Biography of Carl W. Swanson

Company 2911, Camp North Bend, Camp F-85, North Bend, Washington

Soldier, 103rd Infantry Division, 7th Army, WWII


   What does a young man do in June 1941, when he has just graduated from high school, lives in a small town and there are few if any jobs available for an inexperienced person?

   The United States at this time was well on the way to recovery from the great depression years of the 1930's, but my classmates and I found it extremely difficult to find a job in or anywhere near our hometown in western Washington.

   Having tried a number of possibilities without even a word of encouragement, someone finally suggested to us the possibility of enrolling in the CCC. One of my closest friends and I immediately bummed a ride to Bellingham, Washington and applied for enrollment through the State Employment office. We were referred to an office in Mount Vernon, Washington and given a date and time to be interviewed. Early the next week we got a ride to Mount Vernon' were interviewed and given a brief physical examination. We asked for an assignment to western Washington as close to our home as possible so that we could get home from time to time to visit our family. The recruiting officials were very accommodating in all respects and especially sympathetic to this request.

   Reporting to Mount Vernon the following week we found that we would both be assigned to CCC Camp North Bend, Washington, about 140 miles from our home town of Blaine. As I recall we were provided with tickets for public transportation from Mount Vernon to Seattle and then to North Bend by truck dispatched from the camp at North Bend. At the Seattle pick-up site there were a number of other new enrollees joined us for the final leg of the trip.

   When we arrived at CCC Camp North Bend we were immediately impressed by the very picturesque location. It was, we believed, to be our home for the next six months at least and perhaps a year or more. Later events, which we could not even have imagined of course, changed this possibility.

   I was assigned to a work crew which was building various improvements in a Forest Service campground some 18 miles east of the camp along the main highway route to eastern Washington. It was called Denny Creek -- and it still exists today (2001). My first crew assignment was assisting in construction of rock barbecue pits and rock/concrete camp stoves.

   My classmate/friend and fellow enrollee Howard Pike, was assigned to another project. Time and age has erased any memory I might have had of whatever project he was given as assignment. However, I do remember that both of us participated together in off-duty recreation opportunities such as mid-summer trips on warm Saturday afternoons to an old swimming hole on the Snoqualmie River and early evening trips to the movie theater in the town of Carnation, a town four miles away.

   Another favorite sport was hiking to the top of Mt. Si, a very prominent mountain peak that towers over the town of North Bend. We probably climbed Mt. Si at least eight times during the summer and early autumn. These activities were promoted and sponsored by the CCC and we were transported in crew trucks to many of these activities that required considerable travel at some distance from the camp. The reason was that in the event of a forest fire or other emergency, the entire group of enrollees could be quickly gathered together and returned to the camp.

   Both Howard and I took classes in several subjects, which were offered at the camp, usually in the evening. I took a course in general forestry and in cartography and probably another class in forestry the title of which I do not recall. Howard was drawn to take classes that dealt with mechanics such as vehicle maintenance and blueprints. Because of his interest and potential ability in this category, he was selected to attend a special class at CCC Camp Zigzag in northern Oregon to receive training in aircraft mechanics, riveting and maintenance. As I recall he spent about six weeks or more at Camp Zig Zag. This training led him to be hired by the Boeing Aircraft Company as a riveter or machinist shortly after his six-month enrollment period in the CCC was completed.

   After working on the campground construction/maintenance crew for approximately two weeks I was sent, together with a large majority of the other enrollees to the Rapid River forest fire on the Skykomish, Ranger District of the Snoqualmie National Forest. The fire was several miles north of the town of Skykomish, the date was July 21, 1941. The fire was very large (I do know the size in acres) and it took a long time to get under control and to finally extinguish it. We were there until August 24, 1941 so that our fire assignment covered all phases of the fire from active control of the fire to and including the final "mopping up" of the remaining hot spots. Our fire camp was the envy of almost all the other crews on the fire. We were headquartered in the logging camp (logging had been curtailed because of the fire), which was located several miles north of Skykomish. We commuted daily via the company's logging railroad from the logging camp north to the fire perimeter. I can't recall whether our commute was by railroad speeders or by crew railroad cars but I believe it was some form of rail cars. It was quite an experience and really quite enjoyable because quite a number of us had no experience of traveling by rail. Although quite a few of us thoroughly enjoyed fighting the fire, myself included, there were many others who felt that they would rather be anywhere else.

   After we returned to Camp North Bend on August 24th, after the Rapid River fir was declared totally controlled, I returned to my duties as a member of the Denny Creek Campground crew, then on September 21st, I was appointed assistant forestry clerk. I was told that I was selected because of my interest in forestry, that I had successively completed two CCC forestry courses taught in the camp and because of my performance at the Rapid River fire. The forestry clerk's name was Sammy Balch but he had completed his enrollment period some time before and the position had been held by a series of temporary appointments over a period of time. After a very short time, probably only a matter of a few days, I was given the full responsibility.

