Remembering Frank Cassara, the Last of the CCC Artists
by Kathleen Duxbury

CCC and WPA artist Frank Cassara

CCC and WPA artist Frank Cassara
A portrait of the artist in his studio.
Photo Credit: ©Kathleen Duxbury 2010 All Rights Reserved

Frank Cassara, a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and WPA artist died on January 13 at home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, two months shy of his 104th birthday. Frank’s persistence and talent earned him a place in New Deal art history. He was the last of the New Deal CCC artists.

During a 2010 interview, 97-year-old Frank and I reviewed government records detailing his enrollment as an artist in the CCC seven decades earlier, at Camp Swallow Cliff, Co. #1675-V, near Palos Park, Illinois. As Frank slowly read through the papers he looked up and said “I am starting to remember,”

Enrollees from Camp Swallow Cliff, Palos Park, IL, 1935.

Enrollees from Camp Swallow Cliff, Palos Park, IL, 1935.
CCC men working in a limestone quarry. A stone crusher is in the background.

In 1934, living in Detroit and desperate for work, Frank sent a letter to the head of the Section of  Painting and Sculpture at the U.S. Treasury Department, Edward Rowan, asking about a job:

Dear Sir, It has come to my notice that the government intends to send one hundred artists to C.C.C. camps. I am greatly interested in recording camp life and would appreciate any opportunity you could give me…. Thanking you for any information you can send me, I am, yours sincerely,

Frank Cassara

My meeting with Frank turned into two afternoons of unhurried memories—vignettes of a naïve young man, out of his element; vivid descriptions of CCC work projects, the cutting and crushing of stone at a local quarry, numbers painted on the side of a truck, and life in the barracks.

Frank brought his observations to life in the oil, watercolor, and pencil drawings he made during his yearlong CCC assignment. Exempted from heavy labor, artist/enrollees spent 40 hours a week depicting life in the camps. Their artworks were shipped to the Section of Painting and Sculpture Treasury Department in Washington, D.C.

Sandusky, Michigan Post Office mural.

Sandusky, Michigan Post Office mural.
“Cattle Drive,” by Frank Cassara, 1942

After his discharge from the CCC, Frank again found himself without a job. By then, his work was known and admired by Ed Rowan and others at the Treasury Department, and in 1937 Frank was hired by the WPA’s Federal Art Project (FAP). He several  murals in Michigan, at the Thompson School in Highland Park, a water plant in Lansing, and at post offices in Detroit and Sandusky, Michigan, eventually becoming a supervisor of the FAP for the state.

During World War II, Frank served as an artist with the Army Branch of Engineers in the American and Asiatic Pacific Theater. At war’s end, he became a professor of art at the University of Michigan, where he taught for 36 years.

Frank lived to the fine old age of 103 years and 10 months. He was drawing to the end of his life. Time spent with Frank Cassara remains a highlight of my CCC Art Projects research.

Preserved Forever: How the CCC Helped Build a Park District

Robert Sibley: Park District Board Member Robert Sibley (center) highlights the Tilden Nature Study Area on the relief model in the mid-1950s.

Robert Sibley
Park District Board Member Robert Sibley (center) highlights the Tilden Nature Study Area on the relief model in the mid-1950s.
Photo Credit: Courtesy EBRPD

In 1928, conservationist, hiker, and University of California alumnus Robert Sibley, saw into the future of the open rolling hills above the Berkeley campus. “These valuable pieces of land ought to be preserved forever,” he forewarned. So began a movement to save thousands of wild acres from certain development. The New Deal played a critical part in gaining the public’s support.

A 1930 report, “Proposed Park Reservations for East Bay Cities,” by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and Ansel F. Hall, first chief naturalist of the National Park Service, laid out a plan for a system of regional parks and a single agency to manage them. As early as 1933, local CCC enrollees, under the direction of the Western Museum Laboratory in Berkeley, set to work on a project to help win the public over to the idea.

Unveiling the Restored Map District General Manager Robert Doyle welcomes visitors to the unveiling of the newly restored CCC relief model at the Tilden Environmental Education Center on August 27, 2016.

