Since my book Promise to Return released in October, the comments I have heard more often than anything else is, “I never given the Amish and World War II any thought,” or, “I didn’t know the Amish were conscientious objectors,” or, “I didn’t know the Amish were allowed to be drafted.”
These kinds of statements and other questions have encouraged me to share with you what I’ve learned in researching this piece of history.
There’s an amazing book called, The CPS Story: An Illustrated History of Civilian Public Service that has provided a great deal of information to me. It is written by Albert N. Keim, a former Amish man whom I believe converted to the Mennonite church later in life.
He begins the book with this:
“John Yoder finally realized the war was over when he topped the hill and saw the farm spread out below, an oasis of peace in a world which had known only war and violence for six years. The farm seemed unchanged since his departure four years before. The world had changed, however, and so had he. Four years ago he had been a simple farm boy. He was no longer that, but he was not sure he could tell in what ways he had changed, who he had become.” (page 7 of The CPS Story)
This is just one story of thousands. Yes, thousands. With that, let’s start with some cold hard facts.
During World War II, 34,506,923 men registered for the draft. Of that number, 72,354 documented that they were conscientious objectors.
There were options for conscientious objectors…unlike during World War II.
Over 25,000 of them chose to work with the Army in noncombatant roles. Over 27,000 of them did not pass the physical exam. About 6,000 of them chose to go to prison, refusing any form of service. Many of those men were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who refused any sort of service on claim of ministerial exemption. Around 12,000 of the conscientious objectors chose to go to the Civilian Public Work camps.
These are the men I’d like to talk about and learn about. These are the men who have largely been forgotten.
One of these 12,000 men was my Daudy (grandpa), Freeman Coblentz. He faithfully served in the CPS for several years in the early to mid-1940s. He worked in a labor camp and a mental institution in Maryland. His stories were beyond belief and captivated my mind as a child and especially as an adult.
I always knew that my family was great and unique—I love my family. I knew we had a special legacy because my daudy had done what most men would never have done. He defied the mainstream belief that war was the only way to serve your country…and he fought for his right to not fight. It wasn’t popular…at all.
What comes to mind when you think of men who refused to serve in any of the wars? If you’re really honest, the answer is probably not positive. This is what the Amish had to “war” against. Being against war in our modern day is much more accepted, but this was not the case at this moment in our country’s history.
I married an active-duty Air Force Officer whom, after ten years, has recently begun serving in the Air National Guard in Pennsylvania. I love my country and I love my husband’s desire to serve in the military. But I also love that our country has a select number of men (and women) who have chosen differently. I think it’s necessary and makes us a well-rounded country.
I hope you liked this snippet of American and Amish history. This subject matter is the focus of my three book series, The Promise of Sunrise.
Do you have a thought or a question about this? If yes, please share it with me in a comment below. I’d love to see if I can answer your question. Learning the history of our country is vital and I’m going to try to contribute in the best way I know how.
Elizabeth Byler Younts is a bestselling author and a 2014 Double RITA Finalist for her debut novel Promise to Return. She is an Air Force Officer’s Wife and a homeschooling mom with two young daughters, living in Pennsylvania. Elizabeth was Amish as a child, and after her parents left the church, she still grew up among her Amish family and continues to speak Pennsylvania Dutch.
Purchase Elizabeth’s books here.