By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Fighting raged in Europe and Asia, and a military draft was on in the United States, but the American draftees dispatched to Patapsco Valley State Park in the spring of 1941 had their own ideas about war. They would serve, but not kill.

The group that opened this country’s first government-approved civilian service camp for conscientious objectors on May 15, 1941, numbered 26 men from the East Coast. They settled into long, wooden, dark-green and gray barracks with their work clothes, overcoats, linens, shaving supplies, toothpaste, books — and their religious convictions that told them war was wrong.

Soon after they arrived, one man received a letter calling the men “Hitler’s little helpers” — a foretaste of greater public hostility to come after the U.S. entered World War II. Months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, a national pacifist experiment had begun.

“That was progressive, that was cutting-edge,” said Bill Galvin, the counseling coordinator for the Center on Conscience & War in Washington. Galvin is among the organizers of a gathering scheduled near the park at Relay Town Hall on Sunday afternoon to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the opening of the first Civilian Public Service camp at what was then called Patapsco State Forest…

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