Unveiling the Restored Map
District General Manager Robert Doyle welcomes visitors to the unveiling of the newly restored CCC relief model at the Tilden Environmental Education Center on August 27, 2016.
Photo Credit: Courtesy EBRPD

Often more than a hundred CCC men at a time worked to fabricate a series of 6-foot by 12-foot replicas of the East Bay region based on maps in the Olmsted-Hall plan. The hand-painted plaster relief models highlighted the ridgelines, hills, and valleys that park advocates hoped to conserve. Local cities used the topographical models to promote the cause. The prospect of federally funded labor and construction dollars through New Deal programs also had a role in winning over voters.

In 1934, despite the Great Depression, voters approved a tax to establish the East Bay Regional Park District, one of the first regional park systems in the country. With parklands secured, WPA and CCC crews arrived in 1935 to begin building the roads, trails, stone bridges, buildings, and fountains that remain a lasting tribute to their work.

CCC Camp Wildcat Canyon : Tilden Environmental Education Center sits on the former site of Camp Wildcat Canyon, a CCC camp that housed several hundred young men who built the trails, restrooms, and picnic areas for the new parks

CCC Camp Wildcat Canyon
Tilden Environmental Education Center sits on the former site of Camp Wildcat Canyon, a CCC camp that housed several hundred young men who built the trails, restrooms, and picnic areas for the new parks
Photo Credit: Courtesy EBRPD

Today, one of the nation’s oldest regional park systems is also one of the largest—with 65 parks totaling 120,000 acres, and 1,200 miles of trails.

Recently, the last known remaining model the CCC built for the parks campaign was resurrected from a seldom-used building where it had languished for decades. Its significance came to light in the course of preparing for the District’s 80th anniversary.

Experts from the Richmond, California-based Scientific Art Studio, which manufactures museum exhibits, were called in to help with the model’s restoration. They carefully patched and reinforced the crumbling plaster and removed many added layers of paint revealing the map’s original colors and hand lettering. Original errors were left intact, including a puzzling reference to “Citizens Conservation Corps.”

Ansel Hall, chief naturalist at the National Park Service, points out the proposed Regional parklands to local civic leaders in 1934

Early Park Leaders
Ansel Hall, chief naturalist at the National Park Service, points out the proposed Regional parklands to local civic leaders in 1934
Photo Credit: Smithsonian, Civilian Conservation Corps Collection

In August, the restored model was unveiled to the public to great fanfare. It is on permanent display at the popular Environmental Education Center at Tilden Park—the former site of CCC Camp Wildcat Canyon.

Centenarian Rupert Lopez Recalls Life in the CCC

Rupert joined the CCC in 1935

Rupert Lopez
Rupert joined the CCC in 1935Photo Courtesy “Corrales Elders”

Rupert Lopez is 100 years old. He joined the CCC when he was about 18, serving from 1935 until 1940. As a CCC applicant Rupert had to pass a physical exam to show that he possessed three natural masticating teeth and was at least five feet tall and 107 pounds. Rupert said he had to eat a lot of bananas to make the weight requirement. New Mexico enrollees gained an average of 20 pounds in the CCC.

Enrollees could take a variety of evening classes while serving in the CCC. Rupert learned English from a teacher in Camp SCS-8-N, Catron Ranch in San Ysidro, New Mexico. In 1937 the CCC sent Rupert to college in Las Cruces. He later returned to the CCC as a Local Experienced Man. So-called “LEMs” lived in local communities and served as foremen overseeing less trained CCC workers.

Rupert Lopez in the fourth man from the right in the front row. From Civilian Conservation Corps Official Annual 1936, Albuquerque District, 8th Corps Area, page 46.

Roster of men in CCC camp SCS-8-N in San Ysidro.
Rupert Lopez in the fourth man from the right in the front row. From Civilian Conservation Corps Official Annual 1936, Albuquerque District, 8th Corps Area, page 46.Photo Courtesy Dirk Van Hart

Rupert taught and supervised the production of adobe bricks used to build the Old Santa Fe Trail Building, a National Historic Landmark. The outstanding Spanish revival-style building served as the headquarters for the National Park Service Southwest Region for 56 years, from 1939 until 1995.  Rupert is the last living member of the CCC who worked on the building, In 1940 Rupert moved to Corrales where he lives today.

On June 24, 2016, Rupert attended a ceremony in Santa Fe where he received the Kathy Flynn Award for his service during the New Deal.

The following was excerpted from an interview conducted by Deborah and Jon Lawrence at his house on Rupert’s Lane in Corrales, New Mexico, on July 11, 2015.

