CCC and all
these government-supported programs. That is part of the principle: when your
economy is down, you have to put money back into it. Of course, the biggest
source helping from the bottom up would be through the government, like the
programs we have today that may have gone a little bit too far, making people
too dependent. But at that time, it was right and proper, what was done, and the
results were excellent.
H: What did you like and dislike about your experience there?
S: At that time, I liked it all. The only thing I could say I disliked was the attitude that
some of the public had towards CCC enrollees at times.
H: And what was that?
S: You know, they almost sometimes humiliated you as being CCC. They did that to
the military also, in that same period of time. They used to say, No Dogs or
Sailors Allowed, or Army or CCCers. There were times when it would be posted
in some of the towns, CCC, Stay Away From Our Daughters, and stuff of that
H: Why do you think they felt that way, just because of a bad element?
S: In the first place, the enrollees were the people who were the have-nots, who did
not have anything. So, they were the part of our social structure that was really at
the bottom. Then our next level of people were those who were the middle-class,
who had some, but more than what we had. Then, of course, the next level were
the people who just naturally did not respect anybody who could not support
H: How do you think the CCC changed you?
S: At that time, I was really not directed in any particular path at all because
everything just seemed like, what else is there for us? There was not any
employment. We had been through the years of the Depression when you did not
have anything, so you did not know what it was to have anything. Having the
goodies of even a radio and, of course, automobiles were not even in the
thoughts of young people then. I said before that you learned work ethics. You
cannot always get what you want, but you can at least work towards it and
accomplish as much as you can. Everybody cannot be the winner or be on top,
but there is no reason you cannot be self-supportive and raise a family and try to
give your offspring a lot of the things you weren't able to have and pass on that
same attitude towards working and applying oneself. That is one thing I am pretty
proud of our kids, and I think most of the CCCers' kids, they worked for what they
got. During the postwar generation.
H: In terms of Camp Whiting in particular, are you aware of its specific
accomplishments with soil conservation and combating erosion, do you know of
specific results that it achieved in that regard?
S: At that time, that part of Iowa was considered the most productive farmland in the
country, and the reason for it is that they had the opportunity to have assisted
flood-control and drainage. Now, today, there is probably no recall of that, but
during those postwar years after the markets became...when corn products were
worth farming and agriculture became a necessary part of our economy, I think
that whole part of the country, did benefit in their long-term benefits. That could
apply to the projects that other camps had, what they left behind there, soil-
control, erosion-control. You see the results of it when you drive through the
Midwest there, in contour-farming. That was developed by the CCC. You can see
the drainage projects that are still effective.
H: When exactly did you leave the CCC?
S: In September, 1938.
H: And you went on to school?
S: I went to school at Wayne [State College], Nebraska, which is the Nebraska state
teachers' college, and that is when I ran out of my $200. Mother and dad had
been going to separate. You know, they were the marriages that were arranged.
There never were love-marriages, particularly, then; they were just convenience-
marriages. So, in all our growing-up years, they always were going to get a
divorce. They finally did after I was in college, but they still stayed together. That
was the comical part of it. They lived apart but still lived together.
H: So, after that, you went into the Army?
S: Yes. Mother settled in Lincoln, as I told you. She bought a roominghouse and
boarded, room and boarded Nebraska College girls. I managed to go to six
months of business school and, again, for financial reasons and a possible draft,
I enlisted in the Army Air Corps. This was in 1941.
H: Did you feel like the CCC had prepared you for that?
S: Yes, I just stepped right in stride with it. The discipline was very similar, except
we did yes-sir and no-sir and salute and close-order drills. As far as the military
life, it was just a step across the street from the CCC life.
H: What did you do in the Army?
S: When I enlisted in the Army Air Corps, I wanted to go into the medics. Then, I
said, well, I want to go in administration. The big demand was for aircraft
mechanics, so I became an aircraft mechanic. I went to the Jefferson Barracks in
Missouri, where our CCC headquartered, and that was our basic training camp.
That was in May, 1941. Then I was assigned to the technical school in Chanute
Field in Rantoul, Illinois. I completed school there. I finished school and was
assigned to Selfridge Field, Detroit, and then Pearl Harbor came by. So,
immediately, I got to Selfridge, and then we moved over to Wayne County
Airport, which is on the other side of Detroit, and we were processing [B-24]
Liberator bombers. They were flying them across the border to Canada and then
onto Britain. Then the demand came and moved our whole unit to either
California or Florida. There, we had a choice. I said, well, Florida seems so far
away; I am going to try that. So, the next day, a troop train loaded all of us going
to Florida, and we headed to West Palm Beach. That is where we were at that
time initiated to what they called the air transport command. Out of the air
transport command, the communications command that we have still, the AACS,
air communications command. Air Weather Service, our current weather, was
part of that operation, and Air Rescue Service, which the Coast Guard has taken
over mostly but it still has that branch in the Air Force. But that was pioneered by
most of our air transport personnel who were ex-airline people. The Air Force or
Army at the time had commandeered the pilots from the airlines and also their
key personnel for aircraft maintenance, so we established really the basis of
these large airlines. Through our experiments and mass production of
maintenance, they have been able to develop these large airlines now. Eastern
was the biggest one then, and TWA, and Pan-American.
H: Did you have any particular viewpoints on allowing the older World War I vets to
join the CCC? Did you run across any of that?
S: Yes. Really they weren't the vets. They were some World War I personnel
participating in the programs as advisors or supervisors, like in the supply field,
we had some World War I vets. Probably, another area is in the mess. They had
Army cooks who were the nucleus of our mess programs.
