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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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Discovering McAlester, Oklahoma

One of the great joys of travel is the unexpected. On our drive to south Texas, we spent a night in McAlester, Oklahoma. If I had my mind focused only on our destination, I would have missed a fun morning of discovery.

The first thing I noticed after we exited the highway - the street signs. Each was topped by metal art, featuring different aspects of Oklahoma history. I loved seeing so many designs. At the LaQuinta Inn & Suites, I picked up a brochure of historical sites. Although we only had time to visit a couple, I totally enjoyed them. Many old historic buildings grace the downtown streets, lending a unique personality to the town.

Buffalo once roamed the land, but today the thirty-six buffalo throughout town are made of bronze. This city of 18,000+ rightly prides itself in its heritage. The website and visitors guide list numerous places of interest.

McAlester is in the Choctaw nation. Its history includes a Civil War battle. In the early days of the 20th century, it was once a coal-mining town. In front of the old McAlester High School Historical Museum, stands the largest lump of coal (2 1/2 tons) from the Homer Mine.

German POW castle
During WWII, the town housed German prisoners of war. Today travelers can visit the castle replica they built to remind them of home. It stands across from the lump of coal in front of the museum, which is an impressive building.
Aldridge Hotel

The old Aldridge Hotel was built in the 1930s and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Check out for a complete list of places of interest. We only touched the surface and I plan to visit again.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Standing Brave, the Indian chief

Boy I goofed! This morning on Instagram, I posted this photo of the Indian statue from Big Cabin, Oklahoma. I reported it was probably 20-30 feet tall. Well, research helps.

Standing Brave, the Indian chief, is actually 46 feet tall plus he stands on a 5-foot pedestal, making him 51 feet tall.

In 2000, Wade Leslie built the statue, first designing a model, then building the frame with 1800 feet of steel pipe and rebar before covering it with foam and carving it. After all the features were carved, he fiber-glassed and painted it. The project took him over 800 hours to complete.

Then a 15-foot underground footing took 100 yards of steel-reinforced concrete. Today, in the middle of the Cherokee Nation, Standing Brave greets travelers along Hwy 69 across from the turnpike gate. It's a fitting tribute to the Cherokee and a must-see for those driving through Oklahoma.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A miniature castle honors the Sacred Heart in Paola, Kansas

Earlier this week, as we drove through Paola, Kansas, I noticed an old stone structure that looked like a Middle Ages European castle. Of course, I had to investigate. As I walked through one of its doorways (three sides have doorways), I noticed a plaque in the stone wall. Built it 1916 by the Ursuline sisters, when they established their convent and school. (I will share that story in a future article).
A look at the altar

The small shrine, which probably measures little more than a fifteen-foot square, is constructed of petrified-formation stone brought from the bottom of Lake Erie, and is a replica of the Rheinstein Castle in Germany. It housed a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that stood on a small altar at one end.

There's more to the story. Over the years vines and weeds grew up around the shrine and it was sadly neglected. In 1976, David Watson, a young Boy Scout, offered his services for his Eagle Scout project. The mother superior suggested he clean up the shrine. He took it upon himself to restore the shrine and statue to their original condition.

Now, forty years later, the grounds still showcase the shrine. If you drive by 901 E. Miami St in Paola, it will capture your attention. Stop and walk into it. The statue is gone, but the stone and workmanship are worth your time.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Cellar 66, a favorite Wine Bar in Waynesville, MO

Tucked away in a corner on the Waynesville (MO) square, Cellar 66 is a treasure worth the search. It’s a great place to share a leisurely glass of wine with friends while you’re shopping or sightseeing, or simply to hang out after a long day.

The ambience speaks of comfort, intimacy and class. If you prefer beer to wine, you’ll find it at Cellar 66. You’ll even find some Missouri moonshine if you’re brave enough to try it.

JoAnn Campolo & Sharon Swon
Cellar 66 opened its doors in 2014, and has grown into a community-gathering place as well as a restaurant. The menu includes appetizers, sandwiches and wraps and a daily special. One visit I lucked into a scrumptious pasta special. Another time, we simply shared some bread and cheese.

Whatever the occasion, it is a place I look forward to whenever I visit Waynesville. Check out their menu and hours at

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Today is National Farmers Day

I grew up in town but I lived my early years surrounded by farmers - my aunts and uncles, and my dad's customers. I loved visiting my Uncle Joe and Aunt Frances. Uncle Joe would let me tag along as we walked through the pasture "calling" the cows in for their milking. Then the ultimate treat - all the kitties would gather as he sat down by the first cow and squirted some milk towards the dishes along the wall. I loved the milky-faced kittens as they cleaned themselves and consumed their fair share of their treat. My Uncle Emmet had a "modern" dairy farm and his milking machines far surpassed anything Uncle Joe had, but I didn't see any kitties hanging around.