When I went to the CCC in 1935, I had just finished high school. I was about 18.
At that time I was working for 75 cents a day. When I joined the CCC, they put us on a truck. They wouldn’t tell us where we were going. They went west, out to the other side of San Ysidro, to the Espiritu-Santo Grant. There was a camp right there. It’s up off old Highway 44. Now it belongs to the Indians. There still are adobe ruins there.

Rupert and Reymunda Lopez

Rupert and Reymunda Lopez
Wedding photo, 1939Photo Courtesy "Corrales"

When we got to the camp, the buildings were up. They still needed sewer and electrical lines. We worked with picks and shovels. I did that for probably two weeks. In high school, I had tried to take bookkeeping and typing classes because I wanted to clerk.   When the CCC found out that I had finished school, they made me a warehouseman. A warehouseman could get $36 (a month) just to hand out the tools and supplies to the workingmen. Then the superintendent put me to typing and taking care of all of the books for the mileage in the trucks, the tools, the supplies, and so on. I took care of that.

The big wheels (at camp) were army captains and lieutenants. But the foremen, they were working people.

When we first went into Camp 8, there were already some people from Texas there.
We called them Tejanos. We had some problems with them. They didn’t like us. At meals, the tables were long. We ate on one side of the table; they were on the other side. They wouldn’t pass us anything. So we began to fight in the mess hall—Tejanos against the Spanish. Finally the commander stopped the fighting. He said, “If you want to fight, I am going to give you some gloves.” And he did. We didn’t fight with fists anymore, just gloves. We had good fighters, good boxers. They learned that our boys were better fighters than theirs. Little by little, all of the Texans went “over the hill.” (They deserted).

When I was working as a clerk at the camp, they started giving grants for college. They wanted me, so I went to college in Las Cruces. I thought it would get me all the way through college, but it only lasted for six months. There were only two men from the whole group who had enough money to finish school.

I worked on farms and I worked awhile at motorcycle delivery. I had an Indian 1932. Later, I traded my motorcycle for a 1932 Chevy.

Camp 8, with all the people, was transferred to Santa Fe. When I went back into the CCC, I was a Local Experienced Man. For Local Experienced Men, they chose men who could do something special, like making adobe. That was the only way that I could go in the CCC again. I was a leader. I was in charge. There were only two Spanish foremen,  the others were all Anglos. They assigned me to teach the men how to make adobes for that big (NPS) building in Santa Fe. We made probably 500 adobes a day. It was hard work. It was a big project.

Rupert Lopez on his tractor

Rupert Lopez on his tractor
Lopez farmed 11 acres at his home in Corrales, NM. He also had an orchard of 400 peach and apple trees.Photo Courtesy Dirk Van Hart

I was married October 1939 during my tenure in the CCC. I met Reymunda in downtown Albuquerque at the skating rink. We used to skate together. We rented a house in Santa Fe—five dollars a month. We lived in Agua Fria, on the south side of that spring. Agua Fria was a spring that came in from the mountains. I used to travel on the motorcycle in the morning to be there at the CCC. I was a sargeant.

There was a time after I got married when I would go to school at night and take classes in English. Then I passed my examination for civil service and I got out. The CCC was being ended and they were closing a lot of camps. I got my discharge from the CCC in 1941. I went to work for Kirtland Air Force Base as a warehouseman. Then I transferred as an inspector to the National Guard. When I was in the National Guard, I was one of the guys who were appointed as an inspector to work in Korea. My wife stayed here. I was there for 18 months on active duty. Then I retired from the military.

When I came to Corrales they right away made me mayor domo of the church. At a meeting, we decided that our church was too old and it was cracking. Too much money was needed to make repairs. Since I was the chairman, Father Baca told me to make a drawing of a new church. So I drew a schematic of the church that I wanted. We held a fiesta and we collected enough money to make the new church. I was involved with the Planning and Zoning commission for 7 years, and I was on the Corrales Bosque Advisory Commission, and the Sandoval County Senior Affairs Board for 19 years and with the local Soil Conservation Service.

Then I used to farm. Chiles, tomatoes–you name it, I used to sell it.  I would drive my produce as far as Grants and Manzano. I drove a tractor up until I was 98. I just stopped driving it two years ago. Now my son does the farming.

The Lost Artworks of the Civilian Conservation Corps

L to R - B.T. Jones, Park Interpreter, Wally Scherrey, Park Superintendent; Richard Davies, Executive Director Arkansas Parks and Tourism (Davies’ grandfather directed the park’s CCC camp); Kathleen Duxbury; Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter; and Gardner Yeaw.

