The five stories that follow were compiled into a booklet which was printed in August 2017. They are adapted and reprinted here by permission.
In the mid-1960s, Lyndon Baines Johnson was the President of the United States. The Vietnam War was raging. Five young men, two from Mifflin County and three from Lancaster County (both in Pennsylvania), were registered with the Selective Service as conscientious objectors. They were classified as 1-W, the designation for “conscientious objectors performing civilian work contributing to the maintenance of the national health, saftey, or interest.” The counsel they received, the decisions they made, and God’s direction in the whole process resulted in all five of them performing their alternate service at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital (MHMH) in Hanover, New Hampshire. During the three-to-five month period that the 1-W service of the five overlapped, a friendship and a bond developed that continues to this day, 50 years later. The group of five, including spouses and descendants, now numbers over 90.
The Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital opened in 1893 after Hiram Hitchcock, a prominent member of the community in Hanover, provided the funding in honor of his wife who died in 1887 at age 53. When it opened near the campus of Dartmouth College (now University), it was state-of-the-art, having been modeled somewhat on the design of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. As the hospital grew, several new structures were built between 1913 and 1980, and a college infirmary, physicians’ clinic, and nursing school were added. The hospital buildings were sold to the college in 1991 and the hospital moved to a new site in Lebanon, New Hampshire and was renamed Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Subsequently, most of the old hospital buildings were demolished.
For this project, the five men were given 10 questions as a guideline for them to write about their experiences in 1-W service. Their individual stories follow, roughly in the order of the questions.
- How did you choose to go into 1-W at the Hanover, New Hampshire unit?
- In what department of MHMH were you employed?
- Tell any story about your love life and future wife while living in NH (date of marriage, where spouse worked while living in NH, etc.).
- Tell stories of tricks and pranks.
- Describe your favorite pastimes while serving in 1-W service.
- What impact did 1-W service have on your life and in the shaping of your future beyond your two-year commitment?
- Share some thoughts about your church experience at Taftsville.
- How did you relate to individuals living in the area who had been in 1-W prior to your term of service?
- How did this experience impact your spiritual life?
- Any additional thoughts you wish to share?
Irvin Hartzler is retired after 35 years with the New Holland Machine Company in Belleville, PA. He now works part-time for his son-in-law driving the Kish View Farm milk truck. He attends the Locust Grove Mennonite Church in Belleville.
I needed to find a place at short notice. My future father-in-law had a list of places available for alternative service and this was one of them. I wanted to go some distance away from home since I knew that many local guys were being drafted into the armed forces and could not choose to be close to home. I see it now as the leading of the Lord. At Mary Hitchcock, I was employed as a daylight shift orderly.
My wife Sara and I were dating, but she left for a VS assignment in Louisville, Kentucky a few days before I left for my 1-W assignment which began April 13, 1964. We were married June 18, 1966 after I returned home in March 1966.
We sometimes amused ourselves in our free time by playing tricks on each other. One time, Omar (Zook) and I entered the trailer of two other guys. We put soap in one of the guy’s toothpaste. He came out the next morning to go to work with us and commented that his toothpaste tasted like soap! My favorite pastimes were playing Rook, tennis, basketball, softball, going to Rockdale, and A & W Root Beer, as well as touring parts of Vermont and New Hampshire.
1-W service helped me to establish my beliefs and become independent and learn to live on my own. That helped when my wife and I established our own home. I also appreciated the close-knit fellowship we formed within the church. This included a variety of persons within the 1-W network (those currently serving as well as those who had previously served) as well as persons from the community. We shared meals with each other and spent time together in church-related activities.
I feel blessed that the five of us and our families continue to be connected to each other, and I can see now how my experience in the hospital helped me care for our aging parents and we continue to serve.
Omar Zook worked in the operating room at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital for 40 years, becoming a registered nurse. He retired from full-time work in 2007. He and his wife still live in Vermont and attend Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship.
After attending Rosedale Bible School in Ohio, I talked to the voluntary service folks about going to Cincinnati to do voluntary service. I went home expecting them to contact me and give me some possibilities and dates. They in turn were expecting me to contact them about an assignment but I did not know that. In the meantime Irv and I were called to come for our physicals for the draft; in a couple of weeks we heard that we had passed and we needed to have a place of service in 90 days. One evening Irv came up to my place and said he was looking at a place in New England that he got from a list for 1-W openings. New England sounded kind of interesting to me, so we made plans to go there together.
I was given the position of orderly for central service reprocessing (CSR) and my job was cleaning, assembling for sterilization, and delivering syringes and needles for the different units. I did this for six months and then the operating room (OR) was looking for someone to help out after 3:30 to transport patients out of the recovery room and help with cleanup. I volunteered to do this while the OR orderly was on vacation. The OR then wanted to train some new technicians for the OR and the two orderlies were accepted for training. This left openings for full-time orderlies in the OR and I asked if I could transfer.
My supervisor in CSR had to give permission for the transfer. She wasn’t too excited and tried to convince me to stay in a different position taking care of traction supplies. I did that for a few days but then decided I would really rather go to the OR. She reluctantly let me go and I served as an orderly for six months until the two new technicians were called into the armed services. I asked to be considered for technician training but had to agree to work for a full year even though I really only had 11 months left.
I met my wife Janice when she came to Vermont during my second year with a team of Bible school teachers from Franconia to teach. We started dating and continued in Pennsylvania after I came home. We were married on June 3, 1967 and Janice worked on the second floor of the Faulkner building for a couple of years before we had children.
I was involved in a lot of tricks and pranks during our days of service in the upper valley. Some that stand out were done to a couple of guys who lived two trailers away from us. Switching labels on cans of baked beans and dog food brought a fair amount of laughter; trying to hide our involvement in the process was quite challenging. When we filled a brown egg with gravy, it went undetected and unsuspected for what seemed like an eternity as the recipients simply would not reveal to us if they in fact had tried to use the egg and we in turn could not ask. Then there were unusual snow drifts that appeared in front of cars and front doors, cherry bombs that went off in mysterious places, shaving-cream-filled bath tubs, some interesting-tasting toothpaste that found its way into one home, and strategically-placed coins over water faucet orifices to give the operator a surprise shower.
During our time of service, we could choose from a number of activities to fill our time. We went to church and church activities because we were here to support our church program. We single guys received our fair share of invitations to Sunday dinners to some of the married folks’ homes. The summer ball games in the fields around Taftsville with the community children were certainly a highlight for us. We also played tennis at some of the college courts as well as basketball during the winter months in one of the basketball courts at the college. We traveled to the White Mountains and drove around Vermont to look at the scenery or for deer in the evenings. We had many good evenings playing games with different couples and groups of 1-W folks and good times making meals as bachelors and sharing with the other single guys. We took a lot of pictures and we gathered together to view them after they were developed. These times always involved food, fun, and lots of laughter!!
This time of service certainly took us out of our familiar surroundings and communities and opened up a new world for us. I think we learned to appreciate the many different backgrounds of people in general as well as appreciate our own background more. For some of us it changed just about everything—our careers, our service, and even meeting our spouse. Some of us were hooked and stayed in this place where we came to serve for (two years). We learned to help out and take responsibility for being the church because we were the working church; we took turns teaching Sunday school both for adults and children. We also interacted with folks who had previously served as 1-W volunteers and stayed in the area to work at Mary Hitchcock or in the community. Most of us were close in age and we had to learn to make decisions and follow through with them. It was a time of spiritual growth as our faith was fleshed out in everyday dealings with people.
Jay Finkbiner attends the New Harvest Brethren in Christ Church in Millerstown, PA.
Before I was drafted, I had decided I would do my 1-W service in Portland, Maine. However, when I was informed that the voluntary service unit in Portland was closing, I found out that there were openings at Mary Hitchcock in Hanover, New Hampshire. I served as an operating room orderly, starting on August 9, 1965 at $1.40 per hour.
When I went to New Hampshire, I had been dating my girlfriend Twila for three months. We wrote letters and made some surprise visits. When postage increased from five cents to six cents, we decided that postage cost too much, so we might as well get married. We became engaged in May 1966 and were married May 20, 1967. Twila worked as a licensed practical nurse at Mary Hitchcock on the fifth floor of Faulkner from June to December, when we moved home. After I completed my two years of service, I worked in the purchasing department as a printer from August to December.
Some incidents stand out as memorable, such as the time a radiologist from the hospital invited another 1-W man and me for Thanksgiving dinner. We had a delicious meal that we shared with the cats, who sat among us at the table eating from their own individual plates. We laughed all the way home, picking cat hairs off our suits. Another time, we took all the labels off Allen Guntz’s [another 1-W] food cans. One time, someone worked hard during the night piling the snow against the front door of the trailer. We enjoyed spending Sunday afternoons with the fellows—hiking, taking scenic pictures, laughing at Allen Guntz’s personality and John Leisey’s funny antics. We often enjoyed Howard Johnson’s Friday fish fry for our supper, shopping at the Rockdale Outlet in Lebanon, and learning to play guitar with the fellows.
At the church I attended, I felt welcomed and accepted. I appreciated invitations to other couples’ homes. I remember the fun and fellowship meals we had twice a year. I was a youth leader. All the youth were from the community. One Sunday I even gave the Sunday message; I preached on the book of Joel.
When I started my service, my goal was to fulfill my obligation to the government as a conscientious objector. I developed a desire to serve others, and felt the Lord’s guidance in my life at this time. I developed friendships for life and beyond. It was an experience I will cherish forever.
