On February 7, 1945, a truck-load of high-spirited German prisoners of war unfurled a swastika banner as they rode through the town of Chandler, Arizona, on their way to pick cotton. The city marshal stopped the truck. He was told the problem was military business and that the Army would take care it. However, the banner was seen again as the men were on their way back to Camp Papago Park that evening. A guard searched for what was really a neckerchief, but it was never found.
The news of the event showed up the following day in the Arizona Republic, and citizens in the area sounded off with furious letters to the editor. A few days later remarks about the lax prisoner of war camp at Papago Park were made by a U.S. Senator and several Congressmen. There were calls for less pampering of prisoners, a program to indoctrinate the men in democratic principles and segregation of prisoners who were pro-Nazi. Unfortunately, the Congressman who made those charges did not know that it was because camp troublemakers and former escapees were confined to one compound, making the digging of the 178-foot tunnel possible.
Despite the high profile charges, the Army dug in its heels, stressing its POW program had positive aspects, particularly that the work program of prisoners in the fields and factories saved American taxpayers as much as $100 million. The Army also said fair treatment of more than 350,000 Germans would assure similar conditions of nearly 80,000 American prisoners of war being held by the Third Reich.
Next: Stories of American POWs held by the Third Reich
Read my novel The Swastika Tattoo, a story about a German POW held at Camp Papago Park in Arizona.
Copyright, Geraldine Birch. All rights reserved.