Friday, November 13, 2009

Pete Mayhall's Camp Aliceville Experiences I.

Bruce Mayhall recently shared some of his father's experiences at Camp Aliceville during World War II, and I am happy to post these for my readers. Bruce wrote about these experiences in May 2008.

After enlisting in the Army in May 1942, Glen Howard "Pete" Mayhall was assigned to the Induction Center at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama, where he interviewed draftees until April 1943 Then his brother-in-law Hiram Duncan, who was an Army private, told Pete about a new company being formed for Camp Aliceville. Both men were promoted and sent to Aliceville, arriving before the first group of prisoners did in June 1943.

Pete was assigned to work in the company office, but after the German POWs began to arrive, he was moved into the compound and worked for the officer in charge, Captain Scott C. Strohecker. They worked with a First Lieutenant (possibly Nat Aicklen) as well as one or two secretaries who were civilian employees of the camp.

Pete's brother-in-law Hiram worked in the American section of the camp, and he and Bernice (Pete's sister) rented a house across the road from the camp.

The compound office, where Pete worked, was located in a building that sat between the housing for American soldiers and the compounds occupied by the German POWs. In the early years of Camp Aliceville, the prisoners organized much of their own lives inside the compounds, and the three Americans in the stockade office (Strohecker, the first lieutenant, and Mayhall) were among the few Americans who had access to the compound. Pete remembers that, when hard-core Nazis caused trouble with other prisoners, they were shipped out to other camps.

Pete remembers that the 1929 Geneva convention requirements about equal food and housing for prisoners were followed carefully, and that this caused considerable resentment among local citizens. On one occasion, a POW spokesman came to Pete and complained about the amount of bread the prisoners were receiving. Pete told him they were getting the same amount as the American guards, but Captain Strohecker, who was of German descent, understood the cultural differences and allowed more bread.

Prisoners often came to the stockade office with requests for materials they could use for creative projects to ward off boredom. Once, a prisoner named W. Reissig, who was an artist, asked for help in locating things he could paint. Later, Reissig gave Pete a painting he had created on mattress ticking with improvised colors found in the infirmary. The scene, Life on the Mississippi, reproduces a postcard Reissig obtained. This painting still hangs on the wall of the bedroom Bruce Mayhall sleeps in when he visits his parents' home in Florence, Alabama.

More of Pete Mayhall's recollections and photos of Alicevile during WWII will appear in subsequent blog entries.

No comments: