CCC Legacy group keeps Boys’ history alive

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day was marked nationwide Saturday, Dec. 7, most prominently in the annual ceremonies at the USS Arizona monument in Hawaii. The great achievement of U.S. armed forces in the world war that followed is rightly celebrated on several solemn holidays during the year. But there was a vast civilian corps, predecessor to those victorious military forces, that made a huge contribution to winning World War II yet goes largely unrecognized still.

It was disbanded within seven months of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Hank Sulima, a co-founder of CCC Legacy, at the Nov. 9 CCC Fest in Sebring.

The ranks of the so-called “CCC Boys” across the nation are thinning rapidly as they’re all in their late 90s now. But they still have a civic organization based in Virginia that, while dwindled, remains active in trying to keep alive and spread among today’s citizens their storied history and contributions to the “American Century.”

WWII and Civilian Conservation Corps alumnus Hank Sulima, 99, of Vero Beach is a charter member of this association, called CCC Legacy (CCCL). It started out as the National Association of CCC Alumni (or NACCCA), established by the CCC Boys themselves in 1977. His genuine gratitude for his experiences in the corps of national resources conservation troops motivated him to get involved. He personally went on to become a weatherman in the Army Air Forces and served in the South Pacific.

The CCC had no more than 350,000 conservation “soldiers” at any one time, but over its mere nine years of existence, over 3.5 million American men served in its wide variety of jobs. That’s about one-seventh the number of male U.S. citizens ages 18-44 at the time (1940 Census estimate). The CCC was known as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Tree Army,” and it taught all those youths a variety of skills that suddenly were in great demand in our military forces after Dec. 7, 1941, 78 years ago Saturday.

An estimated 90 percent of those in the CCC joined the U.S. armed forces during the next several months, according to the CCCL, and the CCC itself was disbanded June 30, 1942.

Mr. Sulima was national treasurer of the NACCCA in 1990, when the membership was almost 40,000. He said it had a powerful voice, but the organization faded from the public eye as WWII veterans’ deaths grew exponentially during the ’90s, a decade of foreign conflicts, then fell largely out of public sight and memory after 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq until, “in 2007, the NACCCA went belly-up because there was just nobody to run it. So the CCCL took over,” Mr. Sulima said. “And Joan Sharpe has been our president ever since, as a volunteer with no salary, just a great person.”

Ms. Sharpe explained that she simply had heard that the NACCCA was shutting down, and she reached out to them as a member of the Camp Roosevelt CCC Legacy Foundation in Virginia. Already, “they (NACCCA) had given away their artifacts and everything to the Smithsonian.”

Now, she said, “we are what I would call a second-generation organization.” She said she just called a few NACCCA members and convinced them that merging with the Camp Roosevelt group would keep their work alive.

During Mr. Sulima’s time in the leadership, there were NACCCA chapters across the United States. “At one time, there were 178,” Ms. Sharpe said.

In 2019, just one remains, in Texas. Some 4,500 NACCCA members joined in with the Camp Roosevelt group in the early ’90s to make up the CCCL. The aggregate number of people who were members of either NACCCA or CCCL then was 35,838. Now only 900 dues-paying members are left.

“We’re trying to reach out now. This is a crisis for us. For heritage, actually,” Ms. Sharpe said. “Because with those depleted numbers — naturally we’re incorporated as a membership organization — and without those additional members, the income from over 3,000 dues is huge.” It doesn’t give them much revenue to work with anymore.

“The community that promotes the CCC is quite small,” she added. “Most people don’t even know what it is.”

Of those 3.5 million who served, she estimates there might be 150 left among their 900 remaining members.

There are no numbers kept on that, she said.

“And I know that there are CCC Boys that exist out there in the community, but there’s actually no way to track them,” Ms. Sharpe explained. Their CCC service didn’t appear in military records because the CCC’s first name was “Civilian.”

Indeed, Mr. Sulima complained that he couldn’t even get his local newspaper to run a story about him and the rest of the remaining CCC Boys and their great legacy to the U.S.A.

Comprehensive information about the CCC is available on their website, ccclegacy.org, or by contacting Ms. Sharpe.

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