Dad had a heavy-equipment construction business and farmers were his main customers. I loved it when he took me along as he went out to farms to bid jobs. He didn't talk to me a lot but I heard him discussing ponds, terraces, brush cleaning and more. Of course, the biggest thrill was when I got to drive the truck across a bumpy field of black dirt or ride on a bulldozer.

I grew up and farming grew more distant. When we bought an acreage out in the country, Dad loved having a few calves every year. But other than that, I knew little of farming except reading about the economic woes in the 1980s.

This past summer Iowa farmers re-introduced me to the challenges they face.

A few weeks ago, I visited a Missouri farm - the Prairie Star Restoration Farm. Owners Bruce and Jan Sassman have worked with the Missouri Department of Conservation to restore their property to its native habitat.

I find myself amazed at the changes - the number of acres required to make a living, the college educations that most farmers today possess, the scientific advances and the modern equipment, and the focus on conservation.

But one thing reminds me of my youth. Farmers love the earth. They love rich dirt, nature, the seasons of the year, the planting and harvesting cycles, the family commitment, and more. They enjoy strategizing the most effective use of their land to maximize output.

I salute all farmers today. I appreciate the work they do, the advances they've made, and the history that lies behind them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Ghost of the Corn Maze at the Louisburg Cider Mill

It's the season for pumpkins, apples, ghosts and corn mazes. I'm not sure about the ghosts, but Louisburg Cider Mill certainly knows about the others. The mill, just 20 miles south of the Kansas City metro area, is a year-round tourist attraction, and fall is their favorite time of year.
Ghost of the Corn Maze
photo from their website

Load the kids in the car, or just bring out the kid in you, and take part in the October fun. Each year, the mill chooses a different theme for their corn maze - this year, the 10-acre maze is called the Ghost of the Corn. So maybe there is a ghost after all.

Visit the pumpkin patch to pick out your special pumpkin. Priced by size, you can buy from the patch or by visiting their country store. I love pumpkin and just writing this makes me hungry for a slice of pumpkin pie.

The fall festival also offers hayrides, farm animals, a tricycle track and all kinds of activities for kids. Each weekend features a special event. Oct. 14-16 is college weekend. Saturday the 15th is Zombie Forest Night. Saturday the 22nd is the Burning Scarecrow event and the opportunity to go through the maze in the dark. The last celebration is on Halloween.

And dog parents, you can take your furry baby with you as long as you keep him leashed.

For adults, shopping is a delight. If you like anything apple or pumpkin-related, it's your time of year at the Country Store. There's apple cider, sparkling apple cider, pumpkin butter - to name just a few of their products.

Of course, there's also peach butter, cherry butter, apple salsa, peach chipotle, blueberry preserves, honey, and many other choices. If you're a root beer fan, check out their Lost Trail Root Beer.

MSNBC listed the cider mill as one of the top 10 in America. For more information, check out their website at Louisburg Cider Mill is located off Hwy 69 on Hwy 68 just west of the town of Louisburg. It is approximately a half-hour drive south of I-435 in Overland Park.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Holy Trinity of Conservation

One person can change the world! We've seen this many times in history and a Missouri couple chose to honor three men who did just that. Bruce and Jan Sassman own a farm - the Prairie Star Restoration Farm - in Bland, Missouri.

"Imagine walking up to John Muir's cabin and there he is, sitting on the porch waiting to greet you - or Thoreau or Leopold," Bruce said. "That's what we're going to re-create next June."

Nestled in the Ozark hills, cedar trees covered most of the farm when the Sassmans purchased it. As avid conservationists, they chose to work with the Missouri Department of Conservation to clear the land, plant native grasses and wildflowers, and preserve the stream that runs through the property.

Once they completed the land work, other ideas rolled around in their imaginations. Those ideas spawned the three cabins in the woods - each an exact replica of the men who changed the way we think about our environment. Today, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Aldo Leopold have homes on the Prairie Star Restoration Farm. Bruce called them the holy trinity of conservation.
Thoreau's Cabin

Now what? Bruce wanted to go a step further. In his research, he found men who have re-enacted the three men and will bring them to Prairie Star Restoration Farm on June 2-3, 2017.