John Leisey and his wife served at the Navajo (Brethren in Christ) Mission in New Mexico from August 1969 to May 1972 as boys dorm supervisors. He then worked in construction until his retirement in 2009 and continues to serve as pastor of the Stevens (PA) United Zion Church. He and his wife have four children and 15 grandchildren.
My time in I-W service at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital was a positive experience in my life and I’m pleased to remember that experience in writing. Memory has a way of adjusting some things especially after 43 years, but I will endeavor to share with the recollection that I have now.
I do not remember how I found out about the unit in Hanover. I do know that one of my prerequisites was that wherever I would go, I wanted to be far enough away from home that I could not go home each weekend but not so far that I could not get home at all. New England met that requirement. I interviewed at Mary Hitchcock on December 27, 1965 and began working January 10, 1966.
I was employed in the nursing department as a floor orderly on the 3:00-11:00 p.m. shift. Eugene Weber and Arlan Freed were coworkers on that shift. One of our major responsibilities was to prep male patients for the next day’s surgery. There were many prep orders that instructed the patients be shaved from “nipples to knees.” I was glad I was the one shaving and not the one being shaved. There were two orderlies on duty for the second shift and we divided our responsibilities between the “old house” and the “new house,” Faulkner. Another responsibility was to transport patients to their rooms from the recovery room after surgery. For me, Tuesdays were a big deal, when I along with other staff and Dr. Cardozo would take a patient to intensive care after he or she had had the once-a-week open heart surgery.
I proposed to my girlfriend Earla about six months into my term of service. I asked her to marry me after I finished my service and she graduated from college. Earla considered transferring to Middlebury but the cost was prohibitive. Had that happened the story could have been different. Reflecting back, I’m glad I was not married but I am also glad I had a wonderful girlfriend and fiancée. I finished my term of service in December 1967 and Earla graduated from Millersville on January 19, 1968. We were married January 20, 1968. We had waited long enough!
I don’t recall being involved with lots of tricks and pranks—I think the tricks and pranks belonged to the group that preceded us. There was, however, lots of laughter and good times. One of my favorite things to do while in I-W service was to get the mail. Two or three times a week I received the letter I wanted. When I first came to New England, Earla gave me some writing paper and this poem:
Dear letter, go upon your way
O’er mountain, plain or sea.
God bless all who speed your flight
Where I wish you to be.
And bless all those beneath the roof
Where I would you rest
But ‘specially the one to whom
This letter is addressed.
To this day I enjoy getting the mail, in anticipation of getting something good. Some other activities I was involved in were building a canoe with Eugene Weber and listening to records. I think the sound track for “The Sound of Music” was a big deal at the time. I also enjoyed the social times of getting together, whether organized or informal.
It’s hard to say what all shaped my 65 years of life, but I am sure that the two 1-W years certainly played a part. For one thing, I learned responsibility. I came from a good home and I have a great marriage but for nearly two years I lived independently. There was laundry to be done, living quarters to be cleaned, meals to prepare, bills to pay, a yard that needed to be mowed, and time commitments that needed to be kept. While those of us who lived together shared responsibilities, we were neither “wife” nor “mama” to each other. Working in a hospital also must have impacted my life. Helping to prepare the body of a dead child to take to the morgue, being with a troubled person who I believe knew he was dying, sitting with a prominent person whose life had been wrecked by alcohol—I’m sure those and many other experiences surely must have had some effect on my life.
Attending church at Taftsville was a neat experience for me. Fellowship was an important aspect of church life as it should be for any congregation. I remember a social gathering that we had soon after I came to Taftsville that helped to bond relationships. Worshipping with another denomination was also a positive experience for me. One of our Sunday School teachers’ method of teaching was to ask questions, lots of questions. There was also the prison ministry; since I worked the evening shift I did not get to participate often but when I did it left an impression on me. One Sunday morning after the service as we were leaving, Pastor Jim Millen greeted me and asked if I ever gave consideration to the ministry. That was definitely a seed sown for a future call.
I praise the Lord for my two years of 1-W service, for the unit I was in, for the experiences I had, and for the friendships that were formed.
Leonard Groff is a retired pastor and still works part-time doing payroll for a farm equipment company.
I entered 1-W service in 1965 during the Vietnam War when I was 19 years old. I had been notified to go to the New Cumberland (PA) Army Depot for my physical examination. If you were called to go for your physical exam, it was almost certain that you would be drafted in a short time. Some conscientious objectors were working in the forestry service and I thought I would like to do that, but that did not work out. Then I checked into working at an experimental farm in Beltsville, Maryland, but no positions were available there. I was trying to avoid working in a hospital but God had different plans for me.
I had met Jay once or twice during the summer and knew that he was going to work at a hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire for his two years of service. Through a series of events I decided I would apply for work at Mary Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover. Following an interview I was hired to work as an operating room orderly.
