Contributed by Will Rice
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 as one of his many “alphabet soup” programs aimed at getting the country back to work in the depths of the Great Depression. The CCC served a dual purpose: give young men, who might otherwise end up as vagrants, jobs and a modest income and curb the endless backlog of public works projects on public lands across the country. In return for their labor, the men got much more than just a promised wage. Many received educations, more learned valuable trades, and almost all found a renewed sense of purpose. The widespread benefits of the program were something of a fascination to President Roosevelt. In a radio address from Glacier National Park, he expressed his deeply personal feelings of the Corps and its men:
Today, for the first time in my life, I have seen Glacier Park. Perhaps I can best express to you my thrill and delight by saying that I wish every American, old and young, could have been with me today. The great mountains, the glaciers, the lakes and the trees make me long to stay here for all the rest of the summer…
Today I have seen some of the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps boys in this Northwestern country. Of the three hundred thousand young men in these Camps, 75,000 are at work in our national parks. Here, under trained leadership, we are helping these men to help themselves and their families and at the same time we are making the parks more available and more useful for the average citizen. Hundreds of miles of firebreaks have been built, fire hazards have been reduced on great tracts of timberland, thousands of miles of roadside have been cleared, 2,500 miles of trails have been constructed and 10,000 acres have been reforested. Other tens of thousands of acres have been treated for tree disease and soil erosion. This is but another example of our efforts to build not for today alone, but for tomorrow as well.
FDR’s mutual admiration for the men of the CCC is well documented, as are instances of men falling in love with their companies’ parks, one being captured beautifully by our own Anthony Myers. Yet most of the stories of the three million individuals who were employed in the program over its nine year existence are lost to history—their adventures only kept alive through family anecdotes about uncle Cyrus or great-grandpa Rufus.
One of the joys of traveling to our parks, however, is discovering the hidden stories of these men and their connection to their workplace and historical moment. Sometimes you find yourself hiking through an abandoned clearing that once housed a company of corpsmen. If you’re lucky, you will find a clipping of the Corps’ national newspaper “Happy Days” hanging in a visitors center. The following poem comes from such a clipping. Its author, Lyman Husted, does not return any promising results in Google inquires. All that is known about Lyman is that he served with the 221st Company at Ft. Hancock, New Jersey, a unit of Gateway National Recreation Area, in 1933. His words, however, remain to speak to what life was like in a CCC camp and the overwhelming admiration of its residents towards their champion, President Roosevelt.
The 221st Company Psalm
Roosevelt’s my shepherd; I shall not
He maketh me to lie down on straw
He leadest me inside a messhall;
He restoreth to me a job.
He leadest me in the paths of reforestation
For his country’s sake.
Yea, though I walk thru the valley of
The shadow of poison oak and poison ivy
I will fear no evil, for he is for me.
His blankets and O. D. uniforms,
they comfort me.
He prepared a saw and an axe before
me in the
Presence of my commanding officers.
He anointest my mind with discipline.
My shoes runneth over from marching.
Surely beans and employment will
All the days of Roosevelt’s administration
And I shall dwell in a tent forever.
Photos courtesy of the Gateway National Recreation Area Museum Archives and the National Park Service