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Friday, May 6, 2016

Life was hard during the Depression ...The CCC offered much needed jobs

Thursday, June 15, 2006

CCC CAMP: William Stone of Mammoth Spring spent three years at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp at Devil's Den State Park when he was young man. Stone, driving a CAT tractor, did much of the road work at the park.

A recent trip to Devil's Den State Park in Washington County, Ark., by Mammoth Spring resident William Stone with his wife Thelma and son Michael brought back a lot of memories to Stone.

Lee Creek Valley, where the park is located, is a picturesque Ozark Mountain setting. It was selected as a park site in the 1930s. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) used native materials to craft the park's rustic style wood and stone structures.

Stone was a member of the CCC who helped build the park.

"We took some pictures that I had taken during my time working at Devil's Den. The park interpreter, Susan Tigirt, was thrilled to see my pictures. She transferred them to her computer," Stone said.

After finding out he was a member of the CCC that built the park, some of the other 15 to 20 people taking the tour asked him questions about the park.

Park officials presented Stone with a medallion and a certificate of appreciation.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the CCC in March of 1933, during the days of the Great Depression.

Stone is one of fewer than 500,000 living CCC veterans who at one time numbered 3 million. They built state and national parks, forests, bridges, dams, fish hatcheries, fire towers, roads and lakes between 1933 and 1942.

Life was hard during the Depression for the Stone family in Lawrence County, Ark. Besides his parents, Stone had four brothers and sisters. He found out about the CCC through an article in the local newspaper, The Times Dispatch.

"Fifty-two of us from the same area went to work for the CCC at the same time. I was a farm boy and I did not know any of the other fellows at my camp," Stone said. Stone remembers that year, 1939, when his family farm produced a small crop of cotton and corn.

Stone said there was no work anywhere to be found in rural Arkansas.

"We were paid $30 a month, and $22.50 was sent home to my family. At the time it was a lifesaver for my family back in Lawrence County," he said.

To join the CCC a young man had to be single and between 18 and 25 years old.

The young Stone was 19 and had hardly been out of Lawrence County when he joined the CCC.

Stone said the majority of the work he did at the park was road work. The CCC began constructing a dam for the park's lake but it was never finished due to the start of World War II.

Stone said radios were few and far between at Devil's Den. "Me and another fellow were sitting in the Park Service office one Sunday morning when over the radio we heard the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor," he said. "I knew that meant war."

He said immediately work at the park ceased and the 200 to 250 crew members began closing the camp.

Stone was discharged from the CCC in March of 1943. His discharge papers said he was one of the finest men to ever enroll in the CCC.

He married his wife Thelma in May 1943 and was drafted into the Army Air Force on Oct. 9, 1943. He served three years, three months and nine days.

After his stint in the service, Stone returned to Lawrence County and farmed for two years. Both his sons, Michael and Eldon, were born in Arkansas.

The family moved to Rockford, Ill., where Stone found factory work. In 1983 he and Thelma moved back home to Arkansas and settled in Ozark Acres. In 1997 they moved to Mammoth Spring. Stone is 85.

During his years at Devil's Den, Stone was first promoted to an assistant leader and then to a leader.

During the time of the CCC there were 4,000 camps across the country. They were run military style by the War Department. As many as 400,000 young men learned to read and write at CCC camps. Stone said the camp did not help him further his education, but he did take some special courses offered at the camp including electrical and first aid classes that helped him throughout his life.

In 1993 CCC alumni chapters nationwide started a mission to place at least one bronze statue of a CCC worker in every state as a memorial of the achievements of the corps. So far, 36 6-foot statues have been placed at CCC-built parks and former camps.

Stone had a chance to see the bronze statue at Devil's Den earlier this spring when he and his family visited.

Stone said life working at the CCC camp was a lot different from life on a cotton and corn farm in Lawrence County.

"The CCC camp taught me how to be under authority. As I was promoted from assistant leader to leader it taught me how to give authority and how to use authority. It made a man out of me," Stone said.

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