Behind a service station in Wise, Va., on the wall of Wayne Holbrook's trailer, hangs the famous 1965 picture of Holbrook walking arm in arm with the president of the United States.
On its left is a snapshot of a family reunion. On the right, a pair of plastic salad servers that Holbrook, now the $13,000 a year maintenance manager of Big G Trailer Court in Wise, won at a recent county fair.
"It's the first thing anybody notices when they come in here," Holbrook says, admiring the picture in its tarnished dime-store frame. "Nobody around here has anything like that."
An hour's drive away, atop a hill in Isom, Ky., a white cup sits apart from all the regular dishes on a kitchen shelf in the trailer where Ray Martin, a coal miner, lives with his wife and five children.
The president of the United States drank Sanka out of that cup on March 10, 1965, the day he visited the nation's first Job Corps center atop Maryland's Catoctin Mountain, and stopped for a coffee break with four of the pilot participants.
These are souvenirs of the War on Poverty, mementos from the front. Holbrook and Martin are two of 24 men located by The Post from the pilot class of Job Corps, then the most highly touted program spawned by the young antipoverty crusade.
For most of the men, the program leaves no clear legacy aside from the souvenirs and memories of a happy winter. But so much has intervened in 15 years -- romance, good and hard times, the war in Vietnam, family life -- that some of the 24 wonder whether, somewhere underneath it all, Job Corps might have subtly changed things they cant's see.
Only two of the group were placed in jobs on leaving the program; at the time, Job Corps had not developed an effective placement system. Most of them simply headed home, once again to face limited opportunities and the same forces that were at work in their lives before Job Corps.
In retrospect, all of them concur on one point: Their lives were shaped most of all by the lessons they learned in the so-called "negative environments" from which Job Crops aimed to remove them. If Catoctin could build on those lessons, it tended to help them; otherwise, it missed connections.
Nonetheless, they could be used to support almost any philosophy about the role of government in improving the quality of people's lives. Since the program flatly turned off most of them, Catoctin could be branded a failure and its mission futile. Alternatively, since 18 of the 24 men have moved up in the world compared to their beginnings, their lives could be considered proof that the program worked.
But neither conclusion would do justice to the people whose lives lie behind the numbers. These former recipients of federal largesse, looking back on Catoctin from where they are now, offer a rare perspective on what government can and can't do for those it aims to help.
Martin, father of five, now lives in a small white trailer on a hilltop in Isom. Within a few minutes' drive live Donny Mullins, Billy Nobel, Clifford Mullins, Danny Adams, Kenny Fleming and Oliver Little. All seven of them went off to Catoctin in the early weeks of Job Corps.
Now they all have come back to the world they know best. The mountains of Appalachia loom in the distance as far as the eye can see, covered mostly by lush forests, with here and there a bared hill that has been strip mined. The radio stations reverberate with country music ballads about love and Mama and Jesus and things that never change. Huge, black coal trucks barrel out of nowhere around the curves of narrow highways, with messages like "Christ is the Answer" emblazoned on their bows.
In this world, lung disease and traffic deaths are accepted facts of life (Martin's father was killed in a coal truck accident; Martin himself has had emphysema since he was 28), but that doesn't keep men out of the mines (five of the seven are miners); nor does it keep them from chainsmoking in the hours when they're at home. And it doesn't stop them from loving their region and clinging to it even when programs like Job Corps try to show them something else.
"There was something kind of funny about that Job Corps," says Danny Adams, a jolly, round-faced coal miner who lives in a frame stucco house on a hill in a community called Sergent. "They spent all that time and money on us, but they never really understood the hillbilly.
"Hillbillies always go home. Everyone I know who has left here always comes back. I don't know what it is. Roots, I guess."
That was the case with Martin, whose story shows the random ways in which Job Corps could hit and miss its targets at the same time. This night he is sitting in the living room of his trailer, surrounded by his five children and his wife, Shirley, talking about Camp Catoctin and one of the happiest times of his life.
The kids love these stories, and have heard them over and over -- all about how their daddy lived for a while in a faraway world where he met the president and even drank coffee with him, and was pictured in newspapers and magazines during the deady first weeks of Job Corps' pilot center.
Every now and then they break their silence to ask: "Daddy, are you going to be famous again?" He gently motions them not to worry about that, as he tells the other stories they love -- how he made friends with people from all over the country for the first time in his life (especially the guys from Baltimore with names like Pee Wee and Slim) and learned the rudiments of mechanics from a man he admired.
Back then, Martin had a dream. He, Donny Mullins and Kenny Fleming were going to learn mechanics and bookkeeping in Job Corps, and then come home to open a service station in Letcher County. A network television crew featured the trio talking about their dream -- a youthful declaration of independence from the mining industry -- in Catoctin's first, highly publicized weeks.
Eventually, they got transferred for more advanced training to the Kilmer Job Corps Center in Newark, run by Federal Electric Corp. Its ranks had more than 2,000 boys, many with criminal records and a hatred of whites that Martin, Mullins and Fleming had never encountered. At Catoctin, whose ranks never exceeded 100, they and the Baltimore ghetto contingent had learned to like each other as brothers. But Kilmer was different. It scared them.