H: Why did the CCC end on June 30, 1942?
S: Because of the need, I guess, of the war, because of the demand then. Every
able-bodied young man was in the military. And there just was not any need for
it, as it was then. But now, in another revised program, it certainly would fit our
society, if our young people were willing to live under those conditions, I mean,
whatever the minimum wage is and minimal living quarters. See, then, you lived
in practically a barn-like building, and thirty or forty in one room. Now, military
personnel have to have private rooms and built-in showers.
H: They are spoiled now.
S: Yes. They worry about their well-being. I think the politicians need to wake up
and lay off the military [comfort items].
H: Why was the CCC significant?
S: I guess there are probably many reasons why it was, but I think the biggest
reason is that it was a salvation for youth, the male population. The girls at that
time were not that bad off. You know, they would end up domestic homemakers
and schoolteachers and office workers, but there were not those opportunities as
much for males. If the CCC had not come along when it did, [there is] no telling
what our youth would have been like, as undirected as they were at that time.
You could not even commit a decent crime because there was not anything to be
criminal about. You could not steal [because] what would you steal? You could
not rob a bank. You could not afford a gun. Anyway, I think it was the salvation
for youth, for survival physically and mentally and you could apply a little bit of
spiritual into it. I think most camps had some sort of an opportunity for those who
wanted religion; it would be available to them. I guess that is it.
H: What have I missed? Is there anything you want to talk about, either in terms of
specific memories or just in general about the camp life or the work?
S: The camp life was not that exciting. I do not think of any major events that one
would really recall or want to recall, because it was pretty much routine and each
camp had its own style and operation. Some of the boys, I think, felt like they
were displaced or misplaced when they were transferred far away from home. It
was fortunate in our area that they could absorb the enrollees within that
geographical area. In a lot of the areas and cities, they had large contingents of
enrollees and they did not have a place for them there, so they had to ship them
off to Montana or Washington state or some faraway spot. I think that was
probably more disturbing to a lot of them than what I experienced. But, the
Depression, just at any one time, you can think of events that were not too
savory, but just to generalize and recall, things were pretty severe. I mean,
besides the elements, the greatest dust storm of our century was during the
1930s, 1934, 1935, 1936. Not only could we not sell our products, we could not
produce them. We did not have a market. We did not have a market for the
things that are costing our economy to burst as it is, the communications and the
transportation. They did let the railroads die on the vine. I think there needs to be
more research in mass transportation on the ground. After the war, you know, it
would stop and everybody would have an airplane in their backyard and could fly
from here to there, but that could never become a reality because people could
move to distanced places but not across the county or across the state.
H: Any specific memories that pop into your mind when you think back on the CCC
S: The only memory that I would generalize is that it was satisfying, because when
you are at a point where you do not know where you are going, what you can do,
or how you are going to survive, it offered that opportunity to at least have an
interim period, not necessarily to find yourself, but to give yourself something to
work with. Day labor has been and always will be a necessity, but when you do
not even have that opportunity, things are pretty bad.
H: So, real briefly, you stayed in the military well after World War II?
S: Yes, I stayed in the military twenty-six years, in the aircraft maintenance field. I
was a master sergeant in the latter part of 1942, after a year that I was in the
service. I have been in aircraft maintenance supervision since then. I even
worked twenty years at Aero Flight Line Maintenance.
H: And you have kids who have gone onto pretty big and exciting things.
S: Yes. The youngest boy stayed with aircraft. He is with Ashland Oil in Ashland,
Kentucky. They have their executive airline, and he still likes aviation. He served
an enlistment in the Navy, in Pensacola. He is an excellent mechanic, and he has
good work ethics. The older boy went into the Air Force, one tour, and he learned
television. He has worked for Sony Corporation in Atlanta for a number of years,
and he has had the opportunity to work in all of the Olympics overseas in
maintaining their equipment, and supervising it. As a matter of fact, he is
preparing to go to Australia for the Olympics down there. The second boy went
into journalism and, of course, he worked his way through it and did it on his own.
The daughter, Ann, got her degree on her own. She is a schoolteacher. Another
daughter, Bev, works for the Department of Labor as a Consumer Price Index
economist in Atlanta. Cathy got her degree in wildlife biology on her own. Jerry,
the next older [son], just learned his trade in computer science, and he makes [as
much] money [as the others], but he is the least educated. He works in
electronics in Atlanta and lives in Gainesville there, at Cox Engineering.
H: You have been pretty active in keeping the CCC members together and
organized, getting together and reminiscing. That has to mean a lot to you over
S: Yes. In the last ten years, nationally, the people have become more aware of
what the CCC was. There, for a number of years, it was dormant. A lot of people
who knew me years ago would say, I did not know you were in the CCC. I said,
well, it was not that important then. I said, you probably would not have cared.
But, now, they are realizing what the byproduct was of that time, that generation.
Our little chapter down there, our nucleus, the gentlemen who are our secretary
and our president, and the group [that meets] in Gainesville [Florida], they are the
mainstay of our chapter. I am kind of out in the fringes, but I participate. We tried
to go to several of the nationals, at least three or four nationals. That is really
where you see the meat of what the CCC produced. Well, that group that we
have down there, they are all successful people. If you had looked at them fifty or
sixty years ago, they would have been like me, undirected.
H: Is there anything else you want to talk about?
S: Right off the top, I guess not. I will probably think of a dozen things later.
H: All right, I think that is a good place to wrap it up.
[End of Interview.]