Mennonites have always resisted serving within the military. Willingness to wield the “sword” is inconsistent with a life of discipleship to the Prince of Peace. During World War II, Mennonites and other conscientious objectors in the United States were able to serve their country in a civilian role, rather than in a military one:

Civilian Public Service (CPS) was a program developed at the onset of WWII which provided those whose conscience forbade them to kill, the opportunity to do work of national importance under civilian direction rather than go to war. Nearly 12,000 men made this choice, and many women voluntarily joined the cause. They fought forest fires, worked in mental institutions, planted trees, did dairy testing and served as subjects for medical experiments in more than 150 camps scattered throughout the United States.

Mennonite Central Committee has just launched a website, The Civilian Public Service Story, to pass along the stories of these men and women. Among the names in the database are those of two brothers from southwestern Pennsylvania – one a “laborer” and the other a “dairy farm hand”. The laborer was my grandfather. According to the site, he served first in Virginia, doing land conservation work. I was unaware of this part of his life.

Later in the war, he was transferred to do work in a mental hospital in Rhode Island. My grandmother also worked at the hospital. My mother was born in Providence shortly after the war came to an end. The information on this CPS unit even includes a mention of the vocal quartet in which my grandfather sang.

These people are part of my cloud of witnesses…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12.1,2