When I headed out of the driveway for West Lebanon, New Hampshire on that fall day in 1965, I realized I was leaving my parents’ home. Anna and I were engaged and I knew I wouldn’t be moving back home. The ride to New Hampshire gave me plenty of time to think about the future and reminiscence about the past. I arrived at 28 Crafts Avenue in West Lebanon, New Hampshire on November 1, 1965. Jay had an apartment there and I moved in with him. That was the beginning of two years of making new friends and having many great experiences!
I lived with Jay in West Lebanon until the end of the year. Jay moved to Oscar’s Trailer Park and I moved to Maple Street, White River Junction, Vermont. The rent was $18.00 a week, including heat and electric The White River ran behind our house. On December 27, 1965, I wrote in my diary, “My friend from Reamstown was up today for an interview. He will begin working on January 10.” That friend was John and he moved in with me in the upstairs apartment at White River Junction. John moved to Oscar’s Trailer Park in June 1966 when Anna and I were married. Anna and I lived in the upstairs apartment until late that year and then we moved to the downstairs apartment. Our rent increased to $20.00 a week. In May 1967 Anna and I moved to a trailer in Wilder, Vermont because the house in White River Junction was scheduled for demolition to make way for Interstate 91.
My job in the operating room was very interesting. The supervisor was Mrs. Alma Bradley, a very pleasant person. We would bring the patients from their rooms to the operating room. It was interesting to look at their charts to see where they were from and what religion they professed. After surgery we would take the patients to the recovery room and then back to their rooms. We were responsible to keep supplies stocked in each of the eight or 10 operating rooms. At times we were asked to hold legs, arms, or heads as they were prepped for surgery. I wrote the following about cleaning the cast room: “Tonight the room was an utter mess! Old casts lying around, dirty sheets on the floor and plaster smeared on the floor and on the walls.” We folded laundry and distributed it to the operating rooms. When blood was needed for transfusions, we would get blood at the blood bank and bring it to the operating room. If the patient died during surgery, we would take the body to the morgue. That didn’t happen very often, but it did happen occasionally. We also had to hold patients, who were under anesthesia, in the proper position for a spinal tap. That was one job I did not enjoy. I did enjoy the opportunity to observe some of the surgical procedures.
We attended church at Taftsville Mennonite Church in Taftsville, Vermont. Jim Millen was the pastor. We were also involved in prayer meetings and singing at the county jail and in an old people’s home. On February 16, 1966 I wrote, “This evening five of us fellows went to church for prayer meeting. When we got there it was dark in the church. We waited until Ivan’s came and then we went in. We waited a little but no one else came so we started singing. We ended up singing the whole evening. We had a few inches of snow today so they must have cancelled prayer meeting and we didn’t find out about it. Anyway, we enjoyed spending the evening singing!” I really enjoyed the fellowship at Taftsville. It was a time of spiritual growth and development for me.
The fellows also enjoyed having meals together. On February 7, 1966 I wrote, “For Sunday supper we had all the single fellows over here. You should have seen the food we had! Allen had baked a pineapple upside down cake. It was really good. Jay mixed up a batch of graham cracker pudding. John and I supplied the meat, potatoes and peas. I bet we had at least 25 potatoes. We used 4 cans of peas. John’s mother had sent up the meat with his girl. After supper we drew names from a cake pan to see who would wash the dishes, dry them, clear the table and put the dishes away. I wasn’t among the four. After the dishes were done we looked at slides and played a few games. It was a really great evening.” We were also invited to the couple’s homes for some very good meals and good times of fun and fellowship.
Singing and playing instruments together was lots of fun and we enjoyed looking at slides. We also spent a lot of time talking about our ideas of married life and where God was leading us after our time in New England.
Jay and I attended the operating room staff Christmas party. I received two cookbooks, one of which had the following poem inside.
We know a guy
Who boils his steaks,
His cooking skills
Are big mistakes.
So till his bride
Arrives to cook,
Please read this book!
Anna and I were married on June 11, 1966. We went to Virginia on our wedding trip and then stopped at Belleville the following Saturday for Irv and Sara’s wedding! Anna worked in the medical records department. We enjoyed traveling through the countryside in Vermont and New Hampshire. There were lots of dirt roads and small towns. We even managed to make a trip to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Our oldest son Timothy Lee was born during our stay in New England, on August 8, 1967. I remember driving to the hospital early in the morning, then sitting in a small library outside Ob-Gyn waiting for the news! Husbands were not allowed to be in the delivery room at that time.
My two years in 1W service were very rewarding. I believe God led us there and has blessed the relationships that have endured over the years.
 “Draft Classifications during the Vietnam War,” accessed October 26, 2017, https://www.calledtoservevietnam.com/blog/information-about-the-vietnam-era-draft/draft-classifications-during-the-vietnam-war/.