Thoreau is possibly the most famous naturalist in America, Muir is recognized as the father of the national parks, and Leopold as the father of conservation. This event will be a delight for all who have an interest in taking care of our earth as well as all who wish to live closer to nature.

For more information, check out their Facebook page:

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Leo and the Lab by Joe Campolo, Jr.

Ice fishing is a hoot. Most anyone who ever fished the “hard water” has a good ice fishing story or two. I have several, but this may be the best one.

Many years ago, I went ice fishing with my friend Leo (RIP). Leo was a true outdoorsman; he fished, hunted and trapped year round and was always up for an outing …..along with a twelve pack of Stroh’s.

Leo had invited me to join him at his ice fishing shack on the Chain of Lakes in Lake County, Illinois. We hooked up on the next Saturday morning; it was a nice day, not too cold and little wind.

While Leo fished in his shack, I started chopping holes a short distance away to set up some tip-ups for northern pike or bass.

At that time power augers were rare, and even the handheld Swedish augers hadn’t made their appearance yet so everyone chopped holes in the ice with a “spud”. A spud is a large steel bar with a large chisel blade welded to one end. The nature of the spud allowed one to make a hole as large as one liked, so long as he didn’t mind all the grunt work required to do it.

Now the shack next to Leo’s was also occupied that morning, by a man and his black lab. The man had caught a small fish he didn’t want to keep so he tossed it back into the hole. Well, the lab being a lab got excited and jumped right into the hole after it!

This is where the story really gets good. The lab, swimming under water in pursuit of the fish, soon lost his bearings. He did manage to find his way under Leo’s shack, however, and quickly clamored out of the water through Leo’s hole!

Imagine Leo, fishing in the dark shack, well into his cups when all of a sudden this large black creature jumped out of his hole!

Stunned, Leo started yelling, fell backward in his chair, turned onto his stomach, jumped up and with the lab right on his heels, slammed into the door, knocking it right off its hinges!

Having heard the commotion, I looked over to see Leo rapidly exiting the shack with the lab right behind him. To add insult to injury the lab then knocked Leo over and trampled him before running off like a scalded cat.

The frenzied owner of the lab, having left his shack, witnessed this event and started yelling and chasing after his lab, trampling poor Leo again!
All of this rolled before my eyes as if in slow motion, and once I started laughing I couldn’t stop. Once he gathered his wits about him, Leo couldn’t either.

As we loosely rehung Leo’s shanty door, the owner of the lab returned with the miscreant pooch in tow, and after another good laugh with a beverage or two, we all resumed our fishing efforts.

Leo passed away some years ago, but told and retold, the story never failed to get everyone laughing, and still does to this day.


You can find Joe's blog at

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Rare Books Attract Bibliophiles

Second floor

The Bruce C Clarke Library at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, boggles the mind of the average bibliophile. The first floor is a library dedicated to serve the military community on base. The second floor houses the rare book rooms. Both floors are open to the public.

General Patton's reports
I've visited the rare books rooms twice and both times, I'm amazed that I can actually hold and read pieces of human history. One of the few remaining copies of General Patton's WWII after-action reports is a special treasure. If you are interested in wars or battles, you most likely will find it here.

Many American civilians played important roles in military history. For example, if you're researching African-American artists, you'll find Grafton Tyler Brown, who at one point in his career, worked for the Corps of Engineers in the 1890s. This gifted artist started his own company and his clients included Wells Fargo and Levi Strauss and Co. See for more information.

If you're interested in women's history, learn about Winnie Cox, who, despite a college education and the skills necessary, fought for years in the Quartermaster General's Office of the War Department to move out of the administrative role into management. Her final assignment as a GS-13, chief of the employee utilization branch in the Office of the Chief of Engineers, made history in women's career advancement.

If you simply want to visit the library to peruse rare books, you'll not be disappointed. The oldest book dates to the early 1600s and when I held it, I felt history. We looked at military dictionaries from the 1800s, and several other books.
Gary Best peruses 1810
military dictionary

General Bruce C Clarke, for whom the library is named, served in the US Army during three wars; World War I, World War II and Korea. Born in rural New York in 1901, he enlisted in the army at 17 and graduated from Westpoint in 1925. Clarke rose to Commander, US Army Europe in 1960-1962, and Commander, US Army Pacific from 1954-1956. He died in 1988, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

General Clarke's oral history interview can be accessed at the Harry S Truman Library (

The library is location in Building 3202, MSCoE Complex, 1st St & Nebraska Ave, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Online: Phone number: 573-563-4109.