Biography of Curtis O. Greer Jr.

CCCMan, Enrollee, Company 878, Cleburne, Texas & Company 878, Camp SCS-37-T, Waxahachie, Texas

Captain, US Army, WWII

   The following are stories of some of the events that I feel changed the course of my life. These took place during the latter years of the Great Depression and my Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC0 service with CCC Company 878, SCS 37T (37th Soil Conservation Service Company in Texas) from April 6, 1939 until October 13, 1940, located at Waxahachie, TX. At that time, I transferred to the US Army and served over 21 years before retiring as a Captain. I then worked for the US Army nine more years as a helicopter flight instructor.

   I have included these stories, along with various Army and war stories, in a booklet to our children and our family genealogy entitled “Dad’s Short Stories”. I am happy to share the CCC part with your museum.

   Since 1990 my wife, LaVaughn, and I have been active members of Ft. Worth TX Chapter 123 National Association Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni (NACCCA) on a local, state, and national level. Currently, I am the Secretary/Treasurer, and Newsletter Editor for the Chapter.

Sincerely,

Curtis O. Greer, Jr.

CCC Reflections

by CURTIS O. GREER, JR.

   In the spring of 1939, our family had some real financial needs. I don’t know how she did it, for I was under age, but my mother got a quota for me to go into the CCC. I left Fort Worth with several other fellows on the train and we were sent to Cleburne for processing. This was an all day deal (today I can drive it in almost 45 minutes). They were building the state park there and were working on the dam which would contain the lake. They had the large 40 man barracks and a wonderful mess hall. I had never tasted food as good. The minimum weight was 110 pounds and I checked in at 109, so they sent me to the mess hall to eat a pound of food (mostly bananas) so I could meet the requirements. Today, I tell people that was 57 years and over 100 pounds ago! We didn’t stay in Cleburne long. They sent us to the Soil Conservation Camp at Waxahachie.

   After work hours, we reverted to Army control. Our Commanding Officer was Captain Robert Evans. He was short of stature, but long on Military discipline. He was strict, but fair. I was impressed with the Reveille and Retreat formations. We ate family style. Everyone entered and sat down, then the signal was given to start eating. We had platters and bowls of food at each table. Table waiters would refill them as necessary. I learned very quickly that “SHORT-STOPPING” was a real No-No, especially if committed by a “ROOKIE”. If someone at the far end of the table asked that an item be passed, it went directly to him. You didn’t stop it in between and put some on your plate. We all took our turns serving as kitchen police (KP) and table waiters. This was done by roster.

   We were only a mile from town, so we didn’t have a Doctor. We did have a dispensary and a Medical Technician. About every 6 months, a traveling Dentist would come through and everyone sweated out his dental survey and hoped no cavities were present. He had an assistant with him whose job was to pump a pedal which turned the drill bit. You can imagine how slow the RPM was. We didn’t get deadening shots either! I still get the HE-BE-GEE-BEES when I remember those dental visits.

   I had the usual “ROOKIE” tricks and jokes pulled on me, such as asking at each barracks for the key to the playground and searching under the seats of the trucks in the motor pool for the double-clutch. Later, I would enjoy pulling this stuff on newly arriving enrollees.

   Today the name “CHICKEN” means you are a coward, but in those days, any very young, inexperienced fellow was called “CHICKEN”. I carried that name for years and thought I would never get rid of it.

   An enrollee was paid $30 a month. He kept $8 and $22 was sent home to his family. After my 18 months of duty, I transferred to the Army and took a pay cut to $21 a month. I still sent $10 a month home. An Assistant Leader made $36 a month and a Leader earned $45. My Leader was Charlie Brock. He was like a father to me. I worked hard for him. He was like Captain Evans, STRICT but FAIR.

   We were working one cold winter day near Ennis, TX. A turning plow had prepared the soil and we lined up on our knees and would shake the dirt from the grass. It would be placed in piles and later loaded on trucks, taken to Camp and wet down. The next day, it would be planted in terraces which had been constructed in other locations in the County to fight soil erosion. A Texas blue norther had blown in and it was COLD, COLD. About 10 AM seven guys stood up and said they wanted to be taken back to Camp. They couldn’t work any longer in that cold. Charlie obliged them. When we returned to Camp that afternoon, they were gone, along with their DISHONORABLE DISCHARGES rendered by Captain Evans. There was no long drawn out trial or defense, no review of workers’ rights, no postponement, no suspended sentence, no excuses. The facts were they had violated the terms of their contract by refusing to work. Now, there were seven quotas available which were immediately filled. I’ve thought about that experience a lot and I’m proud that I stuck it out and did my job, although I was only 16 years old. They were grown men and didn’t stick it out. I think I became a man that day.

