World War two
ROYAL NETHERLANDS MILITARY FLYING SCHOOL
JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI 1942
Letter: Jessie Sutton, an Army Nurse during World War II, to Mary Lorean Hill Clark
War Bond Pledge and Recognition Papers
War Ration Book
Rufus Baker Austin
Contributed by Frances Clark Cronin January 12, 2006
Mississippi Ordnance Plant, Flora, MS
Smokeless Powder Bag Loading Plant, 1999.The 14" reinforced concrete walls stark by the fact that all wood or other trim had long since rotted away. Trees are in every corner. This is not accessible to the public.
The entire plant and support buildings covered 9300 acres that included eighty to ninety dirt covered bunkers for storing the completed munitions. The General Tire and Rubber Company of Akron operated it. The building process is described: "They took a mountain and made a gully out of it to get the dirt for the bunkers, roads, and buildings."
They designed the plant to turn out smokeless powder bags for from Battleship 16 inch guns to smaller artillery shells. The plant turned out only 105mm howitzer bags. The plant was completed in May of 1942. It was one of four identical plants built at a cost of about $15,000,000 per plant. When they planned the four, they didn't plan on more modern methods of production so one plant did the job of all four. The Flora plant finally started operation in May 10, 1945. Diminishing demand allowed for only three of the bag loading buildings and for only one shift per day.
Operation at the plant ceased on August 15, 1945, after only three months of operation and 959,281 105mm howitzer bags loaded. The powder bunkers are being preserved because the area is now an industrial park and are being used for storage and other uses. The magnificent old bag loading plant, is lost, from being forgotten. They are strong and will stand for many years.
German Prisoner of War Camp, Clinton, MSPrisoners organized a jazz band, theatrical group and a symphony orchestra. The prisoners, if they chose to work, were paid eighty cents a day which was deposited in their own "kanteen." So you saw young "boys" walking around sipping pop. They could wear their own uniform if they didn't feel right wearing GI uniforms with "PW" in large white letters on their back. A well-equipped hospital was enclosed within the compound. The prisoners received the same care as the Americans.
There was only one MP to guard them at night and all he had was a club. Some POW's seemed very cultured and some didn't but they were always polite.
Though most of the prisoners were from the Afrika Korps, there were men from the air corps, paratroopers, infantry, artillery, armored, marines, and even some from occupied countries like Poland. The average age of the enlisted prisoners was 22, with many in their teens. It was the only US camp that housed German general officers. They were "imprisoned" in private bungalows, two generals to each and were allowed one aide between them. One of their complaints was that the communal latrine did not have privacy walls. After much discussion, the commanding officer decided that since the Americans didn't have that luxury, neither should the POWs.
There were four POW camps in Mississippi: Clinton, McCain, Como and Shelby, also 15 branch camps. More than 20.000 German prisoners were held in the state.
There were escape attempts. Where to, no one knows.
One General did find a way to escape. He sawed through the bars under the camp in a culvert. He escaped, went to town and checked in to the Heidelberg Hotel. He wore his uniform so that no one would notice the PW on the back. Using the hotel stationery, he wrote a scathing letter to the State Department complaining about the treatment at the camp. No copy of this letter is available. He then broke back in to the camp and went to sleep. 37 officers that were there.
In December 1945, The war was over but Germany was in ruins. All transportation and communication, except for that by and for the Allies, was nonexistent. The Iron Curtain had fallen over East Germany. The German prisoners were not yet been repatriated. For German prisoners (and American families with family members in the occupying forces) this was an especially trying time. On Christmas, against all rules, General Ramcke (while still a prisoner) wrote a letter to a member of President Truman's staff. All this sadness and pain, as well as subtle Cold War threats and some complaining are apparent in this letter.
The following is a reprint from the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger, 1996The hospital and the barracks and the projects they worked on are gone today, their time and function lost to the mists of the past. But on this good Friday, in their minds' eyes, twenty German-speaking travelers swept back 50 years, and they could see everything; where they had slept, where they had labored, where they had gone for the nurses and doctors to put them back together.
This was Camp Clinton, a lock-up for German prisoners of war, just off McRaven Road, east of Springridge. In 1943, the Afrika Korps came to town. The Americans here would never be the same. Neither would the Germans. This was where World War 11 stopped and understanding between two cultures took root.
Marion Rogers Wells was a nurse in 1944, 21 years old. Her sister, Katherine, worked at the camp. That's how she heard about the job. "There were two older nurses here at first, the Bass sisters," she says, standing on a gravel road in what used to be the prisoner compound. "They mothered them." Many of the prisoners had not seen home since 1940. Many had been in the desert for three years, with Rommel and Montgomery and Patton, playing push and shove with tanks in the grinding heat and blinding sandstorms of North Africa. "They had malaria and head lice, Wells says. "They were homesick." Many were just kids.
