German soldiers in Alabama! For those living in the state during World War II, it was a startling realty. In the summer of 1943, thousands of mostly German prisoners of war (POWs) poured into POW camps at Aliceville, Opelika, Camp Rucker, and Fort McClellan. An estimated 18,000 Germans were in captivity in Alabama that year. A government report showed 3,004 prisoners at Fort McClellan alone!
The prisoners at Fort McClellan were not mistreated. They lived in twenty-man barracks and enjoyed kitchens, orderly rooms, dayrooms, dispensaries, a library, a reading room, a chapel, an open-air stage, and athletic fields. The prisoners worked during their stay. They helped with excavation, drainage, and clearing operations; food preparation; and vehicle maintenance. Some of the men were also contracted out for agricultural and industrial work. They chopped cotton, harvested peanuts, and felled trees. Many developed friendships with locals, and some were treated so well that they even returned to the United States after the war to live.
Sadly, some POWs at Fort McClellan died of health problems and did not make it home after the war. Every year, on Germany’s day of remembrance, which is two Sundays before the first Sunday of Advent, there is a memorial service at Fort McClellan to remember the POWs and the 26 Germans and three Italians who are buried there. This year the service will occur this coming Sunday, November 16, 2014. Let us remember all the men who died during World War II.
His brain swam trying to think of 3,000 Germans incarcerated so close to him. He looked once more at the lines of prisoners, and the stern, brown eyes of one met his own.
Songbird, Chapter 21