   By mid-October the number of enrollees had been dwindling for a number of reasons, primarily because of the improving economy offering increasingly greater employment as well as stepped-up recruitment for the military. A large scale tree seed collection program was inaugurated in the Autumn of 1941 and a number of other projects were put on hold until we had secured the quota of Douglas fir cones which was required from second-growth timber stands on the North Bend Ranger District. I was personally involved in this effort whenever I could break away from my clerical duties in the forestry project office. As I recall we also dispatched a crew to the east side of the Cascades on the Wenatchee National Forest to assist in collecting Ponderosa Pine cones for seed. By collecting cones from the vigorous, fast growing second growth stands we were able to secure higher quality seed. Also the younger trees of seed-bearing age were much easier as well as safer to climb compared to the larger old growth trees. Production increased as well because of these factors.

   By early November as the result of accelerating decline of enrollees, I was assigned additional duties as Army clerk in addition to forestry clerk responsibilities. This did not greatly increase my workload however because of the rapidly decreasing number of enrollees. By this time there had been increasing and consistent rumors that a number of CCC camps were being shut down and that plans were on the table to shut down our own Camp, North Bend. Of course we hoped that this was not true. Not knowing the "big picture" we thought that we were just going through a period of low enrollment. Little did we know that we were actually on the brink of termination of CCC Camp North Bend.

   On the weekend of December 6th and 7th my friend Howard Pike and I hitch hiked home to Blaine, Washington as we had several times during our enlistment period. Upon arriving in Blaine on the early evening of Friday night December 5th, we each went our separate ways, he to his parents home and I to my parent's home for the weekend. On Saturday I visited with my family including my two sisters and brother and probably went out to have a short visit with neighbors and one or two of my classmates. On Saturday evening I went to visit a girl friend and as I recall we went to a movie with a brief stop at the local ice cream parlor. On Sunday morning, December 7th, 1941 I recall having a leisurely family breakfast and visiting with the entire family at the breakfast table. We did not have the radio on; actually we seldom listened to news on the radio probably because we usually got our local news in our weekly newspaper or by word of mouth from friends and neighbors. We usually went to church and my siblings to Sunday school but this Sunday we didn't, probably because we had slept late and I was making an early departure back to North Bend.

   Soon after the big breakfast, which served as a "brunch" for me, Mr. Pike (Howard's father) came by in his car to pick me up for the return trip to North Bend. Howard was with him. After saying my goodbyes to my family, I got into the car with my duffle bag of clean clothes and "goodies" from home. After stopping at the Pike home for a brief stop, we were on our way to Bellingham. He often took us as far as Bellingham and then we hitch hiked on to Seattle and to North Bend. Sometimes we could catch a CCC crew truck in Seattle for the trip to North Bend. This time he told us that he was going to take us as far as the bus depot in Seattle to make sure that we got back to North Bend by early evening. Very shortly I found out why when he mentioned about the air raids on Pearl Harbor. Until then he did not realize that I did not know about the attack. So he turned on the car radio and we listened to the news almost the entire trip to Seattle. When we arrived in Seattle it was dusk and the whole city appeared to be in an uproar. There was extra heavy traffic, lots of noise on the streets and it seemed like many of the outside lights were turned off or blocked out. There seemed to be a lot of confusion and there appeared to be a lot of military traffic. As I recall we were able to get a seat on a bus which was either going to or through North Bend. We thought that we could hitch hike back to North Bend but Mr. Pike insisted that we take the bus. He thought that it could be dangerous to be on the highway hitch hiking when so many have the traffic lights were turned off. He stayed with us until he was sure we got on the bus and that we would be back in camp before "lights off" at 10:00 PM. Then he left to return home to Blaine.

   The next morning-December 8th- the operations to close CCC Camp North Bend were accelerated. Whereas previously the plan was apparently to have Christmas dinner at North Bend and bring things to a halt the end of December or in January, we were now on a fast track. All field projects were terminated immediately. This was not too difficult since many of the projects were already undergoing seasonal termination. We were now in the middle of packing everything to be moved. A large number of the project tools and equipment were moved to the ranger station in North Bend, since a considerable number of these items originated there. We were notified that we were moving to CCC Camp Dupont where we would join Company #2917 which was located on the Fort Lewis Military Reservation. Some supplies and an advance party were dispatched to Camp Dupont almost immediately. The advance party included our Company 2911 military personnel. Our assignment was to assist the U.S. Army at Fort Lewis in any way that was needed. I recall packing the military records and supplies to go to CCC Camp Dupont. The forestry (project) reports were packed separately and were dispatched either to the North Bend Ranger Station or the Snoqualmie National Forest Supervisor's office in Seattle, since there would be no forestry projects carried out from Dupont.