On May 9, 1943, Dietrich Lohbeck, a private, was captured in Tunisia. The Americans came from one direction, the English from another. In between, 80,000 Germans were caught when the vast trap snapped shut. It was Lohbeck's 19th birthday. It wasn't, he says, a bad birthday present. "I was safe. There was no more lead in the air." The Allies had surrounded Josef Huber, a communications specialist in the Luftwaffe, the air force, the day before, on May 8. "For 12 days, we tried to escape. maybe to Morocco," he says. "We'd walk 10-15 miles in the night. In the day, we couldn't do it; the French in Tunisia were against us. Hitler, Huber says, had won over Berber tribes by promising their own government and getting rid of the French. So at night, Huber and his friends traveled from one Berber campsite to another, listening for the telltale barking of the Berbers' dogs. After nearly two weeks, they realized it was hopeless. "We knew the English were friendly," he says. Americans were a great unknown. So they tried to surrender to an English lieutenant. But he handed them over to a couple of American GIs. "We were," Huber says, "happy to be out of the fight." Many of the prisoners were moved through the Mediterranean Sea to Gibraltar and on to Scotland, where they spent six weeks. They sailed to New York, went straight to Penn Station and were placed on trains bound for a place called "Mississippi". Josef Huber had medical school on his mind when he was growing up in Munich, in the Bavarian mountains. But Hitler's Case White, the invasion of Poland, swept him out of his life and into the swirling vortex of world war. It took capture and Camp Clinton to put him back on track. "We got good treatment," he says. "Marion can tell you. We worked together for a year. l was a surgical technician." After a year of working on Germans, Marion Rogers Wells Wells and a couple of her friends enlisted in the Army so they could put Americans back together. Her friendship with and affection for Huber, however, has spanned five decades. Fifty years ago, in 1946, the prisoners were trucked out of Camp Clinton and sent either to Great Britain or France, where they spent another year before being mustered back into civilian life. Huber went to medical school and became a neurologist. A slim, fit man, he has been retired from his 30-year practice for 10 years now. He climbs mountains in his native Bavaria, plays the violin in an orchestra. and takes philosophy courses at the University of Bavaria.
Marion Rogers Wells has never spent a working day away from veterans. After the war and the Army, she went to work for the Veterans Administration. She's retired from the Jackson Veterans Affairs Medical Center, serves as the relief nurse in the infirmary at Mississippi College and focuses her energies on Clinton and its history. "Whenever former prisoners have come back," she says, "I've tried to show them around. l never was afraid of them. We never treated them like the enemy." They were just somebody else's sons from. the other side of the Atlantic, caught by the whirlwind of history, by events of unimaginable vastness and terror. At Camp Clinton, they found an oasis of peace beyond Hitler's jack-boot and the bombs of the Allies.
War is hell, and it's hell to clean up. When Franz Prager got back home, hardly any of home was left. He grew up in Essen, in Germany's industrial heart. Allied bombers, trying to knock out the vast Krupp works, had reduced Essen to rubble. "It was very shocking," he says. At Camp Clinton, Prager had worked for a builder named Monroe G. Landrum, his foreman. And he had paid attention. "My hometown was 65 percent destroyed. And so there was a lot of work for bricklayers and builders." In great disaster, often there is great opportunity. Prager took advantage.
Lohbeck, captured so young, grew up in Westphalia, near Holland. Twenty years ago, on doctor's orders for the treatment of asthma, he and his family moved up to the mountains of Bavaria. Three years ago, at age 70, he sold his accounting firm and retired. He has made five trips to the United States, four times to the Jackson-Clinton area. He even, on a lark, got a Florida driver's license. On this Friday, standing where the prison compound used to be, he pulls out his wallet and shows me a driver's license from 1940. "The picture," he says, "was replaced in 1952." That was because in the 1940 photo he was wearing the uniform of the Hitler Youth. "I've never met anyone in the United States who has not been helpful and friendly," he says. A relative of the family he and his wife are staying with in Florence owns an air conditioning firm. He handed Lohbeck 50 business cards and asked him to hand them out to the visiting Germans. "'They are elderly,' he told me," Lohbeck says, " 'and they are in an unfamiliar place. If they need to, they can call that number and one of my people will come get them.' "Isn't that wonderful?"
Lohbeck looks across the long expanse of green where so many of his countrymen spent three years so long ago under such very different circumstances. "We used to be enemies, we used to fight each other," he says quietly, "and we're crying when we have to leave each other now."
Over 50 years ago, German prisoners planted bulbs in Mississippi soil. Down at the front gate of this place where peace and understanding took root so long ago, those yellow tulips still sway in the April breeze.
The prisoners were governed and disciplined by their. own chosen leaders, and when they went outside the compound on official assignments, they were guarded by American soldiers. POWs wore blue prison uniforms emblazoned with an orange PW. They were paid 80 cents per day for their labor. Despite their confinement, prisoners had many privileges. Their food was the same as was given American troops; and their housing was comparable to Army barracks. General officers lived in bungalows and were not required to work. POWs organized musical groups, some had bobbles and many particlpated in a variety of recreational activities.
"After the camp was closed, the area sat vacant for a while. Then in the spring of 1946, construction was begun on a $250,000 new office and laboratory building and by late summer, it was in operation. The Concrete Division made use of many of the camp's vacant structures. In the late fall of 1969, the Concrete Division was moved to Vicksburg where an ultra-modern facility had just been completed. Two years later, in October 1971, the old camp site used by the Concrete Laboratory was declared surplus. By this time, the administration and operation of the Mississippi River Basin Model had been moved to a nearby facility and all but a small number of the buildings original to the camp dismantled. It was announced that state and local governments and non-profit institutions would be allowed to make application to acquire the property. Among those who expressed an interest was Mississippi College, located in Clinton." After an extended period of negotiations between the government and the school, the two parties reached an agreement on the transfer of the land.
On April 20, 1973, a ceremony at the Waterways Experiment Station, the deed to 220 acres was presented to Dr. Lewis Nobles, president of Mississippi College. The biggest portion of the property was to be used for field research in biology, botany, and chemistry and as a center for physical education and recreation. Conference and administrative facilities and a driver education course were also planned."
Most of the proposed programs were never put into effect. A recreation center was set up in one of the abandoned WES warehouses, but it was used for only a short time and no longer stands. Apart from an occasional field trip to the area, no study facilities were ever built. The only regular use of the property has been for cross-country track events. Presently, much of the site is overgrown: and except for some of the old crumbling streets and a few foundations, there is little evidence that a 3,000-man prisoner of war camp was ever there."*
Copyright © 2005 Jane Combs All Rights Reserved