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James R. Stout

The Eyes of a POW

            Take a look at the picture below. Take a good look. Is it a German POW camp? Perhaps a POW camp in Russia? Maybe a picture from a scene in a movie? No, it’s none of these. Take another quick look:

            Would you believe that this is a POW camp about halfway between Huntsville, Texas and Riverside, Texas? Yep. This picture is circa 1942-1945. Many people who were not alive during WWII or too young at the time have the mistaken idea that the war wasn’t this visible here in America. All the movies and books take place in other countries. Oh, there are some scenes that depict life in America during the war. The rationing of gas, sugar, chocolate, coal, firewood, nylon, and silk are usually mentioned. My mother told stories of tires and any rubber product being heavily rationed. All of these goods were needed badly for the war effort.

            But not much has been told via mass media such as movies about the German POW’s housed in America. It is estimated that roughly 500,000 POW’s were held in American camps. Texas had 70 camps and held a significant portion of those POW’s. Roughly 50,000 in Texas alone. While the guard towers manned by American soldiers with machine guns and barbed wire fences were constant reminders to the prisoners that they were in a prison, the fact is they were treated very humanely, fed well, received medical treatment when required, and were given ample recreational equipment. Huntsville Camp wasn’t without its problems though. Many of the POW’s were loyal to their homeland but were also opposed to the Nazi regime for which they had fought. However, there were an equal number of Nazi supporters among the prisoners. In 1944, a riot broke out in the camp between the two opposing sides.

            What does this have to do with anything now? Well, really very little. But I wanted to tell you all of this information so that you would better understand the rest of this blog. On the day America entered WWII my mother was 12-years-old. A girl on the threshold of womanhood. Days of playing with dolls were over. She lived on the family farm that was about 20 miles away from Huntsville Camp. She picked cotton, dug potatoes, milked the cow, churned butter, and managed to faithfully attend school where she would graduate in 1946 as the class valedictorian. She also was active in their church along with the entire family.

            Mom listened intently to the radio for news of the war. Her older brother, my Uncle Paul, walked the killing fields of Normandy. He wasn’t in the first or even fifth wave. You might say that he was fortunate. He had attended college for two years before being drafted at the beginning of the 1942. He became an accomplished typist, an interest for him going back to his senior year in high school, and the Army decided that he would be more valuable typing reports and essentially being support to the brave soldiers on the front. He was close enough to hear the bombing and had a few close calls, but he spent most of his time doing the work he was trained to do. But to my mother, his little sister, his presence so close to fighting was worrisome.

            My mother had a crush on a boy who was a couple of years older than she was. He joined the army on the day he turned 18. He went through boot camp and attended training classes and eventually was sent to Europe as a replacement. She was deeply saddened upon learning that he had died in the Battle of The Bulge in December of 1944. There were several young men from their community who met their end in that terrible war.

            Let’s go back to 1943-1944 for a minute. Saturday was still a big day for the family and other families. It was the day of the week when banking was done, dry goods were purchased, haircuts were gotten, sewing materials were obtained, and the best part of the day was when they would go to the small indoor theater and watch the newsreels and a movie. It cost a dime to go. Mom told me about one of those Saturdays in particular. It made quite an impression on her young life. It was a lesson about the ironies of life. Mom, her younger brother, and Grandma and Grandpa were in town that Saturday morning. Grandpa needed to get some things from the Apothecary. Mom went with him to “help”. There was the usual purchases such as aspirin powder, some chewing tobacco, a tube for the radio at home, and other such items. Grandpa kept his money close to hand and didn’t spend it easily. He’d been through the depression with a family to feed. But there was one thing that Grandpa absolutely loved. Mom was counting on his love for this. You see, she loved it too. “It” was a dish of vanilla ice cream that they served at the soda fountain in the little store. They took a seat at the fountain on those stools that kids loved to twirl around on (myself included a few years later) and partook in the bliss accompanied with a dish of “good ole vanilli”. As they sat there, my mother heard a loud rumble that sounded like a big truck or maybe even a bulldozer approaching down the side street. A big truck with 10 wheels pulled up to the curb and Mom got up and went to the window to see what it was all about. That’s when she saw several young men, some still not needing a shave every day, sitting in the back of the truck. They all had uniforms of some kind on and they all looked around to take in the foreign scene to them. Two American soldiers stepped down from the truck and were carrying machine guns. This was the war up close and personal. It wasn’t something that she was reading about or hearing about on the radio. The German POW’s were allowed to disembark from the back of the truck. Mom was mesmerized at the sight. Her first thought was that they didn’t look any different than the young men that she knew from school or nearby farms. How strange. As the young Germans walked by the Apothecary on their way to a dry goods store where they were allowed to make minor purchases, one of the boys looked at Mom standing inside the store and their eyes met. Mom said that he was just a boy. That there didn’t appear to be any evil or hatred in those eyes. There most likely wasn’t. Yes, he had likely been part of the Afrika Corp in Northern Africa fighting against American and British forces, but he also appeared to still be in the innocence of life. Mom had no way of knowing his story and she would never see him again. But the event had an effect on her. It was difficult for her to understand how brave young American men and in many cases, boys, were being killed or wounded half a world away by equally young men and boys. Neither side knew a thing about the other. They were just trained to do their job. Mom knew that the German regime was evil, and I believe that later in life she realized that evil was visited upon a young generation of Germans too who didn’t understand why they were killing other young men.

            World War Two was indeed felt on the home front. Mom got to see that firsthand. She would see other POW’s from time to time over the remaining years of the war. She wondered if those young men had families and were missed as much as the young Americans were missed. About four years later Mom was introduced to a young man who was friends with her cousin. They started to date and were married on July 2, 1948. She would learn that Dad had been on the other side of the world from Europe but fighting the same war. She once said that Dad was so young when the war began. He was about the age of that young German POW. He was 19 on the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Dad gave her insight into what it was like to be in that war. Together with the thoughts of a young German boy these insights showed Mom the complexities of life.

            We’re not in a World War now. Thank God. But we are in a war for the world. Especially our part of the world. In my 65 years of life America as never been as divided as it is now. A kind of craziness has invaded and has taken hold in the lives of many Americans. I don’t understand why anyone would want to support socialism, liberalism, rioters, looters, and what appears from my vantage point as evil. But I can’t help thinking that there are a lot young Americans who have been lied too and indoctrinated via school and corrupt politicians into believing what they believe. I believe that most of them are not evil or knowingly support evil. They have been fooled and it is my prayer that the veil of evil in a disguise meant to enslave them will be lifted and the truth be known. I pray for God’s guidance in showing them His love and His plan for our lives as a united nation become a reality. Most of all I pray for the children of today who will inherit the nation that we leave to them. May it be a nation of unity and peace.

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