   As I recall by the end of that week or the beginning of the next, we were completely packed up and moved from North Bend to Dupont. There probably was a small crew remaining at the North Bend camp to close out the buildings, winterize water systems etc. I do not know the details since my position as Forestry clerk had now been terminated and I moved to Dupont by the middle of December, if not before. I recall working with an army-supervised crew in preparing gun (artillery) positions at Fort Lewis. We also did a lot of camouflage of the artillery and anti-aircraft guns. There were persistent rumors among the CCC personnel that all CCC enrollees who were otherwise qualified would be immediately transferred to the Army. Of course there was no legal way, which would allow this to occur. Nerveless the rumors continued. Quite a number of enrollees volunteered to join the Army and I assumed there were provisions made to discharge these enrollees early in order to allow them to join the military.

   My enlistment period would have been completed on January 8, 1942, but in lieu of the circumstances I received my honorable discharge on December 20 from Company 2917, Camp Dupont. There was an early Christmas dinner held at Camp Dupont that day. I attended that dinner and then left for my home in Blaine. (I still have a copy of the dinner menu in my personal affects). My friend and former classmate, Howard Pike must have been discharged the same date. He immediately went to work at the Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle and began building the legendary B-17 Bomber. He continued working for Boeing throughout WW II and in fact stayed with Boeing as his working career. He built the B-17 Bomber and his twin brother Milton Pike flew them. Milton was also my classmate from Blaine. He joined the U.S Air Force early on and was on a flight crew, which was shot down over the English Channel while returning from one of the first American bombing raids over Germany. He was not rescued from the crash and it is believed that he either died from drowning, or from wounds sustained when, the plane was shot down. He has been memorialized in the naming of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post in northwest Whatcom County. The post is named the Streets-pike VFW post.

   It is interesting to emphasize how our work experience in the CCC as well as the evening class work contributed to both our careers and lifestyles. In Howard Pike's case it was the classes in riveting, welding and mechanics received in North Bend and the specialized training in Zig Zag, Oregon that steered him to a career at the Boeing Aircraft Company. In my case it was the work experience in campground construction and maintenance, forest fire suppression, tree seed collection and forestry classroom study which led me towards a career in forestry. I had always wanted to be a Forest Service District Ranger from a very early age when a Forest Service employee came to our grade school in Blaine when I was in the third grade and explained to us what a forester does. This introduction to forestry really made a strong impression on me, to the point that I could actually visualize myself as a District Ranger. It was the CCC, which gave me the opportunity to chart the course of work and study by which I could reach that goal. So after serving in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946, I returned home to Washington and attended Forestry College at the University of Washington, graduating in 1949 at which time I went to work for the U.S. Forest Service. After working in a number of different positions with the Forest Service, it was in December 1955 that I reached my cherished goal of becoming a District Ranger with the Forest Service. It is my strong belief that I could not have accomplished this goal without having the CCC experience and training in which I participated in the last six months of 1941, which coincides with the last six months of CCC Camp North Bend's existence.

   I will be forever grateful for what the CCC did for me and other young men of my generation and for the opportunity to serve my country in this Great Endeavor.

----- Carl Swanson

   Carl W. Swanson, 81, of Nordland, Washington, died suddenly at home on October 5, 2004. He was born April 1, 1923, in Bellingham, Washington, to Carl Peter Swanson and Anna Olson. Carl’s father was a 1895 Swedish immigrant who settled in Blaine, Washington, and his mother was the daughter of Icelandic immigrants who moved to America in 1890.

   Carl graduated from Blaine High School in 1940, before he joined the Civilian Conservation Camp, U.S. Forest Service Camp, North Bend, Washington in 1941. In 1942, Carl enlisted in the U.S. Army where he served in the 103rd Infantry Divisions, a part of the 7th Army in Southern France and Germany. Following his return from the European Theater after World War II, Carl met the love of his life, Dorothy, in Blaine, Washington and married her on March 7, 1947, in Seattle, Washington.

   In 1949, he graduated from the University of Washington, College of Forestry. He also received a Master Degree in Public Administration from the University of Alaska. He was employed by the U.S. Forest Service for over 30 years in various positions, among them District Ranger and Assistant Forest Supervisor stationed in Washington, Idaho, Utah and Alaska. Carl also was stationed in South Vietnam from1971 to 1974, assigned to the U.S. State Department working on reforestation projects with the South Vietnam Forest Service.

   Mr. Swanson “retired” to Jefferson County in 1978, where he was appointed to fill a vacant Jefferson County Hospital Commissioner position in 1979. He subsequently was elected to three six-year terms. He organized and chaired the citizens advisory committee for budget and finance. He chaired a series of community and county long-range planning citizen advisory committees. This planning process resulted in the construction of the new emergency room and laboratory in 1989. The construction of the new hospital addition followed in 1996. For this service and numerous others, Carl was honored by receiving the Citizen of the Year award from the Marrowstone Island Community Association in 1997.

KSwanson-Woolf AT doc DOT gov


History of Company 2911, Camp North Bend, Camp F-85, North Bend, Washington

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