Donald K Virtue in his CCC uniform
If you are a family researcher you often look the military for a piece of your family history. But often times your family members did not serve for a host of reasons. Now I was fair certain that my Grandpa Virtue had not served in any branch of the service because I had asked and been told he could not enlist because of the hernia he had. I remembered my Grandpa having a truss so it all made sense to me.
One day I came across a picture of my Grandpa Virtue in what appeared to be a military uniform. I asked again and got the same answer, so I asked about this photo, that is when I was told he served in the Civilian Conservation Corps. I was pretty excited because all I knew about the CCC is that they went to the woods lived in camps and planted trees, sounded pretty cool to me. My husband is employed by the Forest Service, nifty possible connection across time. It was time to do some research.
My research taught me the CCC was a public works program that operated from 1933 to 1942, for unemployed and unmarried men. These young men would get often the first physical they ever had, 3 square meals and a roof over their heads. They would work 40 hours a week and were expected to send most of their money home to help support the family, who were usually on relief due to the terrible economic times. There were a host of programs that the CCC did, but the most famous was the 3 billion trees they planted. I needed to find out more.
Now I was off to file a “Freedom of Information” request. Yep, just like the kind that we hear about news agencies filing to get something from the government. I file mine with the National Personnel Records Center, not expecting much. Three months later I would get a response, five pages about my Grandpa’s service in the CCC. It had information that told me a story, and made my Grandpa as a young man come alive.
He had been unemployed for two years when he signed up and took the Oath of Enrollment. He named his mother as his nearest relative. His signature even at that young age looked like his signature as I remembered it. He was only in the CCC for six months, the minimum amount of time. A young man could could serve up to two years.
The first two weeks he spent conditioning. Although he applied for reforestation to be one of those who planted those famous trees, he would instead would work on erosion control in northern Illinois in the winter. None of this sounds very inviting; snow and cold is what comes to mind. He declined to reenroll, and occupational qualifications was marked as none. Some men left the CCC as a skilled laborer, but in my Grandpa’s case I think he spent lots of time digging ditches. Grandpa’s sister was a teacher, but CCC records show he only finished the 8th grade. So this leaving the CCC without any skill would be one of those things that would make his life more challenging.
They pay records indicated that each time he was paid,$25 was sent home to his mother. I am sure he loved her and as the oldest son wanted to help out in some of the most difficult times for his family, who still had two children at home. It makes me proud to know that he took on so much to help his family.
The most interesting information was his physical and medical records. I had never seen more than a photo or two of my Grandpa as a young man. It was hard to imagine him as anything but my Grandpa. These records opened up so much to me about him. He was a slight man of only 135 pounds at 5 foot 7 inches tall. Heck if I weighted that I would be skinny. It is hard to imagine him with out a bit of a belly or glasses, but at the time he had perfect 20/20 vision. At even that young age he had a bilateral hernia; I wonder if he was born with it or got it from hard work that he did on the farm. My mom has always said that poor teeth run in the family, and at that time my Grandpa had already lost four! Do you suppose that explains all the crown work in my mouth? The last thing of interest on the exam was that he had Kyphosis. That one I had to Google, but once I did learned he always had that little hunch that Grandpa walked with.
Pretty amazing bit of history. Not something everyone thinks about. It makes me remember lots about my Grandpa, and lets me know more that I didn’t know. I only have this crummy scan, so if you have seen or have a copy of this photo I would love a better copy. If you have a member of your family who worked for the US in one of the programs of the depression it might be worthwhile to see if there are employment records that could tell you something about your ancestor.