Larry Benoit: Memories of the CCC
On a spring morning, Lanyard (Larry) Benoit sweeps some fresh snow from his back porch. A chickadee flits past his head to get to a feeder and Benoit chuckles. "Little buggers," he says.
The small porch overlooking a Vermont river has several feeders. "I got my pets out here," he says. "All my birds. Squirrel. Fisher cat. Fisher cats come right up on the porch. Got stuff out here for them to eat. Waste from the kitchen."
With his spare speech, Benoit sounds like the lifetime Vermonter he is. He grew up on a farm not far from here. He's 84 now.
Benoit keeps memorabilia out on the porch. There's an ax that belonged to his dad, and some of his father's blacksmithing tools.
Hung on the wall of the house, above a moose antler, is a saw painted with the words "lost by a CCC boy 1940-42."
Benoit found the saw out in the woods, along with an ax and a hatchet. He knew right where to look, because he worked in those forests back when he was in the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps. He worked on a crew that cut a trail through the forest, from Mt. Mansfield to the Waterbury Dam.
"It's called a fire trail, in case of a forest fire," he explains. "In deep snow, once in awhile, a saw or ax will get lost. Or a canteen or canteen cup or something you had with you will get lost in the snow. And I went back, years later, and followed those paths. And I found things I knew where we used to have a campsite. And I'd pick 'em up and bring 'em home. This was 45, 50 years later."
The CCC was created in 1933. It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first work relief program, an attempt to combat the desperate unemployment of the Depression. The CCC hired hundreds of thousands of jobless young men and sent them to military-style camps around the country. The recruits did conservation work, such as clearing trails, fighting forest fires, building park buildings, and battling insect infestations.
They called themselves CCC boys, and that's the name everyone else used too. Many CCC boys from cities in Connecticut and Massachusetts were assigned to the forests of Vermont.
"And I happened to see a few of 'em running around in uniform," Benoit says. "Asked my mother and father and said I'd like to join up. 'Course I was only 15; you were supposed to be 17."
So Benoit lied about his age, and got his uniform.
Benoit found that the city boys in his camp didn't know much about life in the woods, or manual labor.
"They didn't know how to operate a saw," he says. "Didn't know how to operate an ax. They had to be taught."
Benoit was used to hand tools, but in the CCC he learned to operate gas-powered machines for the first time. "I learnt four or five trades while I was in there," he says. He learned how to operate jackhammers and drive trucks and bulldozers.
Benoit still goes to visit the ski lodge at Stowe he built when he was in the CCC. And sometimes he goes back to the site of his camp. The buildings are all gone now, but he remembers how it was.
"I walk down through where the parade ground was," he says. "And just reminisce about the old times."
He remembers the huge meals they used to have in camp. He remembers learning how to box. And he remembers the first time he saw a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl in the neighboring town. She was pushing a bicycle down the street. They were both 15. They were together 68 years, until her death last year.
They lived in an old schoolhouse. Benoit says the construction work he did in the CCC taught him the skills he needed to remodel the place. They raised a family there. Benoit had various careers, often using skills he'd learned in the CCC, such as jack hammering to build highways.
Benoit still lives in the old schoolhouse. His truck is parked out front, where people driving by can see the license plate: CCC BOY.
"I put it on there a long time ago," Benoit says. "And I've had it like that ever since. Never forget it. As long as I live, I will never forget the CCC. What they taught me."