Monday, May 18, 2009

Distelfink and POW Camps

It seems like years pass in the blink of an eye in my world. I start researching one thing which leads to another equally if not more interesting subject and soon, I am a million miles away from where I started. This time it involved distelfinks.
It started out with me wanting to take some shots of some interesting landmarks in the area while Rick and I were doing our daily errands. I thought one of the local icecream places would be neat because the name is so unusual. Wikipedia defines distelfink as "representing happiness and good fortune and the Pennsylvania German nation." Well that would make sense with the happiness part; icecream definitely makes most people happy.

This research led me to another exciting discovery in the never ending quest to bring you up to speed on things you probably don't know about Gettysburg: THERE WERE PRISONER OF WAR CAMPS LOCATED IN AND NEAR GETTYSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA, DURING WORLD WAR II 1944-1946! While not related to civil war history,I thought this to be pretty significant.
"The United States War Department was granted permission by the National Park Service to locate a prisoner of war camp on the battlefield west of the High Water Mark, immediately south of the Home Sweet Home Motel on the Emmitsburg Road in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On May 31, 1944, fifty war prisoners from Camp George G. Meade, Maryland, under guard of U. S. Army troops led by Captain L. C. Thomas, began placing poles for the stockade to surround the camp. The fifty German prisoners were housed temporarily in the National Guard Armory on Confederate Avenue. They were joined by an additional one hundred prisoners within three day of the initial arrivals; with another three hundred fifty prisoners arriving one week later. (There were eventually close to five hundred German prisoners of war and approximately ninety guards located at the tent camp on the edge of the borough.) The camp was ready for occupancy by June 20, 1944, and a contingency of four hundred twenty-five prisoners began working in the pea harvest on that date. Any farmer, fruit grower or packing plant company in need of help made application to the local employment service in Gettysburg. Mr. E. A. Crouse was the chairman of the service at that time. It was his responsibility to coordinate the contracts with the local farmers and industries with the military. The original group of prisoners were assigned to fourteen canneries, both fruit and vegetable; three orchards, seventeen farms, one stone quarry and one fertilizer and hide plant. Prisoners were transported and guarded by military police, to the various locations in Littlestown, Biglerville, Hanover, Chambersburg, Middletown and Emmitsburg. The prevailing wages paid by the employers were $1.00 per hour with ten cents per hour credited to the prisoners' accounts. (The United States Government cleared $138,000 on this one camp from June 8 through November 1, 1944.) The prisoners were not paid in cash, but were given coupons which they could spend in the camp post exchange."

"Early in 1945, another former Civilian Conservation Corps Camp, located in the Micheaux State Park between Chambersburg and Carlisle, was enclosed in a stockade and newly captured German prisoners of war were transported to the camp. All of the prisoners were brought to the camp after dark on blacked-out trains to maintain the secrecy of the camp's location. The purpose of the camp at Pine Grove Furnace was to obtain information from the prisoners concerning troop movements. gun placements, submarine pen locations. Other than the army personnel and the military intelligence personnel, no outsiders were allowed in the area. Approximately 25,000 prisoners passed through the camp. As certain officers and scientists were identified, they were immediately isolated and sent to special barracks for further questioning. Some of the scientists were sent to White Sands, New Mexico, to work on the atomic and hydrogen bombs. Some of these men ultimately became American citizens.
After the war ended in Europe, the German prisoners who were in the camp were returned to New York City and were eventually returned to Germany. A lesser known fact is that the camp at Pine Grove Furnace was then used to house Japanese prisoners of war. On June 15, 1945, approximately two hundred Japanese were assigned to the camp. Very few of these prisoners ever became ( ) with the army personnel. They were hard workers and assigned to any job to keep busy. They beautified the camp - painting the lanes for the paths; cutting the grass by hand; planting flowers in the compound. The Japanese were all very eager to go home, even though they could be disgraced for having surrendered. These prisoners were also interrogated and then processed to other camps, but there were significantly fewer Japanese who passed through the camp. At the end of the war in the Pacific, the remaining prisoners were sent to Seattle, Washington, to await transportation to Japan. They were all amazed to see Major Thomas there to accompany them. There were approximately 1600 Japanese on the Sea Devil for the eighteen day trip to Japan. Major Thomas was appalled to see these men loaded onto barges and then simply set ashore when they did reach land - they just climbed the banks and disappeared."

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