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Sunday, October 30, 2016

WWII Prisoner of War camps

A stone laid in a sidewalk by
German POWs

The things you discover when you travel!

During WWII, the United States housed many prisoners of war throughout the country. More than 425,000 prisoners lived in hundreds of camps. Almost every state had at least one camp. Some states, like Wisconsin, seemed to have more than their share with a total of 38 camps and 20,000 prisoners. Texas had by far the largest number because they had more military bases.
Fort Leonard Wood display

The camps boosted local economies with ready manpower at a time when our own men were overseas fighting. Most prisoners were German, followed by Italians and Japanese.They received wages for their work.
Fort Leonard Wood display

We recently visited two sites, one in Missouri and one in Oklahoma. Fort Leonard Wood in southern Missouri housed prisoners in a camp on the fort grounds.Over 250 German prisoners lived their between 1943 and 1945. Many had experience in stone masonry and while at the camp, built drainage structures, culverts, walls, steps, walkways and even rock gardens. The prisoners worked in all aspects from quarrying the rock to the finished products. By the time the war ended, they had completed nearly 500 separate projects.

In McAlester, Oklahoma, the most notable reminder of the POW camp is a miniature Bavarian castle that stands on the grounds of the old McAlester High School.
Front of miniature castle

Camp McAlester, located on the north side of town, opened in 1943, and housed nearly 4,000 prisoners. The prisoners worked mainly on nearby farms and ranches. It closed when the war ended.

Few prisoners attempted to escape and those who did, were soon caught. In a number of cases, the prisoners said their lives here were better than army life at home.
Back of castle in McAlester

As I read more about them, I know that I will look for camp locations as I travel around the country. According to articles I've read, many US citizens had little knowledge of the camp at the time. Those who did most likely appreciated the sorely needed additional labor.

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