Biography of Virgil R. Sams
CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Camp Twin Camps, Lompoc, California
United States Army
I joined the organization on January 8, l937 and spent my 23 months in Co. 2950, SCS 9, Lompoc, California. Our camp was called the "Twin Camps."
I joined the CCC in 1937 (January). Rode the "Big Red car" to the L A Terminal in and was provided transportation to the CCC Van Nuys induction center. My first job in the corps was to help the doctors who gave the recruits their induction physicals. (Many of the men would faint at the sight of the needle when they got their shots) and it was my job to keep them from injuring themselves when they fell. I thoroughly enjoyed the life especially when I saw the army type barracks and was issued two wool blankets with a big "U. S." stamped in the center of each!
The blankets of course were old army ones. Our canteens in '37-8 were just plain every day tin containers about 11 inches in diameter by approximately 4 inches thick and covered by a striped layer of heavy cloth. I think NOTHING was made espcially for us! The more enterprising enrollees were quick to adapt to anything useful!
Some CCC Companies I know had foot lockers for their belongings. We, in 2950 didn't have 'em. They were not issued and were too expensive to buy! Once in awhile a salesman would appear out of the woodwork to peddle them but they were always too expensive. I suppose in later years the Govt. supplied them but not in my day!! In 2950 a footlocker had to be special. We lived out of a barracks bag and special stand up lockers at the end of each barracks. I eventually saved enough to buy a footlocker long after I left the CCCs. Just before moving to Oregon 21 yeaers ago I tossed it away. We did okay without footlockers in my CCC Camp, Strangely enough there was little theft in 2950!
In January of 1937 when I arrived at the camp with other newly enrolled men, rain was falling. We learned later that our new home was Co. 2950, SCS-9 ( Soil Conservation ) in Lompoc, California. Company 2950 was half of Twin Camps, the other half being Co. 1951, a different camp that was in charge of restoring an old Spanish mission nearby. Co. 1951 I believe was under the command of the National Park Service. They had the task of restoring the old La Purisima Mission that was flattened by an earthqake in the latter part of 1776 if I am not mistaken. Co. 1951 did a fine job of restoration. Today the mission is as neat as a pin. But that was later.
The storm that was bringing the rain when I first arrived at Company 2950 wasn't an ordinary rainstorm, it was a genuine "California Ringtailed" cloudburst and it dragged on for weeks. In fact, all members of the two camps worked diligently in order to keep them from washing away and it seemed an endless process. We recruits would work in the rain all day alongside the old timers and when night came we'd go to the barracks tired and wet, secure in the false knowledge that a good day's work had made our surroundings safe - but nothing was "safe" in the downpour! The next morning all of the work done on the previous day would have been washed away and it was back to making the camp secure for one more night - and so it went for a week. There was so much rain that some wise guy climbed a tower and poured a can of water into the camp's rain guage. The next morning the weatherman was startled to find that "It rained 63 inches last night !!!!" He was suspicious of course, and after a couple of nights of phony rainfall of well over 50 inches the daily report was discontinued. The sun eventually came out, quail resumed their chattering in the brush on the hillside and the men returned to what the old timers called a "normal" existence - an existence that consisted of eating at regular hours ( a new experience for some of the lads during those depressed days ), sleeping ( on clean, white sheets no less ), and WORKING!
When a man joined the corps he had no idea where he would be sent or what kind of work he would be doing. It was much like agreeing to have one's hat thrown into the air and stand where it hit the ground.
Some of the men were surprised to find that a few army officers lived in the camp. Co 2950 was much like the army. It had a first sergeant, mess sergeant, a 1st lieutenant who was the medical officer from Ft. McArthur, California, a 1st lieutenant who was the Company Commander and five sergeants, also called "crew leaders", and each sergeant had a corporal. Captain Tornell (Promoted from 1st Lt). was the commanding officer and a strict military disciplinarian.
Military drills were rare in some camps. They were not practiced to a great extent in Co. 2950 except for evening retreat and inspections. It was up to the commanding officer who was allowed to hold retreat (lowering of the flag for the day), and a formal inspection any time was at his discretion.
Inspection of barracks was daily and as a former barracks leader I must say that the old man insisted that they be spotless.-and kept that way! A Major or officer of high rank would double check on the inspecting officers before the flag for "Best Camp" was awarded.
The "Best camp" idea is all army and a yard wide! It was simply a flag that was given to the camp that maintained the best standard for the month. It wasn't exactly competition that encouaged it -- it was usually the Commanding officer's desire to have the recognition that went with the award. He inspected the barracks daily (when he was bucking for "Best Camp" award) after we went to work. The barracks leaders received a thorough chewing out at lunch formation if all was not correct. As a former Sergeant in army and the CCC I speak from experience! For Company 2950 to have one bed with a wrinkle in a blanket was a disaster! The reward for the winner of the "Best Camp" flag was that we got our "Pitcha took" and printed in the ninth corp areas paper. Of course the Commanding officer was soundly congrulated by those in the upper brass echelon for HIS fine work and it was entered on HIS record. Even though much of it was a pain in the neck I feel that it was beneficial to me. To this day I make my own bed without a wrinkle showing!
I have heard that some CCC outfits inspections were made the tougher with dress uniforms, forest green ones complete with patches with the CCC seal. I am not at all familiar with the forest green uniforms! I left the corp in '38. Perhaps they were later. Patches and seals? Such things were unknown in my camp! Our clothing was All army! Olive drab. Squeaky shoes and all! The only hat we wore (when we wore hats) were the army fatigue hats of blue denim. On entering the CCC each man was issued a ww one overseas cap, the same nutty looking thing that is seen in WW1 movies today. The men simply refused to wear them. We wore the standard army tie that was worn tucked into the olive drab wool shirt. (between the second and third button from the top) The tie was worn only on special occasions such as daily retreat (lowering of the flag) or when going on leave or when we expected a visit by a high ranking army officer!