"I honestly thought I wasn't safe there," Mullins recalls. Martin and Fleming say the same. "There were a lot of guys up there who just didn't want to be in Job Corps," Martin says. "They messed it up for the rest of us." Thus they became three of thousands of casualties of the haphazard Job Corps screening methods that threw juvenile delinquents into the pool of "disadvantaged youth," during the high-speed effort to get the program to full strength.
Job Corps paid for their trips home, and did not place them in jobs. A one-year-later report listed Mullins as having "graduated," but he says he never did. The three of them haven't talked about running a service station since, they say. When they got out of Job Corps, they were still too young, too poor and too inexperienced to think of going into business for themselves.
Soon after Martin went home to Letcher County, he returned to the coal mines, and has worked in and around the mines ever since. Now he operates heavy equipment for C & N Coal Company. Around Isom, it is said that Ray Martin understands machines better than most men understand each other.He now earns $70 and up per day, thanks to the resurgent demand for coal and to wage gains by the unions.
"I really love this work," he says. "It's in my blood."
It is also in his lungs. His family doctor found six years ago that he had emphysema, and advised him to leave mining. But he couldn't, he says, since he needs the money to support his family, and can't really get started in anything else. Ignoring another piece of his doctor's advice, he chain-smokes.
He gets shortwinded when he walks long distances and when it rains. He can scarcely breathe at all in air-conditioned buildings, and he has chest problems every winter. He can't afford to go on disability, he says, because it doesn't pay enough.
"Not this day and time," he say. "Not with five children. You can't just sit back and wait for a check. It's hard to make it working every day."
He speaks fondly of Job Corps, as if he would like to say it changed his life. But, he says, it didn't affect his sense of duty of his work ethic; those came from his hard-working parents and the hard times of his youth. He learned much from the mechanic at Catoctin, but it was his father who kindled and nurtured in him the basics of his beloved trade. His improved financial condition is due to the changes in the mining industry, and to the end of the bleak era of low demand for coal.
He is asked, then, what was the impact?
"I enjoyed it more than anything I ever done," he says, falling silent for a few moments, realizing he has not really answered the question.Then he goes on: "Well, I guess I'd be a total wreck if I hadn't gone.
In any case, life is infinitely more pleasant for Martin today than it was for his father. He has moved from the old mining company housing into his own aluminum trailer. He believes that his son will drive his own truck one day, rather than mine coal. One of his daughters wants to be a teacher. His children get new clothes when they need them.
"I can see they're growing up a whole lot different than I did," he says modestly, his head bowed. "I really like to see little kids enjoy life."
Shirley Martin has listened intently throughout this saga of her husband's 34 years, at times inserting details he omitted. "I can't hardly stand to hear Ray talk about his childhood," she says, when the tale is over. "It just don't seem like things like that happened."
"Believe me," Martin says without looking up. "It did." The Sandtown Street
Like the Appalachin boys, the Baltimore recruits came home to the same problems that, in the eyes of the social scientists, had made them "disadvantaged youths." None of those located by The Post earned their high school degrees in Job Corps. Once again, they were faced with bleak options: a job market that had little use for black high school dropouts and "the street," which always had room for one more of them.
Which route they took was often a question of circumstance, since men who had identical experiences in Job Corps ended up on separate sides of the law.
Take, for instance, three childhood buddies from the ghetto of Sandtown -- Gregory Ratliffe, Bobby Dandridge and George Wilson. Today, Ratliffe is a factory foreman; Wilson and Dandridge are ex-convicts with two prison terms each behind them.
Earlier this year, the three reunited for an evening in the narrow Sandtown row house where Wilson's sister lives, within earshot of the row houses where they all grew up. Ratliffe was quieter than his two childhood friends, at times wondering aloud how their paths diverged so dramatically.
In Ratliffe's lanky, towering frame, you can detect the outlines of the former Baltimore street kid called Slim. He wears that name on his work shirt at Cornco, the Baltimore popcorn factory where he has worked for a decade, first as a sweeper, now as a $313 a week foreman. And back in his old neighborhood, a place still devastated by unemployment, abandoned housing and street crime, his old buddies still call him Slim, too.
It is one way of saying he is still one of them, even if he has moved to another world -- to a house in a graceful, wooded neighborhood near the outer edge of the city limits, where he lives with his wife, Flora, a nurse, and their four children. But in the world''s eyes, he is not one of them, and hasn't been since they all left Job Corps.
Ratliffe stayed in Job Corps for almost two years and returned to the same row house where two aunts had raised him after he was orphaned as a young child. He had no interest in seeking jobs in the trades he had learned -- cooking, carpentry, masonry and clerical work.
"I was just planning to be unemployed for a whole year. I didn't know what I wanted to do," he says. Then a neighbor who worked at Cornco told him of an opening for a sweeper. "One thing led to another and now I'm the foreman," he says. "Back then, if somebody got a job and it was a good job, they'd bring somebody with them," he says.
