Courier Staff Writer
The 80th anniversary of the Civilian Conservation Corps is drawing near, and Bill Jamerson brought his story of the corps to the Ottumwa Public Library Thursday afternoon.
His presentation included telling stories, singing original songs and reading excerpts from his novel, “Big Shoulders.”
Corps members worked at Lake Wapello State Park near Drakesville, but they didn’t talk much about the CCC and their work, Jamerson said.
“Ask anyone who had a relative in the CCC,” he said. “None of them wanted to talk about their experiences.”
Part of the reason is because of the stigma felt by CCC members.
“If you were a CCC member, that meant you were on the dole,” Jamerson said. “The CCC camps were run by the Army, and the workers wore Army-issued clothing.”
All of the men typically came from unemployed families. Jameson displayed several photos and encouraged his audience to search the Internet for more information. The CCC was part of the federal Public Works Administration and was run by the U.S. Army.
President Franklin Roosevelt created the corps in 1933 during the Great Depression. During its nine-year run, 49,000 young men served in the Iowa camps.
To join the corps, the men had to be 17-25 years old, weigh about 108 pounds and have at least four good teeth, Jamerson said. They were paid $1 and were often called the “soldiers of poverty.”
“Remember, back then a dollar was worth about $20,” he said. “CCC members could get five gallons of milk, two loaves of bread and still have $25 to send home. People were too proud to take free food, but having a working son was accepted.”
The CCC enrollees planted more than 30 million trees in Iowa, built hundreds of bridges, erected more than 2,000 miles of telephone poles and helped farmers by repairing gullies, terracing hills, providing fertilizer, installing fencing and building outhouses.