Within limits, discipline was enforced as far as possible and its enforcement seems to have been left to the discretion of the company commander, usually a first lieutenant or Captain, the latter in our case. Nothing was said if a man wasn't happy with CCC life and simply walked away peacefully never to return. To leave in such a manner was frowned upon, however it often happened but since the CCC wasn't the regular army it was not grounds for severe punishment. The fact was simply noted on the deserter's official discharge.
One method of determining discipline in camp was the Record of Hearing. In my camp (Co. 2950) a record of hearing could be called by any sgt. or corporal on any man when orders were disobeyed. HOWEVER, the record of hearing was determined by the commanding officer who listened to both sides and decided if the accused was guilty or innocent. 99.9% of the time the accused was found guilty since a sgt. or corporal would not press charges unless they were ironbound with witnesses. Such procedures were rare and my camp is the only one that made use of it to any extent. (It must be remembered that the C.O. was the lord of the domain!! At least in my camp) If the charge were serious enough the guilty party could be forcibly discharged which was rare. I believe the threat of being dragged before the C.O. was enough to make a believer of most CCC men.
The Record of Hearing was not universal. It came about in the mind of the commanding officer I suppose. The C O in this instance was all army and the enrolees were, one might say, civilians. The Record of Hearing was a frightening prospect for them and it was used by those in power to make the men "toe the line" when necessary. It was ptobably unheard of in most camps and to be taken before the C O because of an offence made one's knees rattle. Believe me it was a frightrning thing to stand before the army C O in his office with its sparse furniture. (One stood at attention before him and wouldn't even think of sitting in the only chair in the room with the exception of the one he was sitting in.) The entire procedure took only about three minutes and "Justice" was done! Constitutional Rights, Freedom if speech and the fifth amendment?? It was understood by the accused that he had these rights but it would be much easier to "keep his nose clean" than use them! Of course more serious crimes were turned over to the local or state police.
The following is a little story about a character who gave me fits until... His name was Karl Wodjic and had a mouth that never stopped talking! After "lights out" at night when most of the men in the barracks were trrying to get some sleep Wodjic was talking-endlessly!! I would beg and plead with him in my effort to make him shut up with the arrival of lights out but it was wasted effort! I eventuallay had to threaten him witth a "record of hearing" wherein the man would be tried before the commanding officer. (I imagine it could be called a CCC court martial) Even this threat had no effect and Wodjic's eyes stuck out like a couple of grapes when I reported him to the C.O. and asked for a Record of hearing on Karl Wodjic and it was readily granted. He was found guilty of disobeying orders and told to speak only when spoken to for a period of two weeks! Rather than be under the boot of enforced silence, Wodjic "walked" and we never saw him again!
As for me, I firmly believe that I would have "walked" if I had been forced to take the Mess Sergeant's job. In the CCC if a man wanted to be a cook or baker he bugged the First Sergeant for permanent K,P, duty and worked his way up from there. But I can say without hesitation that I had no desire to listen to the complaints of the K.P.'s (kitchen police). The mess sergeant certainly earned his pay.
Wherever men are thrown together it is customary for them to complain about the food-especially army food! But in truth it was good! It was good even in the 30's. SPAM powdered eggs and powdered milk Were latecomers. I recall the names of those who complained the loudest. They seldom ate regularly or came from the more affluent homes before joining the CCC and they complained about the food!! I will not mention their names. Perhaps I didn't know good food when I saw it!
Oftentimes the mess sergeant would witness a disagreement between a couple men who would be angrily clubbing one another with boxing gloves while their buddies stood four deep around the ring and loudly urged them on. Such combat was legal in Co. 2950 BUT the fight had to be witnessed and refereed by an army officer. On seeing such mayhem the mess sergeant would usually mumble, "been feeding 'em too much red meat!"
Memories of the mess sergeant, cooks and K.P.'s brings to mind a cook we had in our outfit. He was a heavy drinker who could never be caught in the act. One morning we fell out for breakfast and found the flag at half staff. The cook had died of consuming too much alcohol. The commanding officer detailed four men to find his empty bottles but they met with failure. A month after the case was all but forgotten, a gallon jug containing a few drops of vanilla extract ( the main ingredient is alcohol ) was found buried in a large G.I. can of cornmeal! It was obvious that when the cook became thirsty he'd dig through the cornmeal, retrieve the jug and have a snort or two of vanilla. Sadly, the night before we found the flag at half staff he had hit the jug a few too many times and fell over the brink of darkness into eternity to await the sound of Gabriel's horn. To give credit where credit is due, when many of them men were on leave the cook served the finest cold cuts in the world !
Much of the clothing, blankets, overcoats, etc., was at the start, surplus from World War One and smelled of wool and mothballs. For the first time in my life I had TWO pair of shoes (G.I.) and they squeaked like a rusty gate when I walked. I went home to visit my mother on my first leave and asked a shoemaker if he could do something to the shoes. He smiled and said "I can't help you son. Those are army shoes and the army doesn't care how loud they squeak."
He said he might be able to stop the terrible noise by driving wooden pegs into the soles but it would cost thirty-five cents. At the time thirty-five cents was a tremendous amount of money to a man who existed on three dollars a month in canteen checks. I soon learned to be happy with shoes that sounded like a couple of enraged cats fighting at midnight. After all I was blessed with TWO free pair!
On 1937 the CCC paid each man $30.00 a month which was army pay. In my case, twenty-seven of the thirty went home to help support my mother and I got THREE. The three dollars was in the form of canteen checks that were good only at the company canteen for the purchase of razor blades, soap, tooth paste and other necessities. It wasn't much but I did all of my own laundry, didn't smoke or drink, so I didn't use much. The entire company was paid in these canteen checks only. I do not recall having been paid in anything but canteen checks!!--BUT there was a fellow in my unit who, every payday would buy a bottle of cheap whiskey, and get drunker than a skunk. Where did he get the money? He must have been paid with somthing other than canteen checks! Possibly I do not remember because I never used the system! I had very little use for cash at that time and I would have been scared silly to have had access to two whole dollars every month! I do not remember any provision for the canteen to handle cash! Even those who gambled for money used canteen checks!!
