Lecturer makes appearance at NR Library
AUTHOR — Bill Jamerson, right, holds a copy of his book he signed for Margaret Ann Chicos at the New Richland Public Library Thursday, April 23. (Star Eagle photo by Nicole Billing)
By NICOLE BILLING
New Richland Public Library hosted Bill Jamerson on Thursday, April 23.
Jamerson goes around the country giving presentations on the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC camps were all military run with long bunkhouses and mess halls. There were libraries and blacksmith shops. The camps were basically self-sufficient and were most 5 to 15 miles from the nearest town.
Jamerson started the presentation by telling a story he heard from one of the CC boys. One day in April 1937 a sergeant walked into one of the bunkhouses and held up a CCC pillowcase. He said to the boys that each one of them was going to spend 25 cents on a pillowcase to send to their mother for Mother’s Day. The men then instantly began grumbling because 25 cents was a lot back then.Questions immediately began coming like, “Do we have to buy them?” “Are they really 25 cents?” “What if we don’t have 25 cents?” The answer to the last question was simple, “Borrow it.” One boy, named Bobby Hanson raised his hand and said, “Sir, I’m an orphan. I don’t have a mother.” The sergeant looked at him and said, “Borrow one.” So Bobby turned to his best friend Mario and said, “Can I borrow your mother?”
After getting an affirmative answer, Bobby wrote his letter. He opened it with “Dear Borrowed Mother” and signed it “Love, Your Borrowed Son.” This started a correspondence between the two. After six months of sending letters, Bobby received a letter that was slightly different than the others, the word borrowed had been scratched off. He sent back a letter in the same fashion; the next letter he received started “Dearest Robert” and was signed “Love, Mother.”
Several more letters later, the mother asked what he was doing after his enlistment to the CCC was over. He sent back that he was thinking of touring the Grand Canyon. “No, you’re coming home,” the letter stated. This letter got him so worked up that he started to tear a little, causing all the other boys to find something else to do. He went home with Mario and stayed there for two years before enlisting in World War II. When he got back from the war, he encountered something he did not expect: Mario’s little sister was no longer little. She was 18 now instead of 13 and they ended up falling in love. They eventually married and Bobby joined the family in a way no one had expected.
After that story, Bill started to play the guitar. He sang a song that he had written about the event. He also put the story in his book. After entertaining the crowd, he went on to explain some of the history of the CCC. He even asked a few people from the audience about their own stories about CCC members. A few of them had fathers who had been a CC boy and one woman had two brothers who had were CC boys. One of her brothers had stayed while the other had gotten homesick and went home. Bill mentioned that a lot of them did get homesick and go home, which was fine because being a CC boy was completely free for them. The Army even sent a letter to the family stating what had happened and that they would take them back if they wanted. They would be punished on coming back for going AWOL, but most of them did eventually go back.
Jamerson stated, “A lot of the CC boys weren’t choir boys. They were actually people who committed crimes. Now, none of them had records, but they were all heading that way. The CCC helped a lot of people who would have had no other chance a choice to do something right.” He went on to mention how the juvenile crime rate in Chicago went down 55% during 1933-1935. The main focus of the CCC in Minnesota was planting trees, building roads, and putting out forest fires. After they were done working for the day and finished eating, the boys went to class. Twenty percent of them got their 8th grade diploma. Some of them even went on to get their college correspondence degree.
The CC boys weren’t always welcome at first. Many of the farmers and people in the town thought they were no good city folk and were going to take jobs away from them. Eventually they were able to win the hearts of the locals, especially with their Samaritan acts. There are plenty of stories about little kids getting lost in the woods or falling off dams where the CC boys all saved them. One story from Minnesota was where a woman was going into labor during a blizzard and couldn’t get out. Eighty CC boys came out to her place and shoveled their way to the hospital with a half hour to spare.
By 1937, the amount of work the CC was doing was slowly starting to decline. “This is due largely to Germany invading Poland. Mothers were keeping their sons out of the CC in fear that the Army would recruit them into a war that nobody wanted. Of course, the CC was completely disbanded after Pearl Harbor. About 80 percent of the CC boys enlisted into the Army and fought in the war,” Jamerson stated. Most of the abandoned CC camps were quickly dismantled since they were quickly constructed and far from any towns. The ones that were close to towns were used as fairgrounds for about 10-20 years before they began to fall apart and new ones were created.