General Lewis B. Hershey, America’s longest serving director of Selective Service, whose primary job was to raise an army to send off to war, was also responsible for developing a program of alternative service for those who objected to war.
“On the surface, it didn’t make sense,” said Nicholas Krehbiel, a 1997 Pratt High graduate who began to study Hershey’s role in the Civilian Public Service while in a master’s degree program at Fort Hays State University.
As an outgrowth of his PhD dissertation at Kansas State University, Krehbiel wrote a book, “General Lewis B. Hershey and Conscientious Objection during World War II,” published by University of Missouri Press.
Krehbiel knew from eighth grade that he wanted to major in history, and said teachers Stephen Meneley, Kurt Heaton and Neil DePew were “quite inspirational.”
His family history is tied to the historic peace churches (the Brethren, Mennonites and the Society of Friends) and his grandfather was a conscientious objector during World War II, serving in the Civilian Public Service.
There was no organized program for conscientious objectors prior to World War II and as a result they were often treated poorly, Krehbiel said. In World War I, men who objected to military service on religious grounds were drafted and stuck in military camps, where they suffered harassment, beatings and public humiliation, and possible incarceration in military prisons at Leavenworth or Alcatraz. When the United States went to war again, something had to be done.
Hershey didn’t believe in the doctrine of pacifism, but he did believe in protecting religious freedoms and the concept of the civilian soldier who responded to the duty of service when called upon.
Krehbiel’s grandfather worked in a soil conservation unit in Arkansas for a time, volunteered as a human scientific test subject — a human guinea pig — in Indiana, and was later assigned to a camp in Michigan.
Scientific experiments at the camp in Indiana included studying the effects of starvation on the human body and also how the body reacts to harsh climate. Merrill Sanger was a subject in a climatology study that tested reaction to hot and humid or cold and wet conditions, based on the type of clothing worn.
“We don’t have good information about how much the men knew when they volunteered and the possible after effects,” Krehbiel said.
After the war, Sanger farmed in Gove County until retirement and died in 2009. Krehbiel never heard his grandfather say explicitly, “yes, I had problems” as a result of the experimentation.
Krehbiel’s book has been described as the definitive book on the subject of Hershey and alternative service and an important and sympathetic reassessment of Hershey’s stance toward pacifists and conscientious objectors during World War II.
Page 2 of 2 - It is available from major online book retailers and from University of Missouri Press. It is written with the “scholarly apparatus” of footnotes and bibliography, Krehbiel said, but he tried to “tell a story.” He believes the historical work will be of interest to Peace Church membership and people who are interested in pacifism and religious freedom related to military history.
After receiving his doctoral degree in 2009, Krehbiel taught history part-time at KSU, Fort Hays State University, Washburn University and Bethel College. With an “abysmal” job market in history, he turned to another passion, the agricultural industry. He is a safety director for Ag Services LLC, and lives in Hutchinson with wife Catherina and children Duncan and Bailey.
He is the son of Bruce and Geneva Krehbiel of Pratt, and the grandson of Larry and Barbara Krehbiel, Pratt, and Eulalia and the late Merrill Sanger, Quinter. While at Pratt High, he played football and golf and participated in band, choir and Scholar’s Bowl.