The experience of Albert and Ethel Wall as CO’s was seemingly relatively pleasant – especially given that the two were a very much in love newly-wed couple who both, coincidentally shared a great love for the out-doors.
While different members of his extended family, including his future brothers-in-law would have slightly different takes on the position of CO status in the war – for Albert, the matter was simply that he could not participate in the fighting. While he would later state that he supported the war’s objectives, the Mennonite people did not accomplish their objectives through war and did not serve in the military as nonresistance was part of their traditional spiritual witness and understanding. Others would indicate the sheer folly of attempting to kill an innocent soldier one day and then attempting to lead him to Christ the next. War mixed with neither the Anabaptist principle of nonresistance or with the Evangelical aim of leading others to Christ.
Later, Ethel would confirm that neither was Bert very preachy about his pacifist stance – and that both he and she were enthusiastic to do what was required of them by the government. “Grandpa,” as she calls him when speaking of him to her grandchildren, “just said that this is what he had to do – and understood that.” Neither did Ethel, raised of Baptist stock, find anything overly unusual with the traditional pacifism of the Mennonites – it was part of their faith.
Fortunately, Bert was able to take his new bride with him, more-or-less. While Bert stayed at the CCC campground, Ethel lived nearby supporting herself by finding a job locally and would be there when Bert could get away. As such, Ethel spent much of the war living in Downey, Idaho where she supported herself as a chambermaid for the Oxford Hotel.
Nor did Ethel find the task of supporting herself to be unreasonable. As a child, she had learned to work hard on the family’s Montana ranch.
As for the Oxford Hotel – “It really wasn’t that bad – I didn’t have to do much with the smelly things – I would just hurry up and bundle all the used sheets and things together and could then work with the fresh smelling things – making the bed, laying out towels – part of my job was to make the room look nice and to smell fresh.”
“There always seemed to be someone coming or going that would need a room,” she remembers further, “and sometimes the hotel would be empty – and then I could take time to myself – read a book, sew, do some crochet…” (Ethel Wall, private conversations).
Asked if chores were worse at the hotel or when raising four kids, she replies with a chuckle – “Now THAT is a good question.”