With some of the images and stories from Veterans Day 2013 still resonating in my head, it was interesting this week to pick up Steve McQuiddy's new book about a group of conscientious objectors in World War II.
"Here on the Edge" focuses on the men - and women - who populated Camp Angel (also known as Camp #56) at Waldport, Ore., in the 1940s.
McQuiddy is a Eugene writer who has developed a practice of writing about some of the Pacific Northwest's historic figures who have swum outside of the mainstream.
For this book, he focuses on a core group of fellows who came to their CO status from a variety of backgrounds but fell in together to turn their work camp on the rain-soaked Oregon coast into a fine arts school.
By day they crushed rocks, constructed roads and trails, fought forest fires, built a look-out, and planted 21/2 million trees over 9,000 acres; by night they wrote poetry, drew cartoons, operated an alternative press, put on readings and theatrical entertainments, concertized, recorded music, philosophized and drank.
There was a fair amount of trysting, too, as wives and sweethearts began arriving and taking up residence in a motel court just across the road.
One of the leaders who emerged from this ferment was California poet William Everson who, after the war and a divorce, remade himself as Brother Antoninus - dubbed by Time Magazine as the "Beat Friar."
The camp served as a magnet for other emerging talents, including artists Morris Graves and Clayton and Barbara James, New Music Quartet founder Broadus Erle and other interesting personalities who used those years of mandated civilian service to hone their skills in architecture, graphic design, writing, publishing, music and theater.
But in theaters of a far different sort, World War II raged on. While the Fine Arts Group in Waldport was interested in giving birth to a new kind of society, soldiers were dying on beaches from Normandy to Iwo Jma.
Camp Angel had its detractors - from national radio commentator Walter Winchell to a local newspaper that carped about the COs and their lady friends jitterbugging at the New Year's Eve dance in town. Some of the churches that sponsored the camps looked askance at the Fine Arts Group's liberality, too.
As the war came to a close, the COs headed out to live the rest of their lives. They fanned up and down the West Coast especially, and author McQuiddy shows how the legacy of the Waldport COs was influential in shaping the beatniks of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s.
"Here on the Edge" is the culmination of two decades of research - this book is packed with intimate insights into the psyches of nearly two dozen conscientious objectors. At times, the chapters are so crammed with detail that a degree of fortitude is required of the reader.
Still, "Here on the Edge" spotlights a small but seminal movement that had a lasting impact and ought not be forgotten.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.