A little bit of history

Roamy here. Here’s another story my dad likes to tell. During WWII, traveling wasn’t easy and frequently frowned upon. (“Don’t you know there’s a war on?”) Gas and tires were rationed, so my grandparents and father traveled from Tampa to Georgia by train. It had been two or three years since my grandfather had seen his brother, and it was time for a visit.

My great-uncle lived in Dublin, GA at the time, where there was a military hospital for convalescing soldiers and also a prisoner-of-war camp. The Dublin POW camp was probably administered out of Camp Wheeler in Macon. Nearly 700 POW camps in the US housed over 425,000 prisoners, mostly Germans, during the war. Many of these camps were located in the South, where the prisoners could be used as farm labor, filling in for the Americans fighting overseas. They were paid for their labor, according to the Geneva Convention.

My dad was shocked upon arrival at his uncle’s house to find a Luftwaffe Oberst cutting the grass. “Daddy! There’s a German!” The gentleman was in uniform with “POW” in big yellow letters on his back. My grandmother shushed my dad, but the Oberst didn’t say a word, just straightened his back and kept working. My great-uncle had hired him not only for yardwork but also other oddjobs. He was probably paid 80 cents a day.

There were POW camps in 46 states, though the whole network was kept pretty quiet. After the war ended, the prisoners were returned to their home countries with the money they earned and at least some fluency in English. About 860 German POWs remain buried in American military cemeteries, including over 100 in the National Cemetery in Chattanooga. There is a POW Museum in Algona, Iowa.

As a side note, the Dublin military hospital was later named for Congressman Carl Vinson of Georgia.

10 thoughts on “A little bit of history”

  1. This is so awesome, Roamy. Thank you! The German POWs held by Americans were the lucky ones. Through friendships with some Germans, we’ve heard an occasional “thank you” along with a smile or laugh. I think many of them were just happy to survive and be relatively well cared for. Those imprisoned by ‘others’ were not as lucky. War sucks.

  2. There was a small POW facility during the war in my home town. The German and Italians there helped harvest crops and other jobs. Those who were around at the time would mention how well behaved the POWs were, almost like they enjoyed staying in the US. The local newspaper often ran photos of the POWs working. But I think some of the coverage was soft propaganda in the spirit of, “see, we are winning this war!”

    The POW facility in my town later became part of the local airport and fair grounds. Nothing much left to remember it by. Local museum has photos in an exhibit. You find little bits like that all across the country, with perhaps an occasional historical marker.

  3. I’ve heard stories about the POW’s from my parents who were farmers in Georgia. They said that some of the Germans wanted to stay here rather than go back, but weren’t allowed to. I also recall a German – Italian graveyard at Ft. McClellan, AL.

  4. My Dad said something about a POW camp near Charlottesville, Va. The German prisoners were paid 50 cents/day, to pick apples. Nearby apple orchard, I guess. The orchard owner paid them all, in dimes, at end of work day. They were allowed to take a couple bushels back to POW camp, to eat.

  5. was on a command post exercise over in Germany in the early ’90s. we usually would set up the TOC or the ALOC in a parking lot of a soccer club (negotiated use of locker rooms for showers)….

    one day we were tearing down, prepping to jump, and an old man with a cane was walking by with his grandson. he sent the kid over to ask us if we could just wait right there for about 10 minutes, he wanted to get something from the house and would return quickly…..

    he then sent the kid on ahead to the house to grab what he wanted, and when he came back he showed us his English language Bible, with a couple snapshots of his American “family” whose farm he had been contracted to work on. he (we) got misty talking about his god-son and his “nieces and nephews”…. he was still in contact with them every year at Christmas.

    THIS is how we treat prisoners correctly. THIS is how to win the peace after you have won the war.

    1. There was also an “enhanced interrogation” side to the American POW handling during WWII (http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=41161). This process was often reserved for U-Boat crews, but also extended to anyone whom the intelligence office felt might offer valuable information. Fort Hunt, in the shadow of DC, was one of those facilities.

      Perhaps by design, or perhaps with irony, at Fort Hunt the Americans also skirted (if not abused) the Geneva Convention with regard to assistance packages forwarded to American POWs in Germany. The “extra” goodies forwarded in those packages were violations of the Geneva Convention, and compromised the integrity of the Red Cross.

      But I would offer the activities at Fort Hunt and similar facilities were the exception to otherwise exemplary US handing of POWs. As far as some comparison to modern day prisoner handling, the positive contact was more a function of the POWs acting like POWs and not as if they were just taking the war to a different venue. Such is not the case with, for instance, the detainees we see from the GWOT.

  6. There were POW camps here in WI, that had POWs return to those towns to live, after the war. The sole surviving mini sub crewman from the Pearl Harbor attack spent the war in Sparta, WI, at Camp McCoy, and was atonished at how well he was treated. It says something about us as a nation, that we treat our defeated enemies as well as we do. Something very positive.

  7. One of my former supervisors spent the last few years before he retired from the Army as a Field Advisor in Science and Technology in Germany. After he returned, he told me of meeting an older man in what had been East Germany, who had been a POW in America during the War. He had spent his childhood in Nazi Germany, then the remainder of his adulthood behind the Iron Curtain. When Dan asked him what he thought of America, he said “those were the best years of my life.”

    And, Roamy, you are no doubt aware that German POWs were held at Redstone during the War. As near as I can tell, the camp was located south of Martin and east of Dodd, perhaps in the area of the large test stand.
    POWs at Redstone:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20101108055812/http://www.redstone.army.mil/history/chron1/1944.html

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