“Section of the Lodge” and “View From the Lodge” by CCC artist George Gordon Snyder were recently returned to Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton, Ark.
L to R – B.T. Jones, Park Interpreter, Wally Scherrey, Park Superintendent; Richard Davies, Executive Director Arkansas Parks and Tourism (Davies’ grandfather directed the park’s CCC camp); Kathleen Duxbury; Rachel Engebrecht, Park Interpreter; and Gardner Yeaw.Courtesy Kathleen Duxbury

In 2005, thirty years after the death of my father, George Duxbury, his treasured photo albums resurfaced; fragile books containing a photographic record made during his 1938-1941 service in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in New York, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

The location of my father’s first CCC camp, as luck would have it, was three hours away, at Gilbert Lake State Park in the Catskill Mountains—a park created by CCC labor that also had a campground and CCC museum. Believing all my CCC questions would be answered, my husband, Gardner Yeaw, and I loaded our recently purchased 1978 Bluebird Wanderlodge motor home, hooked up our tow vehicle, packed the albums, and set out for Laurens, New York on our maiden voyage.

"Sixteen Tons" passing through Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower National Monument

"Sixteen Tons" passing through Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower National Monument
Kathleen and Gardner have journeyed 80,000-mile (and counting) to discover CCC Artworks.
Photo Credit: Kathleen Duxbury

We were impressed by our first visit to a CCC-planted forest and park, but surprised to learn that the Hartwick CCC camp where my father had lived was long forgotten. It was suggested we visit the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

What began as a quest to learn more about my father and the CCC may have remained at an uncomplicated level had it not been for the discovery of a candid black-and-white photograph of a young artist taken at a New York Adirondack CCC camp.

His name was Hans Held and the chance discovery of his portrait, along with his 28-foot CCC mural we later found displayed at the Adirondack Museum, would dramatically change the focus and direction of our research travels and introduce us to a quiet part of American art history—the CCC art project.

Brandon served with the CCC at Sibley State Park in New London, Minn. Kathleen found this ink drawing, published 1937 in the CCC newspaper, Happy Days. The original has not been located.

“Progress Through the CCC,” by Arthur Brandon
Brandon served with the CCC at Sibley State Park in New London, Minn. Kathleen found this ink drawing, published 1937 in the CCC newspaper, Happy Days. The original has not been located.
Photo Credit: Kathleen Duxbury

Begun under the Public Works of Art program (PWAP) and lasting from 1934–1937, the CCC art program was administered by a special section within the Treasury Department. Some 300 young artists were sent to CCC camps around the country to make a pictorial record of life and work in the Corps, considered the greatest conservation movement in American history. Artists were instructed to send their watercolors, oils, drawings and sculptures to Washington D.C. The Treasury Department allocated the art to various government agencies, federal buildings, including Congressional offices, schools, and CCC camps for display.

Over the years many works were removed to storage and forgotten; others went missing. Some remained in place but lost their provenance as part of the legacy of the CCC.

Fitzgerald served with CCC Co. #935 at Point Defiance State Park, Tacoma, Wash. This watercolor is now part of the FDR Library and Museum collection.

“Sunlight In the Timber,” by Edmund James Fitzgerald, 1935
Fitzgerald served with CCC Co. #935 at Point Defiance State Park, Tacoma, Wash. This watercolor is now part of the FDR Library and Museum collection.Courtesy of FDR Library

Hoping that these artworks might be identified and appreciated by the public has led Gardner and me on an 80,000-mile road trip through the lower 48 states. Our research is focused on creating a readable and accurate record of the program and artists, and tracking down CCC artworks. Happily, circumstances at times have aligned to allow for the proper identification, procurement, recognition, and public display of several pieces.

We are fortunate and extremely grateful to the many archives, museums, universities, libraries, societies, clubs, organizations, other researchers, CCC artists’ families, and many wonderful people who share our appreciation and quest for knowledge of this little known New Deal art program. Our hope is that any and all CCC art will be protected, treasured, and valued for the history it depicts and ultimately be publicly displayed. This would honor what was clearly the original intent when this quiet part of American art history, the CCC art program, was personally approved by President Roosevelt.

“Just the way society was.” Segregation in the CCC

CCC Boxing Team at Marsh Field, San Diego, Calif.