CCC CAMP LIFE REFLECTIONS

   One of our first duties when we arose in the morning was to beat the dust out of our GI (Government Issue) blanket - although there really wasn’t any dust. We used this instrument with heavy wires attached to it and a handle to hold it by. Something like a heart-shaped tennis racket. This would make a loud popping sound when we hit the stretched blanket with it. With about 200 boys doing this all at once, it sounded like machine gun fire. Years later, I talked to some people who lived near the camp and they remembered the popping noises coming from the camp. In fact, they could set their watches by it. You could always tell a “rookie’s” blanket because it still had the fuzz on it, but a veteran’s blanket was thread bare from the many beatings and the US that was stenciled on it was hardly legible.

   A lot of emphasis was placed on making up your bed properly. The blanket had to be stretched so tight that, if the Inspector tossed a coin on it, it would bounce right back up. The US had to be in just the right place and the “white collar” of the top sheet lined up with that of everyone else’s sheet. I think the inspections in the CCCs were probably more thorough than the ones I experienced late in my Army career. (Don’t tell my ex-First Sergeant that!)

CCC ON THE JOB REFLECTIONS

   We rode to and from work each day on these green colored trucks. As best I can remember, they were either Internationals, GMCs, or Chevrolets. Being a truck driver was one of the best jobs at camp. We referred to the trucks as “State trucks”, although I’m sure they belonged to the Soil Conservation Service for we were a SCS camp. They had stake beds with high sideboards and wooden benches across the center to sit on. A large wooden tool box was located up front with an enrollee positioned on the tool box as a look-out. In case of a low hanging tree or some other obstruction, he would shout a warning to “duck” or holler “tree limb” or whatever.

   Also, no one smoked “ready rolled” cigarettes on the job. Even at a dime a pack, they were still too expensive, so everyone who smoked (unfortunately most of them did smoke) rolled their own with Golden Grain, Duke’s Mixture, or Bull Durham. “Ready Rolls” were saved for Saturday night and “doing the town” or going to the picture show. Anyhow, when the truck was moving along at a good clip, especially if the wind was blowing, it was the guard’s job to shout “Durham in the air!” when someone started to roll one up. If the tobacco got into your eyes, it would burn like fire! So, everyone closed their eyes until after the crisis passed. When we returned from a hot summer day’s work in the field and the blue denims were streaked with white, we knew we had a salt loss and had to take salt tablets. Just think, the CCC boys made “blue denims” popular. Of course, the loose fitting shirts and pants we wore couldn’t compare with today’s designer jeans. Wonder why the floppy hat we wore never became popular?

CCC WORK DAY REFLECTIONS

   During the noon time lunch break, I had “horse-played” with my buddy. I noticed the Soil Conservation Service foreman give me the eye every now and then. After chow, we went back to our duties of constructing the six strand barb wire fence. The Assistant Leader immediately assigned me to dig a corner post hole. I was digging away and feeling sorry for myself and said out loud, (but not to anyone in particular), “Old Burr Head is responsible for me getting this corner hole assignment.” I was in a bent-over position with that post hole digger in hand, much like the center on a football team just prior to the snap. Between my legs and directly behind me, in the quarterback position, I saw a pair of pants legs. They were of the light green color of the Soil Conservation Service uniform. I immediately realized it was old “Burr Head” himself! I just kept working and hoped for the best. Finally, he disappeared. Nothing ever came of it. I think he felt sorry for me or was afraid he couldn’t keep a straight face if he confronted me.

CCC REFLECTIONS: AFTER WORK, WEEKENDS, AND EVENINGS

   This was the fun time. We worked Monday through Friday and, if you passed the Saturday morning inspection, you had the week end off. We were stationed only one mile from the town of Waxahachie and we could walk that easy. Enrollees weren’t allowed to have cars but, of course, some of the fellows did have cars and kept them stashed at nearby farm houses. It was a real treat if one of the these guys invited you to take a ride to a nearby town, Hillsboro, Ennis or even Big “D” (Dallas).

   There was a dance hall at Waxahachie and, although I couldn’t dance (and I never learned), some of us would always go to watch and listen to the juke box. This is where I learned all about the music of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys and Ernest Tubb. Also, there was a textile mill in town and the girls from that area were always having some kind of party for the CCC boys. (Tree Monkeys) Some of them had brothers or other kin folks in the camp.