As in all things, someone, in some way will find a method to beat the system. Some of the boys would dash home after payday and get the remaining $27.00, return to camp and lend it to others at a rate of interest that would shock Jesse James the train robber. "I'll lend you five dollars now for ten on payday!" would often be heard. I thought it was criminal at first but after a while I felt that he who willingly consented to such financial suicide deserved to be picked like a scalded chicken. But I never could bring myself to be a money lender. One "well heeled" fellow in my outfit was an Indian lad known as "The Pepper King". He loved hot, pickled peppers and ate them in bunches like grapes. He didn't drink or smoke and it was known that he had a truck load of folding money ( maybe even as much as fifteen dollars ) that some of the other men were continually trying to borrow. Eventually the Pepper King became annoyed by the constant nagging and he hit on a plan. He agreed to GIVE two dollars to the man who could eat five peppers directly from the jar in five minutes. The peppers were too large to be swallowed whole and had to be chewed. The King kept his word and was no longer bothered after four men failed to get past the first three peppers. They openly wept and suffered terribly from a severe case of "Spanish Heartburn" as they wore a path to the latrine the next day. It was those who had paid ten dollars on payday for five today who tried to eat the peppers. They were the type who would yell "butts" and fight for what was left of a cigarette when they saw a butt tossed on the ground. It was common practice for the retriever to share the butt with his buddies until it was too short to remain on a sliver of wood no larger than a tooth pick.
The pool table and card tables were enough to satisfy most of the men. Once in a great while a man with a projector would drop by and show a movie but it was rare.
Those of us who didn't play pool or cards attended classes that were taught by anyone who knew more than his students and wanted to teach. The highlight of camp life for many was the opportunity to attend a night class of some sort. Co. 2950, as did many other camps that had the personnel capable of teaching, offered classes in spelling, grammar and photography to name a few. The camp commander ( a gung ho army officer ) taught basic army foot movements on the side and what he taught was to our advantage when most of us were drafted into the army a few years later.
Photography was taught by Mr Willard T. Day (Now deceased) It was indeed a great thrill to go to town and buy a vial of developer for 15 cents and develop a roll of black and white by hand in a tray! I learned photography while in camp and have an album full of pix.
Occasionally a photographer would pass who would take a group photo and sell them to the men at a reasonable price at the PX. The Camp had a publication called "The Lompoc Ladle" that printed all the camp's accomplishments. I, being something of a packrat have CCC duty rosters and a couple of orders I swiped from the bulletin board. The CCC stationery that some off the orders that were written (by me) upon was one of the products sold to us by local business men. It was crude but we bought a lot of it. The woods were full of "con men" who would pick the pockets of a CCC boy at the first opportunity. Salesmen were always trying to sell something with a CCC theme to the PX operator, often as not with a great deal of success. I picked up a few things at the PX such as a brass emblem that says CCC. I still wear it on my cap today along with a WW2 Third Army patch (Anti-Aircraft Artillery).
The Contaminated Can
It is indeed strange how things come to mind that have not been thought of for more than 50 years, The following is an example:
In the early part of '37 we were told by Mr Morrison , the camp superintendent, that we were to be the members of a "spike" camp that was to build a dam near Arroyo Grande some 50 miles from our main camp. I had no idea what a 'spike" camp might be but being young and full of vinegar I was willing t find out.
We piled everything on the truck that might needed to last until the main ingredients of a spike camp arrived in a few days, All went well until we approached the outskirts of the thriving community of Santa Maria about 30 miles from our destination. The driver of our truck pulled to the side of the road as he explained to the sergeant that with all the excitement of loading, he had forgotten to check the engine oil level before leaving camp. He raised the hood and called for the gallon can that he had filled with oil on the same night the man at the PX had given it to him in the event of such emergencies as this. The driver added a quart of oil, slammed the hood and once again we were on our way.- for a short time. The driver wound the truck up to fifty miles per hour with ease but soon dropped down a gear and within a short time had trouble keeping the truck in motion in first gear on the perfectly level highway with the throttle all the way to the floor. It was at that point that the driver ordered every one to dismount and push which did no good whatsoever since something was drastically wrong. The truck's radiator was steaming and the motor was bound up tighter than a drumhead.
The truck was towed back to camp and the engine was dismantled to find the reason for the failure.
The pistons had to be driven out of the cylinders with a sledge hammer since they appeared to be coated with a layer of oily sugar. At first it was felt by the C O that the truck had been sabotaged because some of the men wanted nothing to do with a spike camp. However this suspicion was soon discarded when the sergeant stood solidly by his men and said , "No way is that possible." On closer investigation it was found that the driver of the damaged vehicle did not thoroughly rinse the can that was given to him by the PX man and as a result a good portion of the "oil" in the recently "empty" can that was given to the driver was, in reality a soft drink syrup!
It Takes a Thief
I have often heard the old saying "he was so crooked he'd steal the pennies off a dead man's eyes". I didn't see the point until I was 19 years old and enrolled in the CCC.
We had all waited patiently for the carnival to come to town in the summer of '37 as advertised . To avoid accepting a ride into town in Hap Buntle's 1936 Ford that Hap drove at 70 mph with CCC nen hanging on like flies on a doughnut , I left camp on foot an hour early and went directly to the "Boxer's Corner" of the carnival where the barker offered $50.00 to anyone who would stay with his man for three rounds of boxing and I found, to my horror, that Bob Eels, one of the best men on my crew had agreed to do battle with the professional.
