Opposing The War


March 24, 1991|By Carleton Jones

In Maryland that year the hope was that the Depression wa finally over. Out west the nation's very first diesel-powered freight train went into service. Real estate was still a bargain. A 680-acre estate near Denton on the Eastern Shore sold at auction for $9,700, including a fine, 60-year-old mansion.

Spring 1941. Adolf Hitler is at high tide, with France on its knees and pax Germanica triumphant all over Europe.

In the upper reaches of Patapsco State Park near Avalon, men wade through the brush and weeds to a series of long, dark,

gray-green barracks. The structures are a remnant of the early 1930s and the Civilian Conservation Corps, FDR's make-work program for the male unemployed.

The campsite is destined to become the home for the nation's conscientious objectors, who are beginning to surface now that the draft law is in effect. A reporter follows the inspecting crew as they poke through deteriorated roofs and windows and test floors and doors of the abandoned camp.

Plans are quickly drawn to build a country camp for the Middle Atlantic's first conscientious objectors to military service in World War II. The former CCC library will become a chapel for the men. Partitions are built in the old barracks to separate the long dorms into two small "more homelike units."

It is still spring when the men start coming into the camp, 50 strong from 16 religious congregations. First they will help fix up the abandoned place, then go into jobs such as brush clearance, conservation, reforestation and the freshening up of park equipment, picnic tables and benches, retaining walls, etc. Public shelters and campsites are part of the assignment. One squad of the COs will commute to College Park to work in state nurseries.

The men (or a sponsor in their church) pay $35 a month for their room and board, out of which they may take $2.50 a month as an allowance for sundries -- even in 1941 a picayune sum. ("The men can't do much on this," a camp supervisor admitted.)

The largest group of men are from the Society of Friends; the second largest are Presbyterians. Fifteen of the 50 recruits had been salesmen in civilian life, four had been teachers and three farmers. The group even included one public opinion analyst.

The men drew kitchen police (KP) detail, and they performed desk and clerical work and kept a laundry going. Evenings were free for movies and bull sessions.

Proctor Twitchell of Greenbelt, one of the COs, was an Amherst College graduate and a Presbyterian. He told reporters he "couldn't remember a time" when he wasn't "opposed to the use of force." Carroll O'Neill, a 24-year-old Baltimore Polytechnic Institute math teacher, was an anti-war worker for the Society of Friends. He said he would be willing to work on a boat shipping food (but not armaments or warriors) to the war zone.

Lyman Fish, a 29-year-old CO, was a distant cousin of U.S. Representative Hamilton Fish, of the House Foreign Relations Committee, famous for his clashes with FDR. Young Lyman told somewhat nonplused reporters that his ancestors had been COs in both the Civil War and the American Revolution.

By August of the next year, the COs numbered 84. They were soon moved to a newer, larger camp at Powellville on the Eastern Shore, and the Avalon installation was used for other government purposes.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed the COs passed a camp resolution, a sort of code expressing faith in their action.

"As citizens, we have all the obligations which belong to others," they noted. They ended with a statement that looked ahead positively:

8, "We must help the U.S. win the peace." *

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