Reflections from Kenneth Garver

Reflections from Kenneth Garver

The following is from a presentation by Kenneth Garver and others in March 2004 sponsored by Historians Against War:


"There were about 12,000 of us in the Second World War who were conscientious objectors. We were primarily from the three historic peace churches--the Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers--and also from other denominations.

Having attended the Church of the Brethren from my birth, almost 85 years ago, I was well-schooled and taught by my parents that all violence and taking of another human life could not be supported by the teachings of Jesus Christ.

I was a third generation farmer on my grandfather's farm, south of Boardman [a southern suburb of Youngstown]. Following graduation from high school, and working with my family during 1937-38, I applied to the Cooperative Engineering School of General Motors Institute and was accepted. For three and a half years, on an alternating monthly basis, I went to school and worked at the AC Sparkplug division of General Motors in Flint, Michigan.

After Pearl Harbor, AC started building machine guns and other war-related products. Feeling the hypocrisy of helping directly in this work, I quit work and was not permitted to continue the three months of school needed for graduation.

Returning home I was scheduled to take the Army physical in Detroit. I failed because of a heart murmur. My older brother had been deferred for farming, and rather than replace him I worked for a year as a tool grinder at Mazda GE in Youngstown.

During this year my classification was changed to 4E, Conscientious Objector. A second physical in Akron found no objectionable heart murmur.

The next year and a half I worked at a former CCC camp in Pennsylvania. It was totally church-supported. We were paid $2.50 a month, for postage and so forth. My wife Beth and I were married October 1, 1944. Returning to camp, I helped close it to make it ready for use by German prisoners of war.

Many of us then transferred to a veterans' hospital in New Jersey. It was a challenging experience. After the Japanese surrender, many of us were accepted as "sea-going cowboys." We transported 860 bred mares in converted Victory ships to devastated cities in Europe. Following a trip to Gdansk, Poland, and a second to Bremen, Germany, I received my discharge papers.

This was in 1946.

In my work as part of the Civilian Public Service program, I feel that what I did as an attendant to the suffering and disadvantaged men at the hospital was most beneficial in meeting human needs. However, the sight of bombed-out cities and starving people of Europe, who had eaten most of their farm animals, made a lasting impression on me regarding the futility of war."


--Taken from We Won't Go: Narratives of Resistance, edited by Staughton Lynd. See: Historians Against War Resources.