Biography of John J. Petrunis

CCCMan, Army Overhead Key Man, Company 267 TVA-12, Speedwell, Tennessee & Camden, Tennessee & Drain, Oregon & Unknown Company, Slaughter's Beach, Delaware

     I, John J. Petrunis, Sr.,was in the CCC's from 1934 to 1937. Although the enlistments were for 6 months and then after 6 months you can re-enlist for 6 more, I was very fortunate to be selected as a key man and served for 3 years straight.

   I joined the CCCs at Bridgeton, New Jersey. I was sent to Camp Dix, New Jersey, on April 9, 1934. The first day we were issued three blankets and a mess kit, and on the second day we received our World War I uniforms. We also received our innoculations. I stayed at Camp Dix, conditioning, from that time until April 23, 1934.

   With 140 replacements, I traveled to LaFollette Tennessee on April 24th, arriving on the 25th. We moved from there directly to Speedwell, where we were assigned to our unit. I was in Company 267 at Camp TVA-12. TVA stood for Tennessee Valley Authority. There were 16 Companies in the TVA Project. Upon our arrival our equipment was added to by the issuing of two sets of blue denim work clothes.

The 267th Company was organized on June 2, 1933 at Fort Totten, New York, Camp personnel consisted of left over key men from previous enrollments and each camp had to have 15 local men of all ages. Each with Major Paul N. Starlings as commanding officer. . We were the third enlistment to arrive at the Company, meaning that two prior six months enlistment periods had passed since the camps beginning. Although many of the men from these prior enlistment periods had left, some remained in the form of key men or local men. Thus when we arrived Camp personnel consisted of left over key men from previous enrollments and each camp had to have 15 local men of all ages.

    The work being done by the Company consisted of soil erosion and tree planting in Speedwell. We did erosion work - building dams in the gully to prevent the soil from filling in the lake made by the Norris Dam. The dams were made of logs and stone which caught the dirt washed from the mountains. We later planted trees there.

   While at this site we were under the Army Reserves in Camp and under the U.S. Forestry Department at the field site. Chester E. Cooper was the camp superintendent in charge of the field work. We worked 5 days a week with 8 hour days and a half day on Saturday.

    The Camp site consisted of four barracks, 2-3 officers, 6 forester's quarters, a repair garage, mess hall, recreation center with canteen and first aid, latrine with showers and laundry tubs where all wash was done by hand. Two clean sheets were provided every two weeks. If you wished, laundry could be done by local women for a .25 a week charge; the fee included civilian clothing both washed and pressed.

    Each of the barracks had 52 plus men. The barracks were built like chicken coops with two pot bellied stoves which burned soft coal that we had to mine. I might add, that the stoves had to be polished once a week.

    All lights went out at 10 pm and even if you happened to be out, when you returned you were not able to turn on the lights.

    The bugle blew at 6 am and it was the Leader's responsibility to make sure everyone was up. The Leader's responsibilities covered a 24 hour period.

    Everyone had a footlocker, which was located at the foot of the bed. All personal items had to be placed in the locker; items were not permitted to be lying around. Shoes had to be lined "straight" at the foot of the bed.

    Inspection took place daily by the top Sergeant and once a month by the Captain. The beds had to be totally remade every day and KP was the price you paid if you didn't pass the inspection. At 7 am the bugle blew for breakfast and at 8 am for assembly. The cost to feed a man per day was .41.

    The company of men was divided into 6 separate crews.

    After a workday we had to wash, shave and dress with tie and be ready for chow at 5 pm. The Leader was again responsible for roll call. After chow was free time until 10 pm when the lights went out.

    I was promoted to Assistant Leader on September 27, 1934. I was soon promoted again, this time to Leader on February 19, 1935.

    The rate pay scale was $30 a month, and $25 of it was sent home. The Assistant Leader got $36 a month, with $25 sent home, and the Leader got $45 a month, also with $25 sent home.

    On payday, if we wanted to go into town, we were under Army supervision and during the rest of the time under the supervision of the Leader. We were permitted to wear civilian clothing to town.

    From Speedwell the Company moved to Camden, Tennessee on June 28, 1935. There we continued our Soil Erosion work in the Norris Dam basin. We stayed there until July 25, 1935.

    From Tennessee we traveled to Oregon taking the southern route to California, up the coast to Oregon. It took four and a half days, arriving in Drain, Oregon, on July 31, 1935.

    While in Oregon, we built roads and bridges. The local residents did the bulldozing and we dug the ditches and installed drains.

   We also ran a rock quarry to pave the roads. In the quarry work, we dug 9 feet holes with manual star drills in the rocks of the mountains. We then filled them with dynamite and blasted the rock. We loaded the rock into small cars. The cars were on little rails and we pushed the cars to the crusher. This was four large plated of steel that could be adjusted to any size. The stones were then loaded into trucks.

   While in Oregon, we also fought in six forest fires; four regular and two crown fires. We built trails at different locations depending on the fire using shovels, mattock and axes. The forest rangers would build the backfires.

    During fire fighting we would work 12 hours a day; sleeping on the ground. When we got back to camp, we would get time off for every hour worked over 8 hours. The local people worked the fires for .50 cents an hour.

    Our company returned East by the northern route and disbanded January 9, 1936.  We returned to Camp Dix for disposition.

   We were then split into different camps in Delaware. I was sent to Slaughter's Beach where we did mosquito control. We dug ditches for water to drain from marshes to the bay. The ditches were across the marshes of cattails and were four to five feet wide. The edges were cut with a hay saw. We worked in pairs, one with a large spade to cut one square foot of cattails and the other with a potato fork to insert into the cattail square. The man with the spade flipped while the one with the fork pulled it out. Each square weighed between 50 to 70 pounds.

   The Commander of our Camp was Captain Fisher. After I was in Camp a couple of days, he asked if I was interested in replacing the Leader of Barrack III. I told him I would have to think about it. I learned that the Leader was well liked, so I refused the position. I had a good relationship with Captain Fisher, who was from Vineland and he would take me home once a month to Bridgeton.

    The company commander was replaced, they rotated them around, shortly before I was discharged. I knew Lt. Glendine A. Koster, the new commander, a very short time. He seemed to be a very nice man. I was discharged from MC-52 in Milford, Delaware on March 31, 1937.

    I am very fortunate to have a daughter who has helped me gather all this information on the computer.

 ----- John J. Petrunis



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