Friday, February 5, 2010

POW Camp Highlights from Owosso, Michigan

Although it was one of the largest, Camp Aliceville in Alabama was certainly not the only prisoner of war camp in the United States during WWII. One of my readers sent a link to the Shiawassee District Library website in Michigan for more information about Camp Owosso. Events at Owosso were the basis for Gary Slaughter's novel Cottonwood Summer, which I mentioned in a previous blog. (See October 1, 2007 blog entry.)

Camp Owosso was a much smaller operation, but like Camp Aliceville, its first prisoners came from the battlefields in North Africa. Later, prisoners from the European theater were added. In all, it is estimated that Camp Owosso held between 200 and 1,000 prisoners. They were held inside a fenced compound with tents pitched in rows. Each tent could hold six prisoners.

Most of the prisoners at Camp Owosso worked at the W. R. Roach Canning Company, but they could also be hired by local farmers. Although there were rules against fraternizing, many of the farmers included the prisoners with their family at lunchtime.

Many folks in the area remember the prisoners as "well-behaved," but there were two escape attempts. One involved some help from two local girls, and the other involved walking away from farms. In both cases, the prisoners were caught and returned to camp.

There was also a case where a group of prisoners saved a woman from a fire. The wife of the superintendent of the canning factory had just gone home after giving birth to her tenth child. A group of German POWs entered her house, wrapped her in a mattress, and carried her to safety. The POWs also helped fight the fire and saved some of the family belongings from the fire.

You can read more about this camp at the Shiawassee District Library website The photos above, showing POWs registering and playing soccer, are from that website. You can also read a fictionalized version of some of the Camp Owosso events in Gary Slaughter's book, Cottonwood Summer.

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