CCC Boxing Team
CCC Boxing Team at Marsh Field, San Diego, Calif.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was born of pure and progressive intentions: employment for young men, conservation work on public lands, and nondiscrimination. Illinois Representative Oscar DePriest, the only black member of Congress at the time, made sure that the 1933 legislation that established the CCC banned discrimination based on “race, color, or creed.”

During the decade it was active, the CCC succeeded in many ways. It put three million men to work, planted over three billion trees, and restored America’s parks and public lands. But it strayed far from its commitment to inclusion. In terms of racial integration and equality, the CCC represents one of the biggest missed opportunities of the New Deal.

Photo taken at Marsh Field barracks shows that some CCC camps were racially integrated.

CCC boys at Marsh Field, San Diego, Calif.
Photo taken at Marsh Field barracks shows that some CCC camps were racially integrated.

The U.S. Army controlled CCC camp administration and operations, and its policy of racial segregation transferred easily to the new civilian workforce. Most of the CCC’s quarter million African-American enrollees served in segregated companies and were unable to attain positions of authority. Some Southern states categorically excluded blacks, arguing that they were needed for growing and harvesting cotton. There were a few mixed camps in states with smaller African- American populations like Minnesota and Wisconsin, but these were the exception.

Black and white CCC enrollees lived and worked together in Berkeley, California

Clearing land at Tilden Park, Berkeley, Calif.
Black and white CCC enrollees lived and worked together in Berkeley, California

“Historian Olen Cole, Jr. and others note that integrated camps existed outside the South in the early years of the CCC. In some areas, however, negative reactions from neighboring communities triggered separation of blacks and whites.”

Black enrollment in the CCC was capped at ten percent of total recruits–roughly equivalent to the proportion of blacks in the U.S. in 1930, but nowhere near proportional to the number of blacks eligible for relief during the Depression. Thousands were turned away.

CCC workers load pinecones into drying shed near Olustee, Florida, where Willie O'Neal (quoted in this article) was stationed. 1938. Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

CCC workers, Olustee, Fla.
CCC workers load pinecones into drying shed near Olustee, Florida, where Willie O’Neal (quoted in this article) was stationed. 1938. Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Robert Fechner, director of the CCC, defended the quotas, extending Jim Crow to the new agency. “I am satisfied that the negro enrollees themselves prefer to be in companies composed exclusively of their own race…This segregation is not discrimination and cannot be so construed. The negro companies are assigned to the same types of work, have identical equipment, are served the same food, and have the same quarters as white enrollees.” It would be twenty years before the “separate by equal” doctrine would be overturned by the Supreme Court, in Brown v Board of Education.

In 2000, as part of an oral history project Willie O’Neal, an African American CCC enrollee in Florida, described segregation in the Corps as “just the norm of being black or white…that was just the way society was.”

The work completed by the black camps was at times particularly poignant. At Gettysburg Military Park, two black companies were assigned to refurbish Confederate and Union monuments to the fallen. Historian Joseph Speakman notes, “No one recorded the sentiments of the young black men, some of them possibly the grandchildren of…slaves, who had done this refurbishing work on behalf of Confederate veterans.”

CCC Company 893 in Pineland, Texas, shows African American members of this "mixed" camp to the far right of the photograph. 1933. Credit: Connie Ford McCann, University of North Texas Libraries, Portal to Texas History.

CCC camp in Pineland, Tex.
CCC Company 893 in Pineland, Texas, shows African American members of this “mixed” camp to the far right of the photograph. 1933. Credit: Connie Ford McCann, University of North Texas Libraries, Portal to Texas History.

Speakman, along with other historians, have argued that the CCC failed to live up to its original commitment. Indeed, the restriction on black involvement is often forgotten in New Deal history. Had the CCC stuck to DePriest’s intention perhaps we could measure the success of the CCC not only in trees planted or miles of road built, but in strides toward racial equality.

Building for the Birds

1938 Sacramento Migratory Waterfowl Refuge entrance

1938 Sacramento Migratory Waterfowl Refuge entrance
Sacramento, CA 1938

The Civilian Conservation Corps was envisioned as a peacetime army to put young men to work preserving the nation’s forests and wildlife. When Congress approved funding in 1934 to add eight million acres to the National Wildlife Refuge System, the CCC spread out across the country to build it.  In May 1937, two hundred CCC enrollees arrived in California to start construction of the Sacramento Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.

