Biography of Reinhardt Hecht
CCCMan, Company 604, Camp F-41, Columbia National Forest,Guler and Peterson Prairie, Washington
Based upon a March 30, 1983 article in the Highland News Leader, Highland, Illinois sent to me by Mr. Hecht
Despite the depression, I'd always managed to find work from the time I graduated from high school, until the job I lost in 1933 when I was 21. But you couldn't buy a job in Lansing in 1933. My stepfather and three brothers also were looking for jobs.
Then Roosevelt started the Civilian Conservation Corps when he was elected. I told my mother that I was going to join the CCC. She was against me enlisting because she was afraid I'd end up as a soldier. But I needed the work.
I went in to sign up at the CCC office in Lansing. There were at least 65 other men applying. You had to have no income at all to enlist, and of course there was nothing like welfare then. Yet they told us only four would be chosen to go with the first group to training camp at Fort Sheridan.
I went home and sat down at the kitchen table to tell my mother there was no chance for me when the man from the CCC office knocked on the door. He said. "Reiny, you're one of the four."
I began my six months in the Civilian Conservation Corps on April 17, 1933, only two days after the first recruit reported in to Camp Roosevelt, the first CCC Camp in the Country which was in Virginia.
My enrollment began in the middle of the Country at Fort Sheridan, Illinois where we went for training. The Army would take care of our food, clothing and housing and administration, while when we started work it would be for a civilian service. My work would be for the Forestry Service, one of the biggest employers of the CCC men.
At Fort Sheridan, we CCC enrollees received our uniforms. They ran out of shoes and I had to wear low shoes in ankle deep mud.
They taught us close order drill because that was the easiest way to handle 200 men that would be in each company. But there was a lot of criticism about this. The Chicago Tribune came out with an article that said they were going to turn us into soldiers and there was an awful fuss about it.
The first two trainloads of recruits from the midwest were sent to national parks on the west coast. This was well publicized to off set any bad press the CCC was getting. We were sent to the Columbia National Forest in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.
I had never before been that far away from my home in Lansing, Illinois. Until the age of 14 I had never left Illinois or nearby Indiana, and even then I only had gone as far as Michigan. The five day train trip out west to my Camp was a grand adventure.
We camped at Guler and Peterson Prairie, Washington. It was beautiful. Our camp was 60 miles away from Mount St. Helen. Many years later when the volcano erupted I could picture exactly where it all happened.
We lived in World War One Army tents, which matched our World War One Army Fatigues we had been issued at Fort Sheridan. There were 200 of us in the Company. Our work would be to build roads, clear paths for telephone lines and to build fire trails for the Forest Service.
We worked up to the divide on the top of the Cascade Mountains. A Forest Service man once told me we probably were the first white men to ever set foot on that territory. That was a very thrilling idea to a young fellow from a little town in Illinois.
Much of our work was down in virgin timber stands that had never been touched by man. We worked to clear paths for telephone poles to link Fire Watch towers and other key points in the Forest Service fire prevention set up. We also worked to clear wide fire breaks to stop a fire from spreading.
We also built roads, for fire fighting access. My job was to work the cables for a Caterpillar tractor and road grader. One of the Forest Service staff men worked the tractor itself.
There were fields of wild huckleberries belonging to the Klickatate Indians. They had the right to come off of their reservation and pick the berries when they were ripe. There was a sign, "At Huckleberry Picking Time - No White Men Allowed". That was the first and only time I ever saw a sign saying "No White Men Allowed"!
The Indians came out to the huckleberry fields by horesback, wagon or car over mountain trails that were nothing like real roads. Most of us had never talked to an Indian, so we were intrigued.
When they started to head back to the reservation, there was a big snowstorm, on September 15th. The Indians were stranded, all along the trails whereever the Storm found them. We used the caterpillar to make a path to them. After we dug them out we brought them back to camp. They were fed in our messhall and slept in our beds.
In good weather, we would explore the mountains on our days off. Once, with a forest ranger as our guide, we climbed Mount Adams. It was at 12,320 feet elevation, and we had to climb a rugged trail to get to the top. We started at midnight because we wanted to see the sunrise from the summit. We were a half hour late getting to the top, but I still remember the sun seeming to come up. On the way back down I slipped on the ice covered snow. The ranger had told us if we slipped and started falling to spread out our arms to help us stop sliding. By the time I stopped I'd scraped the skin off both my arms on the rough ice.
An enlistment in the CCCs was for six months. The changed it so you could get re-enlist for up to four terms for two total years, but I was able to find a job in Lansing so I got out after my six months were over and went home.
My mother was proud of me when I got home. I had written home while I was in the CCCs and my mother had sent the letters to the CCC recruiter. He had advertised looking for CCC families to send him such letters telling about the CCC experience. Later the recruiter told my mother that my letters were some of the best written and most interesting ones he had received. Copies of my letters had been sent to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the White House! The recruiter had even given my mother a copy of the letter he had received from the Secretary to the President thanking him for the letters.
Some years later I met one of the guys in my outfit at a VFW Convention in Chicago. I also am a member of the National Alumni Association, the NACCCA. I am proud to have served in the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The rugged outdoor life in such beautiful settings was the best thing that could have happened to the jobless young men, like myself, who joined the Corps. It was a wonderful experience. We were treated well. And we felt we were doing something good for other people.
----- Reinhardt Hecht
Company 604, Camp Scene, Camp Peterson (F-41), Columbia National Forest, Trout Lake, Washington
Company 604, Reinhardt Hecht with Camp Bear Cub Mascot, Reinhardt Hecht, CCCMan, Company 604, Camp F-41, Columbia National Forest, Guler and Peterson Prairie, Washington
Company 604, Reinhardt Hecht and Friend in Camp, Reinhardt Hecht, CCCMan, Company 604, Camp F-41, Columbia National Forest, Guler and Peterson Prairie, Washington
Company 604, 21 CCC Recruits From Lansing, Reinhardt Hecht second from right, front row, CCC Orientation, Fort Sheridan
CCC Road Grader Team, Reinhardt Hecht, CCCMan, Columbia National Forest,Guler and Peterson Prairie, Washington
BACK TO James F. Justin Civilian Conservation Corps Museum Biographies
BACK TO JUSTIN ORAL HISTORY ARMY BIOGRAPHIES HISTORY PAGE
Please Share your Stories! E-mail the Curator to share or discuss or with any questions!
Copyright 2001-2017 John Justin