Everyone was listening with great interest to the barker who, of course, was giving all of the good points of the CCC man that he had never seen before in his entire life. The 20 CCC men in the densely packed crowd were present to give moral support to our man who had guts and the desire to possibly make fifty dollars. Eels and everyone else knew that he couldn't win since the "carnie" fighter knew all the tricks in the book, nevertheless, it is said that ''hope springs eternal in the human heart." While waiting for the crowd to grow (which meant more dimes in the carnival's coffers), the barker lowered his voice as he spieled. He took a step backward to make more room for those who would pay a thin dime to see the bout. All the while he kept his eyes in a little man who stood behind me. I didn't give the man behind me much thought until I felt him fumbling around in my hip pocket trying to remove my billfold I pretended not to notice as I casually reached behind my back and grasped the arm and hand that was deep in my pocket. The little guy almost fainted from fright and managed to ask, "C-c-an your m-man take care of himself?"
"He's as hard as nails and twice as ugly," I answered as I held the little 110 lb. man off the ground at arms length. I had no intention of harming the man I just wanted to put the fear of the CCC in his heart forever and to this day I feel that I was successful. He wiggled and squirmed in a feeble attempt to escape but I held him as if he were nothing more than a hundred lb. sack of cement! As the llttle one kicked and dangled in my hand I stole a glance at the barker who had seen it all. He was smiling broadly. There was something between him and the little thief. The barker''s eyes pleaded with me not to harm the little guy and I shook my head that I would not. The barker seemed relieved and continued in his praise of the CCC man that he didn't know from Adam.
Eels lost the fight of course, even if he did whip the snot out of the "carnie" fighter but Eels wasn't disappointed. He lost on a technicality that was thrown in when it became obvious that he would win the fight. I had to talk like a devoted father to convince my men that it would tarnish our image if they took the carnival apart a tent at a time and blew their noses on the rest.
The only reason I can see why the barker was so interested in the thief's welfare is that the little thief must have owed him a sizeable chunk of cash!
and what happened to the little thief? He probably turned into a BIG thief!
The Brush Ape is Missing
Only a few people under the age of fifty have heard of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). The corps was one of the first and most successful of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" proposals in government after he was elected to office for his first term in '32.
The CCC was a volunteer work force consisting of young men who were unemployed during the Great Depression. The corps built roads, trails, and facilities in our National parks that will serve our citizen for years to come. The manpower of the corps was of great service to the nation in that its many members were available to fight fire during the rainless months.
It was four o'clock in the afternoon when a pickup from our motor pool came to a stop at one of our many projects. The driver shouted through the cloud of dust the truck brought with it.
"Fire," he shouted. "Let's get with it!" The men dropped what they were doing and ran for their truck that took them to camp where they hastily gathered their fire fighting gear and a brown bag lunch. We were soon speeding to the fire that was miles away. After a seven hour ride we were still six miles from the fire when the road ended. We welcomed the six mile hike to the scene of the fire after the tiresome ride. After another ten hours of back breaking work the fire was said to be "contained" and we were ordered back to camp. The truck was a welcome sight when it came into view and on arrival the sergeant called the roll before leaving to be certain that no one would be left behind. To no ones surprise the bungling "Brush Ape" was not there! If anyone could be depended on to drop a handful of sand into the well oiled works and foul up the machinery it was the bungling, dull witted, six foot eleven, 280 pound Brush Ape. Brush Ape Morgan had arrived in camp a few months before and had been given several nicknames including "Sasquatch," "Bigfoot," and "Frankenstein," however "Brush Ape" seemed to be the most fitting so the name stuck.
A ranger in the area who was preparing for the return trip to the stables with his mules that were commonly used as pack animals, dropped a strap he was holding and moved toward the group when he heard that Brush Ape was missing. He stopped before the sergeant and spoke.
"Don't worry about your missing man," he said, "Ol' Al and his mules ain't here yet and Al don't leave the scene of a fire 'til the last dog is dead. When he gets here your man will more'n likely be with him." He glanced at his shadow on the ground then squinted at the sun to estimate the time and added, "Id say that Al and his team will be here in about an hour." The men had heard what had been said and prepared to wait for the next hour to pass-the longest hour in most of their young lives. They talked in low tones about "good ol' Brush Ape just as if they had recently buried the body. There was some speculation on how long a man would live in this burned over hell hole without water. Some said a single day, others said two. Right or wrong they all knew that he didn't carry single drop of water with him. One man put the question of water aside and described what the reaction might be if Brush Ape's remains were found at some time in the distant future. "look at the size of this skeleton," they'd probably say. "I don't believe it!"
The ranger returned to his team and completed the hook-up with all the patience of a man who had nothing better to do, stood by to await the return of the man, or volunteer to join the search party if need be. After an hour of squinting down the deserted trail he suddenly stood erect and almost shouted. "Ol' Al's a comin' and your man is with him." Everyone thought the Ranger suffered from too much sun when they looked down the trail and saw nothing but shimmering heat waves.
"They're in the valley a'comin' up this side! Keep your eyes peeled. They'll show in a few seconds," he said. Sure enough the first mule appeared, then the second, the third and still no Brush Ape was to be seen. It was rapidly becoming plain that the Ranger had actually spent too much time in the hot sun. When the sixth and final mule came into view Brush Ape was seen hanging on to its shaggy tail and stumbling along on the dusty trail. The men, greatly relieved at seeing their bungling friend alive and well, mounted their truck as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Al stopped his team to talk with the Ranger.
"I found this," he said, pointing toward the Brush Ape, "asleep under an unburned bush down by Manzanita Flats. I wouldn't let him ride out. Had plenty of room. Made him hold on to ol' George's tail and walk all the way so every time he looked up he'd know what he is when he sleeps while his friends is fightin' fire."
Fire season had much to do with how long some men stayed in the CCC. Some would join when fire season was over and stay until it began "walking". There was danger involved in fire fighting and it was felt by many that the danger was worth far more than thirty a month. Others stayed especially FOR the fire season! It offered a break in camp monopoly. To me it was a big thrill to be on fire suppression duty. I thought it great to work on the project all day, get a fire call at four in the afternoon, run by the mess hall and pick up a sandwich, ride a truck all night, get five miles from the blaze and hike across the mountains to the fire then go to work. That was living - and for thirty a month!