   You could go to the movies for a dime, (if you bought your ticket at the canteen at the Camp’s Recreation Room), and a hamburger and a coke were a nickel each. It was a real treat to go to the midnight show. Saturday night was the only night of the week that we didn’t have bed check at camp, so, we didn’t have to worry about being late for that.

   All of the farmers (and their daughters) would come to town on Saturday to do their shopping and visiting. The fall time was the best time of the year, because everyone had extra money from picking cotton. (In 1939 a picker was paid 65 cents for 100 pounds of cotton). You and your girl friend would just walk around the Courthouse Square with nothing to do. If you got tired, you just sat down in someone’s car and rested. Everyone left their cars unlocked in those days (can you imagine that?). If they returned and you were in their car, they didn’t seem to mind.

   On some weekends, my friend and I would hitch hike to nearby towns just for the heck of it. This was a lot of fun. One time, we couldn’t catch a ride and we had to walk 15 miles back to camp.

   We had a company ball team and we often played in town. Trinity University was small then and located in Waxahachie. (Today it is a large University located in San Antonio). If we beat them, our season was complete and successful. I was a substitute, however, I did get to play one night. Although I struck out both times I came to bat, I felt good for I had played in my very first night game. By today’s standards, the lights were terrible.

   We had several educational programs and our advisor was a Mr. Knight. I was interested in typing and I took this course. This helped me in later years to get a good job during my Army career. The classes were held on weekday nights. We used an old Underwood typewriter with covered keyboard. The keyboard chart was placed on the wall at eye level and you practiced in this manner.

   The CCC Camp at Waxahachie was a Soil Conservation Service Unit and it was built on private property. Our barracks were the small type, (six man, I believe) and were covered with tar paper. A pot-bellied stove dominated the center of the room. The camp has long since been torn down and a beautiful Interstate Highway runs almost where it once stood. I still drive down there every now and then with my wife and children and grandchildren (or anyone else who will listen) and do a bit of reminiscing.

A SOURCE OF DO IT YOURSELF DISCIPLINE

   During the Great Depression years of the late 30’s, I was a member of a CCC company in the Soil Conservation Service. We chopped brush, built a fine six-strand barb wire fence, and terraced and sodded grass on soil eroded farm land. We left things in much better shape than we found them. The old camp site has long since been abolished in favor of a beautiful Interstate highway, however, the evidence of our labor still exists in some of the work projects. Also, in the lives of many of us. This is the end result of young men who needed a break in life who filled ranks and were trained, disciplined, and taught to accept responsibility, and who developed strong morale and spirit de corps as members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. These qualities carried on through World War II.

   To some degree, we disciplined ourselves and one of the tools we used, as many of you will recall, was the dreaded belt line. If you broke one of the safety rules and regulations and the Assistant Leader, Leader, or Foreman, you took your name, you would pay for it! Examples: driving staples without wearing goggles, working without gloves, failure to take the daily salt tablet, working without a shirt, thus inviting sunburn, participating in horse play while riding on the work truck, and a host of others.

   There was no pardon or reduction of the punishment. The price was paid monthly as the entire work crew formed the belt line in two rows facing each other. Each man was positioned about three feet apart and had in hand the folded web belt. We weren’t allowed to hit with the tip of the belt, or the buckle. These men were more than willing to carry out the punishment phase of the sentence - in fact, they delighted in it. Meanwhile, the poor, horrified rookie enrollee who faced the situation for the first time, never wanted to do so again.

   There were no comments made as to worker’s rights being violated, or the danger of a law suit being filed against the government. Neither did we hear charges being raised about abusive parents being the cause of it all.

   The object of the one being punished was to cover his private parts with both hands, as best he could, and then move as quickly as possible from one end of that line to the other, thus reducing exposure time to the physical abuse of his body, namely the area of his buttocks!

   Could our present generation lack something of this nature? Many of you think not. We’re the ones who have spoon-fed them and we are to some degree responsible for their actions. If push came to shove, I think they could. I believe our young people are stronger than we give them credit for being. I base this statement on the results of Granada, Panama, Desert Storm, and Somalia.

   Wouldn’t it be great if we could organize a belt line today which would be used specifically for the benefit of the graffiti artists? Just thinking of that possibility pumps me up and excites me! Old men can dream can’t they?

-----Ex CCC Enrollee Curtis O. Greer, Jr.

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