Paul Ebersole was nearing his twenty-second birthday when President Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act on September 16, 1940. A member of Dohner Mennonite Church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, then part of Lancaster Conference, he had been taught that the New Testament forbade Christians from fighting. When he was part of the first group called to military service, he registered as a Conscientious Objector and reported to the Civilian Public Service (CPS) camp at Grottoes, Virginia—the first Mennonite CPS camp.
His work there, deemed to be “of national importance,” included soil conservation and fire fighting as well as farm and manufacturing work. Ebersole recalled a time when he led a crew hired to pick apples in an orchard, along with some additional hired help. It started to rain, and his CPS crew wanted to stop, but he required that they continue working, saying, “for conscience’ sake, we should work longer than these other folks, even if we are not receiving any pay for our work.”
He later reflected, “The money I could have earned in my four and one-half years of CPS could not repay all the benefits I received in developing stronger convictions and in finding the Lord very precious and a ready help in time of need.”
Hear more stories from conscientious objectors during World War II on May 5, when critically acclaimed drama troupe Theatre of the Beat will present “Yellow Bellies” at Lancaster Mennonite School’s High Auditorium. The show begins at 6:30 pm. Admission is by donation.
Yellow Bellies is a historical drama that highlights the experiences of and public response to Mennonite conscientious objectors during WWII. This episodic tale takes audiences across Canada, featuring verbatim interviews, fictionalized scenes, and live music from an often overlooked chapter of Canadian history.
Following the performance, Steve Nolt, Senior Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, will give a short presentation relating the Canadian experience presented in the show to that of American Mennonites during the Second World War.
This performance is part of “Following Jesus, Living Out Peace,” a series of events promoting past and contemporary peacemaking as an aspect of living as disciples of Jesus. The series is a partnership between the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, Atlantic Coast Conference, Eastern Mennonite Missions, Lancaster Mennonite School, Landis Communities, and Mennonite Central Committee.