There were others devoted to the CCC in the way that a man would be devoted to his family. The corps was their mother, father, sister and brother and they wept when it was discontinued! One fellow in Co. 2950 enrolled when the organization came into being in the early days of the depression and it was said that he stayed until WW2. There was little complaining from those who stayed and there was little time for singing.
The stories I could tell about dogs brought to camp by the men in the CCC and army!! There was a nut who was transferred to our camp at Riverside Calif. who would plink on his geeeetar all night in the latrine. He was eventually given his walking papers and sent to another outfit.
To the best of my memory dental inspections were held regularly. When it was known that the dentist would arrive on a certain day the "treadle expert" would be selected. (He was the man who supplied the leg power that it took to make the dentist's drill "go") Woe be unto he who was in need of drilling or filling! I believe I would be safe in saying that the dentist was responsible for separating the men from the boys in those days. When the drill was stuffed into the man"s mouth and he didn't scream, he was made of the right stuff. It is my opinion that there is nothing more terrifying than the pitiful cries of a dentist's patient who is begging for mercy at the hands of a sadistic dentist who is operating the old, slow treadle drill. Gad!! How fortunate were we who had sound teeth!
I don't know about the others but 2950 had an army doctor and a two bed "hospital."
During the rainy season off "38 we were caught outside and got quite wet. Rain was falling when the lights were turned on and we were awakened by the sound of the "canned" bugle. One of the boys (a good man) complained of not "feeling well" and could hardly get out of bed. I told him that I would immediately send for a coupe of stretcher bearers to take him to our hospital but somehow he sneaked away and walked BAREFOOT in the rain to the hospital. I called the doctor, who, on examining the patient, at once called Ft. McArther for an ambulance. The patient was pronounced dead from pneumonia shortly thereafter. I should rememer the boy's name but I do not even though I remember him well. We would admire him when he would chin himself using one arm then drop to the floor and do five push ups ussing the same arm! Oh, how we admired him!!! It is probaly just as well that he was taken by pneumonia in '38 rather than be taken by the war in '44 as happened to a great many highly admired young men. That seems to be standard operating procedure in nature!
The toughest thing I ever had to do (up to that time) was to face the lad's parents and try to explain how it happened. I was just a kid of 19 but fortunately the parents were very understanding . I felt much better when they said, "Forget it! It could have happened to any one of you."
The men in Co. 2950 built concrete lined ditches, Used heavy equipment to dig "bathtubs" on the hillsides to catch and hold rainwater. We built reinforced concrete check dams to prevent erosion, helped prevent mud slides during rainy weather to keep the roads clear, and cleaned ditches to insure good water flow. The agronomy crew dropped poison grain in gopher holes and in the burrows of other harmful pests, and we fought bush fires! What work you did depended on which project you to which you were assigned.
A typical day started wth everyone being woken up for work. Until the middle of '38 my CCC camp had no bugler. In mid-year a public address system was sisnstalled and we were awakened by a "canned" bugle call! Before that the charge of quarters or 1st Sgt flipped the light switch which indicated that it was time to "rise and shine".
The duty roster had been posted the night before, therefore, each man knew his diuties for the day. After breakfast we would go to the project that was laid out and surveyed by the engineers who had given us the approximate time it would take for completion that varied considerably, depending on the type of earth where the dam or ditch had to be built. And then to work! After work it was mostly the same as the night before--read awhile--a game of pool--a shower then to bed before lights out. Those were what I calleds the good old days!
"The project" , in my case, was usually a concrete check dam, a cement lined ditch or even ditch digging with an "ignorant stick" ( shovel). In the Soil Conservation Service we built concrete check dams across gullies to catch and hold back eroded soil when the rains fell. The dams were made of concrete reinforced with steel. Sand, rock, lumber and reinforcing steel was hauled to the site by truck. The forms were built, the steel placed and tried, the cement mixed and taken from the mixer by wheelbarrow and poured into the forms. This often took months to accomplish but in the end it was worth the effort. Today productive fields exist where previously there was a canyon gouged from the earth by the eroding rains.
Other than the concrete check dams, we also built cement lined ditches and taught the farmers to plow AROUND the hills instead of DOWN to prevent the rain from washing away the farm. If one will visit the countryside around Lompoc, California, he will find many remnants of the work of Co, 2950 that were built over 60 years ago.
We were always glad to see noontime come so we could go back to camp and see if we had any mail, We got or mail in the Rec hall which was in the same building as the PX. The regular army had "mail call" but my Co. did not. The mail came twice daily at approximately 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and could be picked up at the PX.
It was rarely more than 10 miles to the job site unless we were going to a fire which could be miles away. Fortunately the camp was only about two miles from town (walking distance) Oftentimes we would walk to town and would hide in the bushes on our way back to camp when we'd hear the throaty growl of Foreman Buntle's '36 Ford V-8 coming. He always drove the car with his foot in the carburetor and that Ford would FLY. I knew he'd stop to give us a lift so we'd hide in the bushes until the car rushed by like a runaway freight train rather than to accept a ride in the wild Ford V8. Buntle had a heart as large as a watermelon and the mind half the size of a small pea He was a nut! When I first arrived in camp I was totally unfamiliar with Mr. Buntle and his flying Ford so I accepted a ride from town one night. NEVER AGAIN! Hanging on to a protruding bolt head at 75 mph and braving the wind on a rough road? NEVER AGAIN! After that I always hid alongside the road when I heard the approach of Mr, Buntle's Frantic Ford.
We all admired "Old Man" Draper. We called him "Old man" because he was 22 years old and the rest of us in our CCC camp were between the ages 18 and 20.
