Lebanon man one of last of Civilian Conservation Corps

Bill Albright sits on a long bench in the amphitheater at Longbow campground, east of Cascadia. 

Around him are 40 other people, who have gathered to honor veterans of the Civilian Conservation Corps at an annual picnic hosted by the U.S. Forest Service, held this year on Aug. 15. 

Albright, 93, of Lebanon, is a retired Lebanon school teacher and real estate professional who attends the picnic regularly. He’s here with his wife of 52 years, Arlene, and oldest son Jeff, of Lebanon. 

This year the only other actual CCC veteran present at the event is 98-year-old Harold Lil of Warren (formerly of Albany). 

But their efforts with the CCC, a public works relief program that operated from 1933-42, the end of the Great Depression until the beginning of World War II for unemployed, single men, are warmly remembered by USFS personnel and others. 

“It was called the Colossal College of Callouses,” USFS historian Tony Farque told the crowd at the picnic. “For many, it was their first train ride. It was very disciplined. They had bed checks.”

They also had medical and dental care and “outstanding” food compared to what many were getting back at home. Plus, $25 of their $30-a-month salaries got sent home to the folks.

CCC workers planted nearly 3 billion trees, constructed trails, campgrounds, fire towers, lodges, and other facilities in more than 800 parks and national forests nationwide; updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas, such as what is now the Willamette National Forest. 

Local Camp 2907, “Camp Cascadia,” as it was called, of which Lil was a member, was particularly adept at fighting fires, Farque said.

“Their work became the model for the hotshot crews that came after them,” he said.

Hazing was common for new initiates, including such experiences as finding sand or lizards in one’s bed, or finding the latter run up the flagpole, or getting tossed into a cold river, according to Farque. Or, a newcomer could be told to go out to water the flagpole.

“The initiation rites were rigorous.”

Like a lot of CCC veterans who have attended the picnic in recent years, Albright isn’t too big on promoting his achievements.  But as is the case with many other CCC veterans, they are notable. 

He started in the summer of 1941 in Philadelphia, Pa., after he dropped out of school at the age of 16. He’d been delivering telegrams on a bike but he decided the CCC would be a better option. Problem was, the minimum age was 17.

“With a little creative penmanship and some ink eradicator, I changed my birth certificate,” he recalled. “I went down to the CCC and enlisted.”
Albright spent the next several months at a CCC camp in Goldsborough, Md., draining swamps for mosquito abatement and land reclamation. 

“We were doing what they lock you up for now,” he noted. 

He said he didn’t do well in swamp work, so he got reassigned to the kitchen, where he worked as a “dog robber,” serving meals in the officers’ mess and taking care of their quarters. 

His CCC service was  rather short-lived, as it turned out. 

Albright returned from a weekend leave in early December 1941, and walked in to find “everyone around the office telephone.”  Pearl Harbor had been bombed. 

“The next day, with a couple of others, I went down to the Navy recruiting station. I didn’t have my birth certificate with me or anything, so they called up to the camp to verify my age. They gave me a set of consent papers, I went on home and had them signed, and I came back and was sworn into the Navy.”

He spent the next 26 years in the service, serving four years on diesel submarines and 15 on surface ships, he said. 

He retired in 1967 as a lieutenant commander, after making chief petty officer at the beginning of the Korean War and graduating from Officer Candidate School in 1955.  

Upon retirement, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Oregon State University, then taught junior high in Lebanon for 13 years. Retiring from teaching, he sold real estate “until the real estate market went to pot and I ended up selling Hondas until I finally retired when I turned 62.”

He then spent 13 years as a volunteer with the Lebanon Sheriff’s Substation before calling it quits for good. 

Albright noted that he wasn’t the only Lebanon resident who was in the CCC; the late Clarence A. Woody served in the Cascadia group along with Lil.  Woody also joined the military when the war broke out. 

“He fought through North Africa and Italy and he was wounded up there,” Arlene Albright recalled. 

Though his time in the CCC was brief, Bill Albright said it was “preconditioning” for him and others who ended up joining the military when the war broke out “because you lived in barracks and obeyed orders, whatever. It was good training.

“I remember, going way back, we were sitting around the chief petty officer’s quarters on the ship I was on in the Korean War and somehow the subject of the CC came up,” he said. “Between a third and a half of us who were there had been in the CC. They were guys who had gone through World War II and stayed in.”

He gazed about Longbow amphitheater.

“You can see the stuff left over from what they did.”