Saturday, November 15, 2008

William E. Stafford

William E. Stafford (1914-1993) became known later in his life as one of America's foremost poets. As a writer he authored 67 volumes. In 1962 his Traveling Through the Dark won the National Book Award for Poetry. During the 1970-71 year he served as consultant in poetry for the Library of Congress. Most of his career was spent on the English faculty at Lewis & Clark College where he taught from 1948 until his retirement.

His first book, Down in My Heart, was published by Brethren Press in 1947 and tells of his experiences in Brethren Civilian Public Service camps from 1942-1946.

In the Introduction to that book, Stafford writes: During the war years we who openly objected and refused to participate often felt alone, and said good-by and went away to camp or to prison. Some twelve thousand of us of draft age went into the alternative service program called Civilian Public Service; some five thousand were sent to prison.... I went to a Civilian Public Service camp for religious objectors in January of 1942 and came out four camps later in January of 1946. ... It might aid the reader's understanding of our situation, our family arrangements and daily worries, to know that we received no pay. The peace churches, primarily the Brethren, the Friends, and the Mennonites, paid our upkeep and furnished our spending money - $2.50 a month.

In one chapter titled "The Battle of Anapamu Creek," where he served in a camp with the Forest Service, he relates the following story:

The Forest Service was going to send a spike camp of about a dozen men back into the chaparral, into the back country; and the foreman was to be Eric Kloppenburg, a big, rough, tough hater of Germans, Japanese and CO's.

...At first some of the Forest Service men had talked largely, among themselves when some of our men had happened to overhear, about their enmity for CO's; and I myself had overheard one man, later our friend, say in the ranger station, "I wish I was superintendent of that camp; I'd line 'em up and uh-uh-uh-uh" - he made the sound of a machine gun. I went ahead with my clerical work, and regaled the boys with the story that night.

The situation was, nevertheless, not funny. One superintendent had patrolled the camp after dark with a shotgun; one had reached for his pistol and shouted, during those first days at the camp, at a lagging CO, "Don't run, or I'll shoot!" In our late sessions in the barracks, over a pot of coffee or some cookies from home, we had laughed at the incidents. One Forest Service man had told me with great seriousness that he had gone out with a gang and killed a "German" within twenty miles of our camp one night just after the beginning of the war.

"But," I protested, "that's unconstitutional; the man was living her; that's downright fascistic."

"Son," he said, impressively lowering his voice, "when it's a matter of defending my country I'll do anything - law or not."

Source: down in my heart by William E. Stafford
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