Everyone thought Draper was the greatest. He was a man of rare quality and had the ability of a true leader of men-- the special ingredients that few men possess;. His character was felt to be as solid as Plymouth Rock and when he made a decision it was ironbound and never questioned by anyone. His words were forceful and accurate. When he said, " Let's get with it" every man on the crew tried to be the first to do so. Draper had a magic personality that warmed the blood like sunshine on a cold morning. Through the strength of his recommendation I was given his rating of crew leader when he left the Conservation Corps in '37 to seek a job in Alaska. In those days Alaska was as far away as a star and I felt that I had no hope of ever seeing him again. However he came to mind quite often. When faced with a problem of any nature on the project I would ask myself, What would Draper do in this case? In the end I would overcome the difficulty by relying on his words, "Hang in there, don't panic, THINK, and everything will be o.k."
WW2 came and as a platoon sergeant I had problems by the score and in times of stress the question would often present itself and I would ask, How would Draper handle it? I always relied on his philosophy. During those trying times disaster seemed to be the rule but the Old Man's words would come to my mind-Hang in there, don't panic, THINK, and everything will be ok.
Often it was difficult to "hang in there" as his words advised but I managed to do so.
Thirty years after he went to Alaska I was driving down a busy street in San Pedro on company business. On the sidewalk coming toward me in the distance was a man who had a strange resemblance to my old CCC crew leader Sergeant Draper. I tried to dismiss the thought that the approaching man could be Sergeant Draper since the possibility of ever seeing him again was remote. Nevertheless, I couldn't take my eyes from him as he drew closer. Excitement grew at the thought that it might be The Old Man. He was looking straight ahead intent on where he was going. When I passed him I knew for certain that it was sergeant Draper my old CCC boss. I immediately parked my car and jumped to the sidewalk and pursued my old friend. When I was directly behind him I spoke but he was so intent on gaining his destination that he didn't hear my voice. It was then that I saw an empty wine bottle in a paper sack protruding from his pocket. I had seen dozens of winos in that part of town many times in the past. I stopped at once and stared in amazement, too startled to speak again. This can't be Draper, I thought. He wouldn't be addicted to the bottle! The thought of him being a wino was too difficult for me too accept. I glanced ahead and saw in the distance a sign above the sidewalk. An arrow pointed downward toward a doorway indicating the entrance to the "West Coast Liquor Store," a doorway that I felt was Draper 's destination. I tried to convince myself that the Old Man wasn't a victim of the grape and forever stuck to the flypaper of Skid Road! It was a cool day, nevertheless, a bead of sweat dampened my forehead and I smeared it away with my shirt sleeve as a voice from the distant past cautioned me to Hang in there, don't panic, THINK, and everything will be o.k. I followed the words as usual however my panic grew and for the first time ever they offered no comfort as the Old Man hurried along the sidewalk like the common wino he was. When he came to the doorway that indicated the entrance to the West Coast Liquor Store he went inside as if to prove that my suspicion was correct. It was one of the saddest days of my life. I stood outside and watched through the open door as he stood unsteadily in front of the counter. His hands shook violently as he searched his pockets for the few pennies needed to pay for the cheap bottle of Muscatel the impatient clerk had taken from a nearby shelf. I turned from the doorway and slowly made my way to my car without speaking to The Old Man. I felt that it would be far better to remember him as he had been years ago in the CCC rather than to have him come to my home in the middle of the night, disturb my family and make a nuisance of himself while sucking on a wine bottle and babbling nonsense 'til daylight.
I taught my two children the value of his early wisdom-- nevertheless, they were warned that words are often remembered for generations but he who utters them can be like an echo that rebounds from the walls of a deserted canyon--an echo that becomes weak with time and eventually wastes away to silence. (Curator's Note this name is a psuedonym, the subject was not named Draper)
I was just one of the boys until I was promoted to sergeant and lead a crew of 27 men. That is when my trouble started! It was proof to me that "to be promoted means that you do twice the work," was a fact. Ask anyone who has had anything to do with the army. The CCC answered to the army in most instances.
As a leader in the CCC I was in charge osf the projects assigned. The foreman was, most of the time. away at his ranch tending his crop of lettuce. (he had every right to do this when given permission which was anytime he asked. I goy my third stripe when my Crew Leader recommended me when he left the CCC for a job in Alaska in the latter part of '37. Not only did I take over the crew of 27men but I was also "appointed" safety inspector and I had to sit in on all the meetings which was almost daily along with supervising the crew and being a barracks leader!
When we were given orders to build a dam we were told how long it should take and it was completed within that time span. When we ran over the limit during fire season the time factor was overlooked. Since I never had that misfortune, therefore, I do not know what would be said.
Water was no problem in Co. 2950 except during the rainy season when water was a nuisance because of its over-abundance at that time. (It is amazing how fast a farm can be totally ruined in a short time when it is improperly cultivated and mis-managed) The abuindance of fresh water in Co 2950 brings up the subject of the use of fresh water in the company latrine.
The latrine for Co. 2950 was located on a hillside on the east side of the camp. A little farther up the hill was a freh water storage tank and an electric pomp that supplied our needs. Water was piped to the mess hall, and faucets were located along the walkway for the convenience of the men who tended the watering of the trees and grass. The barracks were as dry as a powdermaker's nose. They had no water!
The showers were situated in the same building with the latrine and the runoff from the showers emptied into a cement lined ditch beneath the latrine. A board paralled the ditch and had ten standard sized holes that would have made any outhouse of the time or of anytime, envious. I thought the method of flushing away the residue was clever! At the upper end of the cement lined ditch was a "tipping" container that received a steady stream of water (roughly five gallons per minute) and as the "tipping" container filled after ten minutes or so, it would tip and dump the water into the cement lined ditch and "WHOOSH" the ditch was as clean as a pin as the residue was washed into a ravine. The "tipping" trough would return by gravity to its original position and wait for another load of water. Of course someone would hang today for using such primitive and unsanitary methods but things were different in those days.
