Hominy & Hash
THE TREE ARMY
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It was this time of year in 1933 that Senate Bill 5.598 was introduced, passed through both houses of Congress, and was sitting on President Roosevelt's desk just waiting for his signature. And sign it he did.
His campaign promise on the night of his nomination the previous July had been to revitalize the economy of our nation through soil conservation and to battle the ongoing destruction of our natural resources. The nation's press called it the Tree Army.
That campaign promise and signed bill had more impact on our
poor family than reading those words might signify. I wasn't old
enough to understand what was going on while it was happening but I've
underscored a number of events in my life by simply mentioning having
been born into a large family during the Great Depression. That pretty
much describes the scene: no jobs, no money, no help but still a family
to feed and clothe.
I've heard from readers wanting to hear more about it from my personal recollections, just as I always want to hear and read more about the Holocaust by delving into oral and written histories of the survivors who saw and felt first-hand what it was like to fall victim to Adolf Hitler's unconscionable act of genocide from the late 1930's to 1945.
What I haven't written about my experiences in the 1930's is exactly how we made our way out of the Great Depression. Now, I can't speak for the rest of the country - struggling pretty much as we were - because we were an urban society and for the most part, they were rural. New York City was business; the rural areas were farming.
As later generations might claim, World War II put an end to the Depression. I do recall having nickels for the jukebox during the early 1940's, but it wasn't the war that lifted us up out of poverty and deprivation. It was Roosevelt's signing of Senate Bill 5.598 and the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
At the time, we had five big boys in our family trying to stay in school and work to support our family, and a lot of big sisters as well. Food was filling, but hardly as nourishing as it might be: potatoes, bread, hash, and pasta, day after day. My brothers were looking a little anemic, I suppose, because the nuns at school had arranged for them to spend that previous summer at a Fresh Air-type camp in Tuckahoe, N.Y. They came back muscular and suntanned.
They signed up for the CCC, as it was called, and before long they were in Boise, Idaho, planting trees to replace those in the denuded forests. I referred to The History of the Civilian Conservation Corps <http://www.cccalumni.org/history2.html> for information not known to me as a child, and learn now that Roosevelt's aim was to bring together "two wasted resources, the young men and the land, in an effort to save both." By July 1933 - just three months after signing the bill - there were 250,000 men in the CCC camps.
Most of the young men eligible (the right age and unemployed) lived in the East, while the lands in need of conservation between the West. Somehow the logistical needs were met by cooperation of the Army and the railroads, which accepted the challenges of getting the workers to the work.
We often hear of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, but we rarely hear mention of the CCC. It turned out to be the most successful part of that New Deal. Although the Army helped with logistics, this was not a military corps. The men wore work uniforms and stayed in bunkhouses far from towns. Letters home were full of good reports about their lives as they worked day-to-day. They worked hard, to be sure, working all those acres that are our state parks today. The newspapers praised the work and the men; nothing but good reports came out of the project - albeit some gripes from union leaders who worried about the labor force.
As far as we were concerned at our home in Corona, N.Y., well, I started hearing a new word: Allotment. The workers received $30 a month; $25.00 was sent home, and $5 was for the workers to keep themselves - a princely sum for young men who had nowhere to spend it. Mama used what she needed for the family and saved a portion as a nest egg for the boys.
The history of the CCC is worth reading; it worked admirably for our nation. It ended when Congress decided not to allocate any more funds to support the effort. My brothers came home, fit and ready to join the construction workers preparing for the nearby New York World's Fair that would open in 1939.
What struck me most in reading about Roosevelt's idea was the bringing together of two wasted resources: young unemployed men and a work project.
Don't we have that now? Since the days of the CCC, we have had wars and the Peace Corps - and more wars - and yet nothing to fulfill the needs of the idealistic young who most certainly answer such calls. It sounds like a plan to me. Shouldn't one be brewing somewhere?