80 years of CCC is hailed; Men recognized in Upton ceremony.
UPTON - John Banash, Frank Evans and Chester Lepack are among the dwindling ranks of living veterans of an army that never fired a shot in war.
As members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, dubbed "Roosevelt's Tree Army" for the president who founded the organization, the men planted thousands of trees, battled a gypsy moth blight and had a hand in building the trails, campgrounds and state parks that have been enjoyed in Massachusetts since the 1930s.
All for a dollar a day - most of which the men, teenagers at the time, sent home to their parents struggling through the tail end of the Great Depression.
The men were recognized Saturday for their work at a ceremony at Upton State Forest on the 80th anniversary of the CCC's founding.
MassParks Director Priscilla Geigis asked the men to share a few stories of their time in Roosevelt's Tree Army before cutting a cake to mark the occasion.
The first memory that jumped into Mr. Lepack's mind was of the balky diesel trucks of the day that were an adventure to drive on dirt roads with no power steering or brakes.
"I had to drive it down the side of a mountain, and I drove it right into a damn ditch. I couldn't control it," offered Mr. Lepack, 90, of Uxbridge.
"You had to have both feet on the brakes," agreed Mr. Banash, 88, of Hadley.
Because the CCC's ranks in Massachusetts were full when he joined, Mr. Lepack was shipped off to Colorado as a teenager. He later worked on soil conservation and dam building in Bellows Falls, Vt.
Mr. Banash said he lied about his age to get into the corps, joining at just 15 years old. He was assigned to the CCC's Company 174 based in Brimfield State Forest, where he worked on construction of recreational facilities at Dean Pond and efforts to push back a major gypsy moth infestation.
Mr. Evans, who now lives in Upton near one of the few CCC camps still standing, was sent to work at Mount Tom in Holyoke. There he learned to operate bulldozers and other heavy equipment, a trade that provided for him the rest of his working life.
He said he has fond memories of all his buddies in the corps, some of whom were also customers of his secret side business.
"I bought a '42 Ford I had hid about a half mile down the road. I'd give rides from Holyoke to Boston on the weekends for five bucks. That paid for my gas and spending money," Mr. Evans said.
The best thing about the CCC for him was that it taught him how to get along with a diverse group of people, not all of them the best influences.
"I kept away from the bad ones, tried to keep my nose clean," he said.
When the CCC was created in 1933, Massachusetts' state parks were mostly parks in name only. The land had been heavily logged, which allowed the state to buy the property on the cheap. Many of the future parks and forests had no access roads or recreational facilities, Ms. Geigis said.
That all changed in the nine years that followed. At the tree army's peak, roughly 10,000 men were based in 51 camps throughout the state.
"They are responsible for creating the backbone of the state parks and forests in the commonwealth," Ms. Geigis said.
CUTLINE: From left, MassParks Director Priscilla Geigis honors former Civilian Conservation Corps members Chester Lepack, 90, of Uxbridge, John Banash, 88, of Hadley and Frank Evans, 91, of Upton, during a celebration of the 80th anniversary of the CCC on Saturday at Upton State Forest.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/THOMAS CAYWOOD
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|Title Annotation:||LOCAL NEWS|
|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Jul 14, 2013|
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