There was a mad dash to the showers after work in the afternoon, however most of the un-dressing was done in the shower room due to the cool winds that were constantly blowing in that area of California. Snow was unknown since it never fell. Shaving and tooth brushing as done at the "trough" cold water was the rule before the old man "Moonlite requisitioned" an oil burner and we had hot water.
We even had a "do it yourself" laundry, complete with tin tubs and buckets for those who wished to "do their own."Supply your own soap!"
Drinking water in the middle of the night was out of the question without entailing an expedition, as was a trip to the latrine.
The Captain's Orders
My first experience with the army's way of getting things done came shortly before I got my three stripes in the CCC in 1938.
Captain Turner came by an oil fueled heater that was to be used to heat water for the men's shower. I say,"came by," since knowing now what I didn't know then, I'd say that the good Captain requisitioned the heater by moonlight, (swiped it,) or it was given to him and I'd bet my old pappy's dollar Ingersoll watch that he "came by" the heater through his natural ability and stealth of "moonlight requisitioning," rather than being on the receiving end of someone else's generosity.
Captain Turner called me into his office late one Saturday afternoon when no one was working. I stood at attention in front of his desk that had a nameplate that bore the words
C.Turner, Capt. QM-Res.
This in itself was enough to scare the life out of a man if he had no knowledge whatsoever of army life-and at the time I had none.
Captain Turner sat at ease in his fine office chair and glared at me for a moment before speaking.
"I want a small building made for our new oil burner and I want it by Monday morning. Can you build it?"
"Sir my crew can build anything," I answered. The captain unconciously beamed at my abundance of confidence in my crew.
"Give me the plans and material and we'll get started today." I said, still free-wheeling on his previous look of approval. However, my joy lasted only long enough for a scowl to cross the Captain's face when he spoke.
"Damit, soldier," he said, (I found out later that he called everyone "soldier," a holdover from the first war.) I don't want the Taj Mahal! All I want is something to protect the burner from the wind and to keep the rain from putting out the fire. Furthermore, if I had the material I'd build it myself. YOU are gonna build it so YOU find the material." With the words echoing throughout the building and down the company street he slammed his hand on the desktop hard enough to rattle the windows.
"Now get out of here soldier," he said in a completely different tone of voice.
I left the army office crushed to the size of a small peanut.
I went to Cpl. Miller who had served a hitch in the army and had all the answers for officers like Captain Turner. "How can I build anything without a detailed plan and not a single 2x4!" I asked.
"The first part of the question is easy ." answered the corporal "Just start pounding nails and the size and shape of what you are building will simply evolve! Now, the question of where the material is to come from is a wee bit more difficult. I suggest that you requisition It by moonlight from the old, deserted buildings on the Union Oil property south of camp but don't take too much from one building. Believe an old hand at the game-kinda spread it around-take a little here, a little there and maybe it won't be missed". I took the corporal's advice and stole a little bit of lumber here and a bit there in the moonlight 'til the truck was loaded-but it wasn't easy since I am not a thief at heart.
I, and my crew returned to camp before breakfast with a truck load of used lumber on Sunday morning. We started working on the Captain's project and the building (the lumber was stolen,) that was to house the oil burner (probably stolen,) was completed and operating by six o'clock Sunday evening.
The Captain said that the structure need not have the eye appeal of the Taj Mahal and it didn't. I wanted it to look weather beaten and worn in case anyone from Union Oil asked how long it had been there. It wouldn't go down in history like Hoover Dam, but it fulfilled the Captain's orders quite well.
Six years later when I was in the army during WW-2, I often thought of Captain Turner during our '' moonlight requisition" forays-, the stolen oil burner, the stolen lumber and his words, "Dammit if I had the material I'd build it myself -YOU are gonna build it. So YOU find it!"
Considering the astronomical number of "moonlight requisitions" carried out by the U.S. armed services during that war I will say with tongue in cheek that I'm amazed that we emerges on the winning side!
The five sergeants in my camp had a barracks all to ourselves in the latter part of '38.
As well as I remember there were six main crews in 2950. They built dams, dug ditches, and participated in the various projects at hand. The agronomy crew had a different foreman who was not with my unit however, it seems that every man in camp wanted to be on the crew and drop poison bait in the gopher holes. The men required for the job were few so not many made it.
At one time in 1938 I was on detached service with Headquarters, Ninth corps area CCC, Van Nuys, Caif. to assist in helping update the CCC records. (I knew how to operate a typewriter. (In those days that was an asset). I recall when I was there I started on leave with a pass in my pocket. (During my three years in he CCC and three years in the army I was never late or AWOL) for the station one afternoon to go to my mother's house. (I had saved all month for the 50 cents fare, 40 miles Round trip). When I stepped out side I was startled to see a large, black headline in a newspaper that said, HINDENBURG CRASHES!
I went up the ladder and was discharged with three stripes after 23 months.. The camp superintendent discovered that I could talk before a crowd so I was "appointed" safety inspector. Anyway it was a high sounding title!
I left the CCC in November of '38-The biggest mistake of my life. My brothers were taking care of my mother and the thirty a month was no longer needed. I had reached the ripe old age of twenty and I had a lot of ideas that were duds. However if I had it all to do again I would only change a few things that happened that were beyond my control.
I have mentioned that the CCC was the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned to get by when getting by was an accomplishment! I learned that I and most of the world was on a little boat and believe me it was difficult to stay afloat in those days! However, the CCC taught me that a man can walk on water if he is determined to do so!
Sir all of the above has been scraped from the top of my memory, however, it is accurate where Company 2950, SCS_9 is concerned. You must remember that all camps were basically the same but as in all organizations a difference will be found here and there due primarily to the difference in management. If a camp had a strict, military commanding officer ( mine did ), the military spirit would be passed onto the men. In most cases it proved to be of great value a few years later with the coming of war.