The goal was to provide habitat for migratory birds and wildlife on 10,700 acres of failed farmland in the Central Valley. The Bureau of Biological Survey—later renamed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—oversaw the work. As it was the Biological Survey’s second wildlife refuge, the CCC camp was named BS-2.

People Power

People Power
Men raise a telephone poll by hand.

Heavy equipment was in short supply that first summer and much of the work was done by pick and shovel. The men restored some ranch buildings for offices, and demolished others using the salvaged materials for camp repairs and project work. Mosquito bitten, sunburned, and dust-choked, the men worked year round constructing levees, dikes, and jetties; laying pipe; and clearing creeks, channels, and drains to create wetlands for the refuge. They planted rice and millet within the refuge in order to keep the waterfowl from feeding on nearby farmland.

In summer, CCC crews fought wildfires in the surrounding foothills and mountains. In bad winters, they helped sandbag against flooding in the small towns along the Sacramento River some ten miles east.

Snow Geese at the Sacramento Migratory Waterfowl Refuge

Snow Geese at the Sacramento Migratory Waterfowl Refuge
at the Sacramento Migratory Waterfowl Refuge

While few camp buildings survive, a 100-foot tower built as a fire lookout still stands today. Biologists likely used the tower when they tallied 36,000 ducks and 72,000 geese on the refuge in December 1937. In December 1938 more than a million birds were counted.

Today, the site of CCC camp BS-2 serves as the headquarters of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The present pond system and many dikes and roadways are products of the summer of 1937. The refuge welcomes some 250 species of birds, hundreds of thousands of wintering waterfowl, and 75,000 visitors annually.

The headquarters area is eligible for designation as a National Historic District, but there’s currently no funding to preserve the structures to Historic District guidelines.

What the CCC Build at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge:
–    52 water control and road structures
–    1 diversion dam
–    1 combined bridge and dam
–    16 miles of refuge roads
–    10 miles of fence
–    Manager’s residence and garage
–    Labor patrolman’s cabin
–    Equipment storage shed
–    Service Building
–    Water tank
–    Lookout tower
–    Refuge office
–    Barn
–    Duck hospital
–    Grain bins
–    Flag pole
–    Miles of dikes
–    Numerous nesting and resting islands
–    Farmland producing feed for wildlife
–    Entrance and location signs

With thanks to Lora Haller, Visitor Services Manager at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.

The Moral Equivalent: Redefining the Warrior Spirit

CCC Men

CCC Men
Fighting Fires

Our National Forests, no less than their infrastructure, are a mess after decades of neglect. The Rim Fire at Yosemite National Park last summer made that abundantly clear as it burned over 400 square miles of the Sierra Nevada flank — the largest wildfire in California history — after similar monster wildfires decimated Colorado’s Front Range.

During this fiery summer, Columbia University professor Mark Mazower published an essay in the Financial Times titled “The West Needs A Replacement of the Warrior Spirit“. Mazower seemed to rue the loss of the civic virtue and egalitarian camaraderie that, he asserts, linked warfare in the 20th century to the kind of welfare typified by Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The problem of how a nation sustains political unity in the absence of an external enemy also vexed the American psychologist and philosopher William James, especially once advanced weaponry made it possible for war to erase entire cities, nations, and ultimately the planet. James’s answer was more definitive than Mazower’s rhetorical question “where is the heroism, or the warrior spirit, in wielding a joystick?”

CCC Men
in front of barracks, 1933

In his influential 1910 essay “The Moral Equivalent of War,” based on a talk he delivered at Stanford University, James recommended that in place of military conscription the U.S. should adopt a “conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of years a part of the army enlisted against Nature.”

Many feel that James’s essay played a role in FDR’s advocacy for and creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. Less adversarial in its approach to nature than James, the C’s were known as Roosevelt’s Tree Army, not only for the forests and wind breaks they planted but for the extent to which three million young men manually managed existing stands of trees; repaired and stocked streams; countered flooding and erosion; constructed fire look outs, and served on fire crews.

Roosevelt and others in his administration often likened the New Deal to a war against want, a battle that constructed rather than destroyed communities and land while it built the self respect of the men and women it employed.

CCC Worker Statue
photo: Creative Commons

 

When I read the accounts of CCC vets, I am as struck by the pride and gratitude they carried throughout their lives as a result of their service as I am by their superb craftsmanship in our national and state parks.

That was the constructive surrogate for the warrior spirit of the past that our forests — and our youth — cry out for today.