Dandridge, who like Ratliffe had spent more than a year in Job Corps, was not so lucky.He had earned a certificate in typewriter repair at the Job Corps center in Pleasanton, Calif, run by Litton Industries, where he was transferred after a few months at Catoctin. When he came home in 1966, he tries without success to get a job in Ken and Ray Office Machines near his home, he says.
He recalls, while telling this story, that an old buddy had warned him all along that it would be a waste of time to go to Job Corps. "I remember I told Gibson I was gonna make something of myself and he said, 'Man, you're not gonna make nothin' of yourself.'"
He pauses, and a visitor asks what happened next. Dandridge takes a deep breath, and the other two lean forward expectantly. "I'm gonna smoke on this one," says Ratliffe, lighting up a cigarette. "This is the part I've been waiting for."
"Well, I went berserk," Dandridge answers flatly. He says he started selling drugs soon after being turned down for work at the office machine shop."My mother was sick and I needed money for her," is the way he explains it. "Everyone was selling drugs for big money. I was doing pretty good."
Soon afterwards, he says, he killed one of his drug contacts in a gun fight over unsettled debts, then pleaded guilty to manslaughter. A year after he got out of prison, he killed another man who he says stole money from his mother. That led to four more years in prison. He has now been out for four years, and has no steady job.
Wilson drags on a cigarette and says to no one in particular: "Sometimes when you leave a ghetto to get something, you can't use that something to get better, what you gonna do?"
Wilson, at 33 a skinny version of his old self, was recently released from his second prison term, this one for assault. He says all his serious problems began when he got kicked out of Job Corps for picking a fight after two months in the program -- the first boy in America to get kicked out, he claims.
Back then, he was big and macho, known to his friends as "G.G." (for George the gorilla) or, as a joke on his size, "Peanut." Not long after he came home, he says, his child. His own father had not lived with him and he was determined to care for his own baby. Then 17, he found menial work as a custodian at a warehouse near the harbor.
Several months later, he was hauled into court on an arson charge and was on his way to his first prison term. The way Wilson tells it, it was all an accident. He threw down a cigarette and it triggered an explosion. The story in the neighborhood is more complex. His old neighbors say Wilson was angry at his supervisor for refusing to let him work overtime to make a little extra money and enhance his role as his child's provider. As revenge, he started a small fire in a trash can, intending to put it out. But it blazed out of control.
"I remember when we left for Job Corps," says Wilson, clad in black from his shiny, new shoes to his cap. "Everybody back here was going to jail and here we had an opportunity to get out. But man, it messed up my life. If they hadn't kicked me out, I'da never got hit with that arson. And once you got a record, man, they never let you forget what you did in the past."
Dandridge and Ratliffe have sat silently in chairs across the room, letting Wilson have his say, until now. "Come on, Peanut," Ratliffe breaks in. "The Job Corps didn't do that to you."
"I can't blame 'em for the things I did in the last eight or nine years. But if they had a better staff . . .," Wilson says in self defense. "Well, the corpsman doesn't have to be the one who's wrong all the time."
Around the old neigborhood, the longtime residents say Job Corpsa didn't really change the three men much. Dandridge and Wilson always ran with a meaner crowd than Ratliffe. They tended to be followers, the story goes, while Ratliffe knew how to say no. When Dandridge couldn't find work, he fell in with the "nonworking people," an old neighborhood resident says. "And that meant the drugs. I think he was blinded by the money they was hustling, the things they was doing. You know, the freedom."
Likewise, Ratliffe doesn't attribute his success to Job Corps, but rather to an inbred drive that he had from childhood. "I'da did something," he says, stretching out the long legs of his 6-foot, 5-inch frame. "To say I'da been better, or equal, or worse, I don't know. I would've had the drive to do something."
Sandtown still tugs at him, as it did in his boyhood, he says. He says he hopes to move back here, after his children are grown, to the same row house where he grew up. "For me," he explains, "this is where my family began."
"I was born right over there," Dandridge interjects eagerly, leaning out the doorway to point his umbrella at a row house several doors down.
"I haven't been anywhere except this neighborhood," Wilson says.
"I wish I could go and give speeches at Job Corps centers and represent myself and what I've learned about right and wrong," Dandridge says. "It might not have done me all that much good, but it might help if somebody explains to the younger generation. They're hotter headed than we were, though. They won't even go to Job Corps."
"Your majority of kids out here, they're going to keep on hustling no matter what," Wilson says, gesturing toward the street in the manner of a tour guide. "Back when we were kids, your mama knew what was going on in the streets. She'd backhand you. Now parents don't know nothing. They're scared to go out."
They fall silent. Three hours have passed, and it is almost too dark to read the "Bless Our Home" sign over the mantle. Outside, the street is alive with noise and movement. "You don't have to worry about anybody doing anything to you out of the way," Dandridge says, unsolicited, to the visitor. "People will see you're with us. And this is our community."