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in the classroom

Soldiers or conscientious objectors –
a radically different wartime choice

Julie Denlinger talks to Dan Bender First year student Julie Denlinger talks to Dan Bender at a luncheon in March.

Darryl Mosley, a first-year student from Philadelphia, remembers his grandfather talking about “seeing people die, being their friends and having to let go of them” during the Korean War. “He was drafted, but he knew his country needed him.” Last year, about 300 people, including fellowveterans, attended James Mosley Sr.’s funeral, where Darryl’s grandmother received her husband’s flag.

Now Mosley has a different side of the war to consider. This spring he and classmates of Marti Eads’ College Writing Class interviewed six World War II-era conscientious objectors (COs) living in the Harrisonburg area. Students learned what is was like for these men leaving home for the first time – bound for Civilian Public Service (CPS) camps.

Mosley first met local farmer Dan Bender, who said that though the men dubbed “conchies” sometimes encountered hostility, kindness abounded during wartime. Bender, stationed at a camp in Iowa during the war, remembers a late-night breakdown on a rural Kansas road while returning with friends from a Hesston College commencement. The family of the mechanic who fixed their car for $13 – a soldier just discharged – put the pacifists up for the night.

Heritages Rich in War and Peace

Among her students, Eads found quite a range between their backgrounds. Mosley’s family includes an uncle who received seven World War II combat medals, while classmate Valerie Kauffman’s grandfathers both served in CO programs – one in CPS, the other in the “PAX” program.

In March, the students and COs traveled to Washington, D.C. to present their videotapes, transcripts and photos to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project Archives.

Though government-run, CPS was financed by Mennonite, Quaker and Brethren churches. CPS men–only 58 percent coming from peace churches–got by on stipends of $5 to $15/month. Yet they welcomed the service opportunity in contrast to harsh treatment accorded pacifists in earlier wars.

Assignments had to be 200 miles from home. Harold Lehman, living too close for the Grottoes or Luray camps, first worked for the National Park Service at Galax, Va., and then at a severely understaffed mental hospital at Greystone Park, N.J.

To prepare for their multi-disciplinary project, Eads’ students learned the ins and outs of videotaping, interviewing, historical research and writing from several members of thelibrary and the departments of communications and history. Howard Zehr, director of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, was also on hand to help students with the task of connecting to veterans. Students then wrote WWII-based research papers following the interviews.

A 'Complicated' Perspective

To balance the pacifist perspective, Eads took students to the Holocaust Museum in the nation’s capitol and shared memoirs of her uncle, U.S. Army Air Corps officer Richard Curtis Greene, who was shot down over Berlin and imprisoned.

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She says “I hoped that going to the Holocaust Museum would complicate things” and prompt students to think.

Kauffman said she had not changed her views as a result of the class projects, only that “This experience has just added to my resources and beliefs about war.”

However, the ex-soldiers’ and COs’ s tories convinced Mosley “both views have their good points. I’m not necessarily sure that people see both sides of it.”

–Chris Edwards