In 1942, the world was engulfed in its most destructive conflict in history -- World War II.
America was erecting camps to begin housing foreign prisoners of war. In an often forgotten piece of history, more than 400,000 POWs would eventually call American prison camps home.
Today, only a few of those prison camps remain. And, one of the most beautifully maintained, is located right here in the heart of Central Texas: Camp Hearne.
At the time, Camp Hearne had 250 buildings, a complete water system, sewer system, electrical system, natural gas system, and road system. And, it was all built in a little less than six months.
World War II POW camps are often depicted with pictures of soldiers living in squalor and merely surviving. Former camp guard Matt Ware and German POW Kharl Blumenthol paint a very different picture of life in American camps.
“They got three meals a day, and we guard them like the Geneva convention said," remarked Ware. "They got so lenient on the prisoners, they was allowed a beer break in the afternoon if they had the money to buy them.”
“My first impressions of Texas. The food, the shower, you could shave yourself with hot water… unreal," according to Blumenthol's version.
Prisoners were sent out to work in the community and were also afforded a lot of leisure activities.
Pairs of guards would take out 50 prisoners to work in the community on areas such as farm land. And, smaller groups would even work at the local deli.
If you were an NCO you could do almost anything you wanted. Prisoners created elaborate fountains, acted in theater companies, which were in every single compound, and played in orchestras. The camp also offered college education courses provided by Baylor University.
Life in the camp was not always pleasant. Camp Hearne housed a lot of Nazi sergeants who ran the camp with an iron fist. Trials were held by the prisoners at night for those who would not fall into line. The camp only has one recorded death which was inflicted by metal pipes.
Although it was one of many POW camps around the country, Camp Hearne was one of only a few to later become a museum.
For information on the camp and museum click here
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