Chuck Worley was interned during WW II in CPS Camps 7, Magnolia, Arkansas, and 36, Santa Barbara, CA. In time he came to view the CPS system as a “slave labor” system and decided to walk out. He was then arrested, tried, and served two parts of two separate sentences in federal prisons. It was in prison that Chuck met the Hopi peace activist Thomas Banyacya; the two men remained life-long friends until Thomas’s death in 1999.
The incident remembered here by Chuck involved the poet William Stafford and a day-trip three COs from Magnolia took to the town of McNeil, Arkansas. The three narrowly escaped being lynched by angry townspeople as spies. Stafford wrote about the same incident in his book, Down in My Heart (Peace Witness in War Time). This incident, vividly recalled by Chuck, illustrates how propaganda affected people during WW II.
In 1995 Chuck published a small collection of his poetry in the hard-to-find collection Ruminations of a Certified Groundhog. He is currently working on a new collection of his writing that will include nearly 100 letters written to his wife Betsy during his time in prison along with much of his poetry and essays. You can read one of Chuck’s poems written in prison during WW II, “Visitor at Cell 35,” by clicking here.
Chuck tells this story:
“Bill Stafford, Bob Polk, and I decided to take a hike one Sunday morning [while interned in CPS camp], and so we fixed us up some sandwiches, and we started a little hike up through the back country, up towards a little town north of their called McNeil.Bob, who kind of did watercolors, had his board with him and his colors. Bill had his camera and all I had was a sheet of paper. I was planning on trying to write something.So we got up to McNeil and that’s where Bob first saw something he wanted to paint a picture of. There had been a fire in McNeil and one of the buildings was still a black mass. There was a little hill, a higher place there where we could sit and look at the town.So Bob decided to do a watercolor there. While he was doing that, Bill had a book of poetry that he was reading and I tried writing a poem.
"I had just gotten my poem written when some guy reached over my shoulder and said, ‘What you got there? And he took it and I didn’t think, from the tone of his voice, I didn’t think he wanted it to be friendly. This guy apparently was from that town, and I think he had been away working in a defense factory somewhere. He was much better dressed, had a tie on and all that. He wasn’t at all friendly with the [CPS] camp, that was obvious.And so he started taking my poem around and showing it to these other guys; there were a number of guys standing around watching Bob do his picture and that sort of thing.They’d never seen anything like that I guess. He started showing how my poem really showed that I was up to no good, that it was probably something for the ‘enemy.’ When you write about a load of freighters grumbling through town at night and stuff like that, that’s not for any good reason or good purpose. There was a lot of propaganda that everybody was being subjected to about what was going on over there [the war in Europe], and how important it was that we get into the war and do our part. So the people of Magnolia, Arkansas, were easily convinced that we were bad guys.
"Bob was trying desperately to finish his painting. And that’s when I said, ‘Well, guys, I don’t think these people like us. I think we’d better be getting out of here.’ And so I started off and then one of them said, ‘Come on back, Buddy, you’re not going anywhere.’ So I went back and sat down. I knew I couldn’t outrun them, with cars and all, so I just went back and set down and then they started making all kinds of sarcastic remarks. Then it looked like violence was going to start, really, and one of the guys grabbed Bob’s picture and started tearing it off the board, and so on.
"Then there was some guy who came on the scene, a Methodist minister, and he didn’t share in the violence that was imminent, so he said, ‘Wait a minute, let’s talk about this.This is something we need to call the authorities about. This isn’t something we ought to take into our own hands,’ and so on. Some in the crowd grumbled about that a little bit but they decided OK. There were people muttering they ought to string the bastards up, and stuff like that. And so anyway they said, OK.
"So we sat down, Bob, Bill, and I, and waited for the authorities to come up and arrest us properly. Well, when the authorities got up there, it wasn’t the policeman; it was some federal guy from Magnolia. There were two of them, and they saw that it was just hysteria. So they said, ‘Well, we’ll take care of this.’ So they took us back to [CPS] camp and they said we better lay low for a little while until things cool off. The superintendent of the camp thought that was a good idea, so for the rest of the month we didn’t go out and around camp much.”
The photo above shows Chuck on his land in Colorado with Grand Mesa in the background. As an environmentalist working at the grass-roots level, Chuck has done years of work to preserve and protect the ground water of Grand Mesa, the principle source of water for his part of Western Colorado.
The photo at the right shows Chuck in the barn. In 2007, Chuck and several friends took food and clothing to the Hopi Indian Reservation, a 60-year+ legacy connection of goodwill and peacemaking of sharing established by Chuck and peace activist Thomas Banyacya, an outgrowth of their friendship formed as young COs in federal prison during WW II.
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