The Warren State Hospital has been many things to many people since it was established in 1880.
For three years in the 1940s, it was a home for “conscies,” men who objected to military service during World War II and were, instead, registered as conscientious objectors.
More than any war in our nation’s history, World War II is probably the clearest example of “Good vs. Evil,” especially where the war in Europe against Nazi Germany was concerned.
That sense is so clear – and the Allied triumph was so resolute and complete – that it’s easy to forget that not everyone was supportive of the war.
According to an article from the National Park Service, pacifists – those who believe that war is unjustifiable – were required to report to their local draft boards, in spite of their deeply held or religious beliefs.
From there, men had three options:
“Most COs during World War II–about 25,000 men in total–joined the armed forces in noncombatant roles, such as medic or chaplain,” according to the NPS. “About 6,000 others refused to participate in the war effort in any way and were imprisoned.:
That left about 12,000 to join the Civilian Public Service.
And that’s how the Warren State Hospital and Allegheny National Forest got involved.
“Authorized by the US government but funded and coordinated by the peace churches, the CPS program provided COs with an option for ‘work of national importance under civilian direction,’” per the NPS. “It allowed them to serve their country without betraying their principles.”
The Mennonite Central Committee maintains civilianpublicservice.org that provides a wealth of information about these Civilian Public Service.
In addition to the Warren State Hospital, two were located on the Allegheny National Forest.
CPS Unit No. 83 was the one instituted at the Warren State Hospital and operated by the “American Friends Service Committee.”
“Most men served as ward attendants,” the civilianpublicservice.org site explains, indicating that 41 conscientious objectors worked at the camp.
They worked varying shifts, some days were 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. while other days were 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
“On a rotating basis, each attendant received one and a half days off per week, unless their half day fell on Saturday. In that case, the attendant remained off from Friday afternoon through Sunday. The hospital carefully scheduled the attendants so that a husband and wife would have the same days off,” the site explains.
According to that site, the state hospital paid women $61.50 per month for ward duty while the men, per Selective Service regulation, were paid $15 per month. They were given room and board. The women bought their uniforms while the men received them.
The camps located at Kane utilized COs to fight fire while those at the Marienville camp – located on a former Civilian Conservation Corps site – did a variety of work such as maintaining roads and planting trees, per that site.
According to the Warren Times Mirror, there were conscientious objectors working both at Red Bridge as well as at CCC Camp No. 1 at Duhring.
The Red Bridge camp, per the Times Mirror, was the first CPS camp in the state.
“At the present there are 149 conscientious objectors at the camp, which has a capacity rating of 159,” the paper reported in 1942.
The Times Mirror looked to educate the community on how these camps were going to be operated.
The men stationed near here are engaged in work in the Allegheny National forest on projects designated of “national importance,” working a 40-hour week on a no-pay basis. The men are required to furnish their own equipment and board.
Sponsoring church groups known as the “peace churches,” provide food and equipment for the men and maintain the housing facilities. Abandoned camps of the Civilian Conservation Corps are being used in this section. The camp at Red Bridge formerly was headquarters for the district which included 15 such camps. The Duhring camp was the first CCC unit established in the state and second in the nation. It was used as a model for setting up additional units.
In both cases, the conscientious objectors will continue the work started by the CCC including tree planting, forest road work and maintenance of the network of fire roads which have largely been responsible for the heavy drop in forest fire losses in recent years. The men are also available for forest fire fighting and other work in the forest under direction of the U.S. Forest Service.
Up to the present, many of the conscies from the nearby camp have been transferred to work in other areas. One group of 30 was taken to the west coast for work on an emergency project. Close to a score have been assigned to farms in New York State, where a labor shortage was reported.
The Times Mirror also reported that one of the men working at Red Bridge may be sent to the other side of the world to work on the Burma Road.
“He is Raymond Long, 25, of near Hagerstown, Md., who left a month ago to receive training at Camp Largo, Ind. along with eleven other conscientious objectors from 22 camps over the nation,” the Times Mirror reported. “Eight of the 12 are scheduled to go to the Burma Road, probably leaving in March, with the other four listed as alternates. Long is one of the alternates.”
There appeared to also be chances to head across the pond in the other direction.
“L.K. Zeigler, director of the Red Bridge camp, said other men are seeking special instructions to serve as firemen in London and other English towns and also that plans are under way for the establishment of special units along the west coast from Canada to Mexico,” the paper reported.
The men to go to the Burma Road will have for their work the moving of unexploded bombs and similar tasks along with building and reconstruction of roads – work which will release other men for armed duty. Nature of the special units along the west coast was not divulged.
The men will continue in their status of conscientious objectors in the work which does not conflict with their beliefs against military training and service, it was said. They will continue under sponsorship of the various peace churches, with transportation, equipment, food and clothing furnished by the churches.
All work in which men are engaged is to come under the status of “national importance.”