Tuesday, 07 February 2017 17:43

World War II: When being a Yankee was worse than a German

Written by  Harold Bales

My story this week is set in the mid-1940s. I was a young boy at the time. Many of the men in my family were away serving in the U.S. military. How many of you are old enough to remember those years? Our mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers were holding things together here at home.

Consult your elders and see if they remember any of what I’m about to tell you. They may not know about this because, while it was not secret, it was not widely disclosed at the time.

World War II was raging at the time. As the war wore on, thousands of German and Italian prisoners of war were brought to America and placed in 700 prison camps in 43 states.

The Geneva Conventions of 1929 required that the prisoners be treated basically the same way U.S. G.I.’s were treated. This included a salary of 80 cents per day, which is what an American private made. They lived in camps that were like U.S. military camps except for barbed wire fences and guard towers. The camps were placed mostly in areas where there was a shortage of labor. Many of the men were able to come and go to jobs. The prisoners were treated to a standard of living better than that of many American citizens. One of these camps was located on the Cumberland Plateau near Crossville, Tenn. It housed about 1,500 Germans, many of whom were from Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

When I was 15 years old, I spent a week at the camp. I could tell you much more but space does not allow. I will tell this vignette to close.

Because of the lax security of the camps and the exceptionally good living conditions, very few prisoners escaped. Of 356,500 prisoners, only 1,583 escaped. Most came back voluntarily. Only 22 were never recaptured. One case of an escape that ended badly happened at Camp Crossville. Three German submariners stumbled upon a mountain cabin. Out came a mountain “Granny” who ordered them to “git.” When they did not leave, she shot one of them dead.

The deputy sheriff came out to investigate. He explained the circumstances to her and she began to cry. She explained that if she had known they were Germans, she would not have fired the shot. She said, “I thought they ‘wuz’ Yankees.”

Now, so far as I know, that’s the truth if I ever told it.

Harold Bales is on sabbatical as he continues to recover from partial leg amputation surgery, but his Southern-Fried wisdom and humor are timeless. Until he’s back behind the keyboard, we’ll be printing columns from similar publication weeks of years past. This column appeared on this week last year. Harold is a retired Methodist minister who lives in Concord. He enjoys hearing from his readers, so send him an e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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