It is strange how other things came to mind as I wrote this - things that I havent thought of for over 60 years ! Perhaps some day I will put it on paper !
I still recall the names of our Foremen. Mr. Cottle (the Ford Man), Mr Lane (who was my boss), Mr Usher, who led the agronomy crew and Mr. George C. Morrison the camp superintendent were the main cogs of the organization not counting a few small gears I have forgotten.
As for the men I remember the names of many especially those on my crew. Smith, Butterfield, (Butterfield died of TB in '38), Red Clayton who is believed to have been lost in the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in WW2. But for the grace of God and the high price of Bananas that I was advised to eat by the army recruiting sergeant in order to gain a little weight, there went I. I should not forget 1st. Sgt, Llewellin B. Carter, sergeants Damewood, Carter, White and Spurling.
I was discharged in the latter part of 1938. I must say that the CCC was the finest thing that ever happened to me. There was nothing romantic about CCC life and what I have related to you in the past is from personal experince in the camp I was in and things were different from camp to camp!
I left the C's to join the army but I was told by the army recruiting sergeant to "go home, eat a lot of bananas, gain a few pounds and come back in a year." My reply was, "Who can afford to eat bananas at 7 cents a pound?" Certainly they were cheap but who had 7 cents in those days?
The last time I saw the place was in l978. The barracks were gone and the little trees we planted beside the company streets were huge. I had no trouble locating where my old barracks had been and I stood and stared for hours.
One more little note. I'm glad the army recruiting sergeant me to go home and eat bananas. If he hadn't turned me down I would have went to the Phillippines in l941!!!
I was accepted by the army in 1942 and went to England instead!
Ike's Social Call
It was September of 1944 when the men in the Unit heard the rumor that General Eisenhower would visit our battery and everyone was on edge. It was known that George Patton was a strict disciplinarian and it had given the men the feeling that all generals were like Patton especially Eisenhower, the commander of the European Theater of Operations.
We knew the rumor about Eisenhower's visit wasn't just another tall story when the First Sergeant scurried about seeking the proper man to guard the gate on the day the General was to arrive. Eventually a professional soldier was chosen and when the General arrived the selected man who knew all of the military courtesies, rules and regulations used them in true military fashion. He made the General thoroughly identify himself even though there were stars enough on his collar and in the flag that was flying on his staff car to suggest the sky at mid-night. The soldier went so far as to call the Sergeant of the guard to verify the identify of the man before saluting smartly and stepping aside so his car could pass.
Ike took it all as part of military procedure and he was greeted on the steps of the Chateau at Limesy, France by Brigadier General Hickey.
Before Ike's arrival we were told to stay out of his sight. Local orders specified that no one below the rank of maJor could be in the presence of the of the General except on urgent business. He did not come to inspect the brigade; it was more like a social call from one General to another. We, in the lower ranks obeyed orders and peeked from behind trees and through darkened windows just to get a glimpse of the man who was to become General of the Army in December of '44.
After exchanging greetings the two men disappeared through the doorway of the chateau and an hour later when the visit was concluded they once again stood on the front steps. Eisenhower shook hand with General Hickey and turned toward his waiting staff car. As he did so, Major Warren, the self appointed photographer for the brigade approached the two officers with his liberated Leica at the ready.
"No pictures Major," snapped General Hickey. Crestfallen, the Major replied with a loud "Yes sir," and quickly lowered his camera and moved away.
"No, no, General," said Ike, "let him take a picture." Ike's words were friendly yet carried the weight of command. The Major's face brightened as General Hickey eagerly consented and stepped quickly to Ike's left and a half step to the rear as military courtesy demanded.
Three days after the general's visit Major Warren gave me a copy of the photo he had taken. I tucked it away in my barracks bag where it remained for the rest of the war. For a number of years after returning home I gave the picture little thought. In 1952 Eisenhower was elected President of the United States and after his second heart attack I found the photo and mailed it to him. I carefully explained when and where the picture was made and asked if he would be so kind as to autograph it and return it to me using the self-addressed stamped envelope I provided. Two weeks later it was returned and I carefully placed it in my album where it remains with the bold autograph "Dwight Eisenhower."
Before I went to Europe, when I was in the army on maneuvers in the California desert, I was rich enough to buy a sleeping bag. It was, in my opinion, much better than the G.I. issue. (not as confining and much larger) I tossed it over the side of the troopship near Martha's Vinyard on the way home from Europe because it had 2 years of dirt on it. Now, how I wish I had kept it, dirt and all!
I am proud of my CCC service. At the time, we were often downgraded by the anti-Roosevelt faction. Anyone with a steady job during the depression was a bum, a drunk and a ne'r do well, especially a CCC man who squandred the poor, hard working taxpayers money simply because he happened to be born at the wrong time. I know several people (who were not even alive in '36) who considered everyone on the WPA and in the CCC as bums When they start beating their gums about us "Bums" I will ask, "Did yor father have job during the depression?" And the anwer is always "Wel-l-l-l Yes-s-s" There The Matter would rest.
Sir, I could continue into the middle of next week, however, I will let the matter rest.
Virgil R. Sams
Duty Roster, April 2, 1938, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Duty Roster, May 27, 1938, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Duty Roster, Emergency Roster, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Duty Roster, Charge of Quarters, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Commendation Letter, Best Camp, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Duty Roster, Barracks Police, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Fire Memorandum, Orders to Fight a Fire, Santa Barbara California, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Co. 2950, 1937 Menu and Roster, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Co. 2950, Capt. C.A. Tornell, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Co. 2950, CCC Man with back pump, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Co. 2950, CCC Mule train, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Co. 2950, Pouring concrete, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Co. 2950, Tying steel for concrete check dam, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Co. 2950, Stuck Truck, Every body push!!, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
Co. 2950, Wood forms for check dam, Virgil R. Sams, CCCman, Co. 2950, Camp SCS-9, Lompoc, California
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