Dan Widemer, a contentious objector, writes to a former school teacher explaining why he cannot fight in the war.
Dear Mrs. Walling:
At different times during the last few years I thought of my 'favorite' grade-school teacher and some of the things that she had impressed upon my mind that have certainly stayed with me and then recently a letter came from Mother stating that she had stopped in to see you and I made up my mind right then to write to you as soon as I could, so here is a letter to you. As I use a typewriter quite a little and can write faster that way, I hope you won't mind my using it for this letter even though it is a personal one.
I don't know if Mother said much to you about where or what I am doing so I will sort of give a little 'history' of myself from the last two years.
I have of course almost since out of grade school been working with my Father in the Seed Store as well as on the farm part time and received several draft deferments but finally on June 1st, I received a one-way ticket from the draft board to California and to Camp. I have been here ever since, except for a few short furloughs that were spent at home.
When my call came to enter the service, I drew the line quite a bit closer as to what I thought was the Christian avenue to take and so for that reason I am in a Civilian Public Service Camp rather than in the Army. I shuddered at the thought of perhaps having to kill someone or be a part of a system whose only motive it is to exterminate human beings, such as the Armed forces are doing today all over the world. I am indeed thankful for the provision that was made by our government for myself as well as approximately 8000 other young fellows who are in the same branch of service in the United States. The provision is set up in the Selective Service law and provides that we be assigned to "Work of National Importance" in lieu of Military training. This particular camp is under the U.S. Forest Service and we do very similar work to that done by the C.C.C. boys of pre-war days. Other camps in the United States are under the Soil Conservation Service, the Land Reclamation Service and National Park Service as well as a large number of men who are now working in Mental Hospitals as attendants and supervisors. All this work is done by we fellows without any pay whatsoever and this one thing alone counts up to where it is quite a large item but this along with other things are only tests as I see it to make our Peace witness a stronger one. Many people of course ostracize us and brand us as slackers and so on but it is only because we are for the largest part misunderstood. I love my country as well and as greatly as anyone and am certainly not trying to get out of any service that is dangerous. Many of the boys in this branch of the Service have been studying methods and types of services to be rendered in Foreign Relief Units and are awaiting the day when the government will allow some of us to do this sort of thing in War torn countries. This camp is entirely supported by the Mennonite Church and is not costing the government anything for our food or other running expenses. The only part that the government has to do with us is to provide and supervise the work that is done. There are three different church agencies that are supporting this type of camp. They are the friends (or Quakers), The Church of the Brethren and then the Mennonites.
Now then, you may perhaps be interested in what types of work I have done and am doing now in Camp. When I first came to camp I made up my mind that I was going to do the best possible job at whatever I should be assigned and I feel that I have maintained that idea. My first work for about three months was that of painting some large government buildings about 8 miles from camp at what is a Forestry Experimental Plantation. A crew of fellows from here is still working there, some in the test laboratory and others on maintenance about the plantation. There are many acres of Pine trees of all ages to take care of and so on. From that job I was put into the Kitchen of the camp here to take complete charge of the food supply. All food had to be checked out to the cooks and a record of it kept and whenever there was any food item becoming low in the stock room it was my duty to order it and in plenty of time of course so as not to run out of that particular item. Each day I also kept a record of all meals served in the mess Hall and from this record had to be figured the daily food cost.
Last June I was appointed by the Camp Director to fill the position on the camp administrative staff of Assistant Business Manager and as yet I am still in that position. My duties keep me mostly in the Camp office and my particular work is to do all the bookkeeping that is entailed by the buying of all food items, kitchen equipment, janitor supplies and all such items that concern the business end of running such a camp as this. In addition to this I was chosen by the camp to be the Manager of the Exchange or rather the Camp store and for it I do all the buying, bookkeeping and securing of someone to run the store when it is open during the after work hours. I was also once the latter part of the last December chosen to fill the position of Editor of the Camp newspaper which is published monthly here in Camp with the aid of a Mimeograph machine. All together I have quite busy schedule in a days doings but it seems the busier I keep myself the happier I am. Incidentally, I am making you a copy of the April issue of our camp paper which is entitled the Snowliner. It is named thus largely on account of the name of this camp being Camp Snowline. This camp is situated among rather large Pine trees and at an elevation of approximately 3500 feet.
I certainly didn't expect to write such a long letter but hope that it will be of interest to you and if so I would appreciate greatly, if you have the time, to write me sometime. I would enjoy hearing of your family, especially about Kerk and his wife and also where are Larraine and her husband?
The last few days here the weather has reminded me of Oregon. It has been misting off and on and then has also been quite fogy at times.
Best wishes to you and your family and a special greeting to you for Mothers day which is not far distant.