Tour bus brings POW experience to people
It’s hard to imagine a prisoner of war camp in Peabody and throughout the U.S.
By the end of World War II, more than 400,000 POWs were imprisoned in the U.S. in more than 650 base and branch camps nearly in all of the 48 states.
Approximately 380,000 Germans, 50,000 Italians, and 6-8,000 Japanese captured soldiers were detained in the camps.
In Kansas camps, the prisoners primarily were German.
Peabody POWs were housed in a brick building near the downtown district in Peabody. Research has indicated this was a common practice in other cities.
Peabody and area residents had an opportunity Friday to see artifacts and review historical facts when a bus museum or Bus-eum stopped at Peabody.
Peabody’s camp was a branch camp of Camp Algona. The information and artifacts were from Camp Algona but Irving Kellman, bus driver and tour guide of St. Paul, Minn., said, “What went on at Camp Algona also went on in all camps, including Peabody.”
Among the artifacts was an identification card from a 17-year-old POW. He was 5’4”, weighed 118 pounds.
Kellman said U.S. ships that transported POWs were marked as such and none were sunk by enemy fire during WWII.
Each camp had a band and performed plays as a way to keep busy. There were no escape attempts in Peabody but there was one in Phoenix, Ariz.
The camps were in operation from 1943 to 1946.
Some POWs in parts of the Midwest were welcomed sites for farmers. With the war, many farmers lost their hired help. Most POWs were more than happy to oblige. Many returned to those communities after their releases to live.
Students of Peabody-Burns High School toured the bus Friday morning. One of the stories Kellman told that occurred in Peabody was when some POWs went to a soccer field to play, accompanied by armed guards. They were met by students brandishing guns and bats. The guards took the prisoners back to camp and “answered” the crowd with a full lock down, of sorts, and machine guns.
Luckily, no shots were fired but it apparently got the attention of the townspeople. A similar confrontation did not occur again.
“This was the most tense account I’ve ever heard about,” Kellman said.
The bus itself was an artifact from that era.
Kellman said the bus had been on 1,000 tours in 15 states, accommodating more than 100,000 visitors.
So, here we are. 2008. Americans understand war but it still is hard to imagine a prisoner of war camp in our neighborhoods.