Reflection from Barry Hollister
The following excerpt is a story told by Barry Hollister at the Pendle Hill Conference for Quaker conscientious objectors. The story was told during the section on the impact of CPS and recalls the issue of CPS work often relating to military interests:
I can't give the date but some time in probably '44 I had a phone call from a man I'd never heard of who announced himself as Camp Director of a Mennonite Soil Conservation Service Camp and said, "We're about to be ordered to do harvesting sugar beets--emergency farm work. Isn't that pretty close to war work?"
And I said, "Well, I don't have any idea."
Well, he said, "Could you help us find out?"
So I did. I went to the guys we knew in soil conservation in the Agriculture Department and asked about the war implications. The billboards around the county where this camp was said, "Harvest the beets to get sugar to make alcohol to make gunpowder to help the guys at the front." This was almost the total community outlook. Well I asked my friend in the Soil Conservation, "Is this one of those deals that when you interpret it to us in order to get the labor you make it sound as far from the war as possible but dealing with Congress and almost everybody else, you put up billboards like those making it as close to war work as possible?"
And he said, "Well, yes."
I called up Orie Miller, who has been rightfully referred to favorably here a number of times as the leading Mennonite head of staff of MCC, and he said, "Well I've had that same telegram or phone conversation from the Director. How much war work is it?"
I said, "Well, it's hard to tell. But I certainly wouldn't do it if I were in that camp. I think we ought to back him."
"Well," he said, "that's my position too." And he said, "Well, let's keep each other informed."
The next morning we got the telegram that the camp's been ordered to do this work. A hundred and eighty-five men out of the two hundred are refusing to do it and I'm [the camp director] taking the same position personally. We'll keep you informed.
Now one of the beautiful things about this is we at NSB had more current and accurate information than either the Soil Conservation Service in Washington or the Selective Service.
They were furious. "Why haven't they notified us?" And so on.
And I said, "Oh, we're your liaison people with the Mennonites. We'll keep you posted."
Well I called up Orie Miller and talked with him about it. You can see why I admired the man so terrifically.
And he said, "Well it's too late in the day for you to get over to see Colonel Kosch so call him up and tell him you're speaking for NSB and for me. Tell him first how sorry we are to cause him this kind of difficulty. After all the helpful things he's done for us. Tell him secondly that we consider it too much war work and we are supporting the men in their refusal to do it. Tell him thirdly that if this means Selective Service wants to move the camp and avoid the problem, you know just get out of that county, we'll start moving it tonight. Tell him next that if all the men have to go to prison I will go with them in the morning. And then repeat at the end how sorry we are to cause him this kind of difficulty."
Well, I never enjoyed a phone call more in my life.
And when we got to "I'll go with them in the morning" Kosch spluttered and said, "Well, we aren't going to send Orie to prison."
And I said to myself, "Well you know D--- well you aren't going to."
The next day the Soil Conservation Service and Selective Service order was rescinded.
--Taken from Friends in Civilian Public Service: Quaker Conscientious Objectors in World War II Look Back and Ahead. Wallingford: Pendle Hill, 1998. Pp. 200-2.