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1936 CCC tragedy struck a chord

SANDISFIELD, Mass. — Civilian Conservation Corps Company 196, based at Sandisfield State Forest near York Lake, suffered a tragedy Dec. 16, 1934, when an open-bodied truck driven by an inexperienced young man, transporting recruits to 8:30 a.m. Mass at St. Peter’s Church in Great Barrington, skidded and careered down Three Mile Hill, tossing men over the side. Two were dead at the scene, two were pronounced dead upon arrival at Fairview Hospital and a fifth died the next morning.

The sobering experience set a tone for the camp, which thrived and soon had a solid reputation with the community. The men never forgot the accident, and erected a small memorial.

The memorial has been maintained over the years by citizens who had no CCC connection, but were touched by the tragedy. The late Robert Chase of South Sandisfield, a Gilbert School graduate who had been in the advertising field in New York City, began to place a wreath at the former campgrounds right before Christmas each year.  

Jack F. Perretti of Winsted, who once wrote for the Register Citizen, said he and his wife got to know Chase, and began to accompany him to the camp to place the wreath. When Chase could no longer make the trip after 1992, Perretti took over. In recent years, Lt. Col. Michael Casey USAF Ret. of Housatonic, Mass., has gone with him. Casey’s father, John, had been at Mass at the church the day the priest learned of the accident and informed the congregation.

Chase worked with Massachusetts legislators to have a flagpole put up at the camp site. Perretti put up a small plaque that explains the circumstances of the accident and memorial.

It’s all done without fanfare, though Perretti said, “One year we went up to put the wreath out, when Bob was alive, and my wife and I walked in, and out of the woods came a hunter. We were a little startled. It turned out he was a veteran of the CCC camp. He lived in Great Barrington and he hunted here. I forgot his name.”

And that’s how a modest tradition is sustained.

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