I realize that some readers may be a little tired of reading about Camp Denison, the German Prisoner of War Camp near Denison during World War II. But according to my emails, letters and even phone calls, there are a number of readers who enjoyed reading about the camp. So this column will be different. It will be about some of the local people who knew about the camp and in different ways had a connection with it.
A good friend was one of those who has been enjoying the articles and wrote that they brought back a lot of memories. Janice Brown, wife of the late Game Warden Sammy Brown, a classmate of mine, had two separate connections with two separate camps, the ones in Gainesville and the one near Denison.
She said her family lived in Gainesville from the 1930s until they moved to Denison in 1949. Her mother worked at Camp Howze in Gainesville, during the war years. She met a lot of the prisoners and handled a lot of paperwork on them and said they were very polite and pleasant.
At the same time, Sammy and his family lived at Hagerman until it was covered by water from Lake Texoma. The prisoners were clearing the land for the lake and Sammy used to carry buckets of well water to the men who were working. He told her they were friendly and that some were very young, did a good job and never caused problems.
Janice said it had always seemed a coincidence to her that both her mother and future husband were involved with the prisoners and Lake Texoma.
While having coffee at Nick’s Restaurant with my husband one day this week, Roy Ross came over and shared a couple of thoughts about the camp. His grandfather, Martin Hock was an interpreter there. Martin Hock was an immigrant from Germany and Roy said the prisoners didn’t much like Martin because they thought he was a Nazi who sided with Hitler. Roy said he certainly wasn’t a Hitler sympathizer, but the guys in the camp thought because he was a immigrant, he was.
Roy’s father Jesse Ross was a member of the National Guard and served as a guard at the camp. Roy said his dad didn’t talk about it much, but said that the prisoners didn’t cause any problems and were all around nice guys.
Some time ago Rick Boettcher , who lived in Bentonville, Arkansas, wrote looking for pictures possibly from the Denison Herald’s archives. He said his father was with the Afrika Korp and was brought to the camp near Tishomingo for a number of months along with about 300 other Afrika Korp soldiers. He said he thought he had command of the German soldiers there and was about 21 years old at that time.
The only picture that I have from the Herald files is a group of German soldiers standing before a chess set that had been made by one of the prisoners and was sending it home to his parents.
Claud Easterly, who was later editor of The Herald, was contacted by the camp director to come up and take some pictures. That was one that he shared. A white piece of paper partially covers the chess set with “censored” stamped across it. Mr. Easterly said he guessed the camp managers thought there might be some kind of message in how the chess pieces were arranged. Remember, we were at war with Germany at the time. I don’t know if Rick’s father was one of the prisoners in the picture.
John Crawford, another editor of The Denison Herald who preceded me, wrote a while back with more information. John said the German prisoners also worked for farmers. From Gainesville to Denison, Bonham and Princeton, the prisoners helped the wartime economy here by providing cheap labor for farmers and the Corps of Engineers while most of the local men were overseas fighting. One man in each crew had a watch, he said, and they got 15 minutes rest at the end of every hour. The water system for the camp was used by Thompson Heights housing development after World War II, and is still there, he said.
John recalled that there also was a camp a couple of miles into Oklahoma from Denison. After the war a Denison club acquitted it and he said that he and his wife, Mary, attended several parties there back in the 1950s. I think at that time John was the Herald’s photographer and city hall reporter. He said he hadn’t heard anything about the club in recent years so he suspected that it had faded into history.
Another item I received from Chuck Pelkey had a question. He said he had read several articles and seen television documentaries on POW camps in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The one thing that he said had always made him curious about why the allies would go to all the time and expense to ship these POWs to the United States rather than interning them in Europe and letting them clean up things over there.
I don’t have a stock answer for Chuck, but I do know from what I hear in talking to others is that while the war was going hot and heavy in Germany, Italy and England, there actually was no place to hold them prisoner. And there was no food there to feed them. Every able bodied US man was helping with the war effort but with rationing, there was not much food shortage here.
I do know that when the war was over and the prisoners were returned to Europe, especially in Manfred Just’s case, they were not released and sent home immediately. Food was scarce in Germany and there was so much destruction it was a while before they could go home. Manfred spent several years in England after leaving the States before being released to return home.
There are other notes from people in the last few weeks and some have been through the years when columns have talked about Camp Denison, but this is the first time we have covered the camp so thoroughly with the help of some of the prisoners and the staff. I’m sure that there are many others who have remembrances and possible pictures that they would share. I’d love to see them.
I’ve shared thoughts from several people, but there was one, in 1986 that has been in my file for many years from Thomas Warner Young Sr. Warner and his family in 1945 lived on South Scullin Avenue near the MK&T Railroad tracks. He said they never knew if the passenger trains were bringing POWs in or shipping them out.
He did remember that in the summertime the conductor allowed POWs to open their windows. Once a prisoner who had evidently been stationed in France, threw him a French 2 franc coin. Attached to the hand written letter was the coin with a P.S. “No Photos, just the French 2 frank coin that a German POW threw to me. I still have that coin taped to the end of the letter.
Incidentally, I learned from talking to a number of people the location of Camp Denison and the photo with this column shows the site.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at email@example.com. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.