TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
Custom Search
New   |   Texas Towns   |   Ghost Towns   |   Counties   |   Trips   |   Features   |   Columns   |   Architecture   |   Images   |   Archives   |   Site Map


Columns
History/Opinion


Books by
Clay Coppedge



Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Not so great escapes


by Clay Coppedge

On Aug. 9, 1944, three German soldiers put a homemade raft into the Brazos River as part of their plan for a return trip to Germany. They were Prisoners of War at a camp near Hearne in Robertson County. They made their Huck Finn-style raft from waterproof GI ponchos and wood and used umbrellas for sails.

But this wasn't the mighty Mississippi they were attempting to navigate. This was the Brazos River in August, when its flow is traditionally at its lowest ebb. The Germans weren't from around there and didn't know that. According to the Geneva Convention of 1929, prisoners must be housed in a climate comparable to the one where they were captured. These soldiers were probably captured in North Africa, but they couldn't be expected to know much about Texas' dry season.

Meanwhile, back in the POW camp, three paper mache dolls were substituted for the actual prisoners, the doll attire complimented by the big blue sunhats that the prisoners usually wore. It was three days before the ruse was discovered. By that time, the men had made it 15 miles downstream from where they set out. A fisherman spotted them — they sort of stood out and — and alerted authorities.

An Army pilot from Bryan on a training mission spotted the Germans from the air. By land came American soldiers. They lined up on either side of the river and waited for the prisoners to float by. It's a testament to how the POWs were treated by Americans that when ordered ashore, they shook their heads and laughed. A quick, well-placed line of machine gun fire convinced the Germans POWs to take the matter more seriously.

The same day the three soldiers set off on their float down the Brazos, another German soldier at the Hearne camp named Otto Franke walked off a work detail and was soon heard from again. Two highway patrolmen found him walking along U.S. Highway 79, "heartily singing German marching songs." An escapee from a camp in Mexia was found hollering for help from a tree, where a Brahman bull had him buffaloed.

Those adventurers, all with perhaps more courage than common sense, were part of the thousands of German POWs in the U.S. during World War II. By war's end, 78,982 German POWs were housed in 14 camps throughout the state. Some of them tried to escape. Few of them made it.

The biggest beneficiaries of the tens of thousands of mostly able-bodied young Germans assigned to work details were farmers. Most of America's able-bodied men were off fighting the war, and POWs helped save and harvest more than a few crops. The farmers and POWs got along quite well in many instances, and some have even held reunions. Bu it wasn't all Kumbaya.

In some parts of the state, especially in areas where the population still spoke German as either a first or second language, there were grumblings that the German POWs looked to be in a lot better shape than the American POWs they had seen in the news. The POWs in Texas were usually young men who joined Hitler's Army because they were required to by law. The hard-core Nazi sympathizers were sent to a camp in Oklahoma.

A Nazi POW named Hans Peter Krug, who escaped from a camp in Canada in 1942, was captured in Texas. Armed with a list of contacts to help him reach Mexico and Germany, he made it to San Antonio before a hotel clerk recognized him from a wanted poster.

Krug caused quite a stir when he arrived in court dressed in his Luftwaffe uniform and belittling American authorities for being so ignorant and incompetent that he was able to pass forged documents on at least seven occasions. The U.S. sent him back to prison in Canada.

A month later, the U.S. brought the first treason charges of the war against a Max Stephan of Detroit for supplying Krug with food, lodging, and money. Stephan was found guilty and sentenced to die by hanging, but the sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment.

Krug was returned to Germany after the war and lived out his life there. Asked in 1992 about his feelings about Stephan, who paid a terrible price for Krug's few weeks of freedom, Krug said only that Stephan was a fool, the same thing he had said at Stephan's trial.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" January 8, 2022 column



Related Topics:

WWII
The War, The Men and Women, POW Camps, Memorials, Relics, Home Front and more...

WWII




Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Titanic in Texas 12-5-21
  • Country Music's First Superstar 11-3-21
  • America's Broadway 10-6-21
  • Wired Up in Texas 9-8-21
  • William Lee's Buggy Ride 8-9-21

    more »

  •  

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


    Texas Escapes Online Magazine »   Archive Issues » Home »
    TEXAS TOWNS & COUNTIES TEXAS LANDMARKS & IMAGES TEXAS HISTORY & CULTURE TEXAS OUTDOORS MORE
    Texas Counties
    Texas Towns A-Z
    Texas Ghost Towns

    TEXAS REGIONS:
    Central Texas North
    Central Texas South
    Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Panhandle
    Texas Hill Country
    East Texas
    South Texas
    West Texas

    Courthouses
    Jails
    Churches
    Schoolhouses
    Bridges
    Theaters
    Depots
    Rooms with a Past
    Monuments
    Statues

    Gas Stations
    Post Offices
    Museums
    Water Towers
    Grain Elevators
    Cotton Gins
    Lodges
    Stores
    Banks

    Vintage Photos
    Historic Trees
    Cemeteries
    Old Neon
    Ghost Signs
    Signs
    Murals
    Gargoyles
    Pitted Dates
    Cornerstones
    Then & Now

    Columns: History/Opinion
    Texas History
    Small Town Sagas
    Black History
    WWII
    Texas Centennial
    Ghosts
    People
    Animals
    Food
    Music
    Art

    Books
    Cotton
    Texas Railroads

    Texas Trips
    Texas Drives
    Texas State Parks
    Texas Rivers
    Texas Lakes
    Texas Forts
    Texas Trails
    Texas Maps
    USA
    MEXICO
    HOTELS

    Site Map
    About Us
    Privacy Statement
    Disclaimer
    Contributors
    Staff
    Contact Us

     
    Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved