Schenectady County

New book recalls achievements of Civilian Conservation Corps

Morton Miller of Schenectady is one of rapidly shrinking group of men who once belonged to an organi

Morton Miller of Schenectady is one of rapidly shrinking group of men who once belonged to an organization that numbered in the millions: the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Miller, 89, served in the CCC from April 1, 1941, to August 1942. During his tenure, he helped build Thompson’s Lake State Park.

On Monday, Miller was one of five former CCC members to attend the introduction of a book by author Martin Podskoch at the Schenectady County Historical Society on Washington Avenue.

Podskoch’s book, “Civilian Conservation Corps Camps,” chronicles the history, memories and legacy of the CCC in the New York. Miller’s achievements are noted in the book, along those of another Schenectady resident, Steve Thomas, 99.

Podskoch said he interviewed 180 people for the book and spent five years researching it. He is a retired reading teacher who has written several books on the Adirondacks.

He wrote his book to chronicle the work the CCC did in saving and developing “our state forests and parks in the Adirondacks during the Great Depression.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the CCC in 1933 as a way to combat the Great Depression. Millions were out of work, including gangs of youths with nothing to occupy their time, Podskoch said.

“Roosevelt wanted to build up our natural resources and conserve our farmland. There were also fears of revolution, with all these kids running around,” Podskoch said.

At its height, the CCC employed 3.4 million men between the ages of 18 and 25, all of whom had to be single, not in school and on the public relief roll. It operated in the 48 states then comprising the United States as well as in the territories of Hawaii, Alaska and in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

CCC members were responsible for planting nearly 3 billion trees, building 3,000 fire towers and constructing 47,000 bridges during its existence. They also built 300,000 check dams, protected 154 million square yards of streams and lake banks and built 13,000 miles of foot trails.

The work helped millions of families survive during grueling times, as CCC participants had to send home most of their pay while keeping only a small amount for themselves.

“The most interesting thing that I found was there were boys as young as 14 participating in the CCC. The kids were so poor that many had quit school to find work in the CCC. The work helped their families,” Podskoch said.

Miller was a wayward youth when he joined the CCC. He was a 10th-grade dropout with no hope of landing a job. “I joined the CCC because I could not get a job to save my soul,” he said. “Back then, you couldn’t get a job nowhere, no how.”

Miller’s CCC wages supported two sisters and his father in New York City, his hometown. In 1942, he was drafted into the Army. He served in the 32nd Division in the Pacific Theater under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He was discharged in December 1945. He eventually settled in Schenectady and married a local girl.

Miller said he enjoyed his stint in the CCC, except for a time when he and his pals went on strike because the food they were given was too terrible to eat. He said, technically, it was not a strike, as they were forbidden to strike, but they stopped working for the day.

The CCC called in the Schoharie County sheriff, who threatened to send the boys to jail. Before that happened, the sheriff checked out the food, agreed with the boys that it was bad and worked to improve its quality. The boys then returned to work.

“It was hard work, but it was good work,” Miller said.

He said the CCC was a plus for the country, especially the military, as it helped provide discipline and organization to participants, many of whom ended up in the service during World War II. The CCC formally ended June 30, 1942, though the program’s shutdown took a while longer.

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