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World War II POWs Provide Labor

This week we continue the history of a major World War II prisoner of war camp near Douglas. 

According to an internet story:

“Part of that bubbling enthusiasm in Converse County may have been directly related to the role planned for the prisoners as employees outside of the camp. As elsewhere throughout the United States, the departure of thousands of Wyoming’s men to the war left the state with a critical shortage of agricultural labor. POWs provided a solution to the problem and performed many essential jobs related to agriculture, particularly harvesting crops, whether it was cotton in the South or sugarbeets and timber in Wyoming. In anticipation of the much-needed prison labor, local Converse County ranchers and farmers formed a corporation before the first prisoner arrived and appointed a manager to handle the governmental red tape involved in the contracting procedures.

“Italians were the first group of POWs that arrived in August 1942. A crowd gathered to watch the 412 closely guarded captives as they alighted from the train in Douglas and proceeded to march, in units of 50, the one mile to the outlying camp.

“With the surrender of Italy in 1944, the Italian prisoners were quietly shipped out by early spring. Although the POW camp was vacant and deactivated in July 1944, it was quickly reactivated a month later to prepare for incoming Germans prisoners. By the first of October 1944, over 2,000 German prisoners resided at the camp. The numbers peaked the following summer at 3,011.

“Like the Italian prisoners before them, the German POWs also provided thousands of hours in agricultural labor for which they were paid daily wages of four dollars. They received one-half of their wages in script they could use in the post exchange. The other half was set aside until their release from the camp. Some thrifty prisoners returned to their homeland with over $500 in savings.

“POWs worked in the surrounding area and also were assigned to crop harvest crews in Clearmont, Wheatland, Basin and Lovell. Others spent time as timber men in nearby Esterbrook and as far away as Ryan Park in the Medicine Bow Mountains. Guards always accompanied the internees although security might become lax on the jobsite as escape attempts appeared to be less of a threat away from the camp.

“The prisoners enjoyed playing soccer and doing calisthenics outside in spite of the cold winter.” 

But then, that’s another Postcard.