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Contrary to popular belief, Pearl Harbor was not a complete surprise,
although it certainly was to those stationed there. Hitler had already
invaded Poland and the war was a reality in Europe. Camp Swift was
planned in 1940 and itís nearly 3,000 buildings were constructed in
an incredible 120 days in early í42, at a cost of $25, 000, 000.
Swift sits like hundreds of National Guard facilities around
the country, hardly more than a parking lot for Army Reserve equipment
and vehicles. But at its peak, this installation had more impact
on Bastrop County than any occurrence natural or man-made,
before or since. The population eventually reached 50,000, (some
sources say as many as 90,000) which more than sextupled the civilian
census. On any weekend, 20 Ė 25,000 soldiers would be trucked
to Bastrop on flatbed
trucks where they would board buses to Austin.
Kerrville Bus Company, who had the contract for this weekend
transmigration, was not immune to the tire rationing then in place,
and frequent blowouts would leave stranded buses all along this
Basically, Camp Swift was
an Infantry training facility, but combat nurses were
trained here as well. The drain of talent from local hospitals caused
a shortage of nurses that continued until after the war. Infantry
training for European bound troops took advantage of the Colorado
River to practice river assaults and crossings.
As a Prisoner of War Camp,
it housed mostly German soldiers captured from Rommelís
elite Afrika Corp. Some 300 Russians who were forced
to fight on the German side were also confined, but had to be segregated
from the Germans. At least eleven Germans remain buried on the former
grounds of the Camp.
Escape attempts were rare
enough to let the Germans work unsupervised after 1944. When escapes
were attempted, they usually had a humorous conclusion. One man
was treed by a local bull and shouted for help to those looking
for him. Another was bitten in the buttocks by a tracking dog
where he had pocketed a hunk of bologna. Adding insult to injury,
the guard dog was a German Shepherd. Escapes were far more frequent
and successful with the 3,000 mules brought to the Camp by the
10th Mountain Division. Frequent herds of 100-200 had to be
rounded up almost weekly, and three who were too wild to recapture
were left behind.
The helpful librarians at the Bastrop
Public Library will gladly direct you to the Camp Swift files.
Additional files are kept at the Museum at 702 Main Street.
One of the files contains a History
of Camp Swift by O.P. Houston and Walter E. Long.
Included is a poignant letter written by one of the prisoners
who worked in a camp office. It was found in his typewriter
after he was sent back to East Germany, which was then under Russian
occupation. In his words, the letter follows:
country, rich country, after 1000 days Iím leaving you forever.
Good-by you level farm land, you cotton raising state,
You proudest soil under the sun: "My Texas".
Good-by especially to you, Fortress Swift
With your barracks and training grounds;
You took it from me, finally this consciousness
Of mine to belong to that brave mankind.
Good-by busy office at this post,
Good-by dear desks and copies and typewriters.
Good-by folks, all you clerk-typists and levely
Stenographers, with silk stockings, powdered faces
And rouged lips. I was amazed seeing you sitting
Liesurely at hard work with "cokes" at hand.
Good-by America: Iím going to England as a joung slave
And then to Russia as an old one.
Good-by Ė You swell life.
Old post card
A recent visit to Camp Swift
confirms what the library files say: that thereís hardly anything
left of the camp. I spoke with Master Sergeant Robert West
who had a few interesting stories. As late as 1989 a former German
POW returned for a visit.
THE POW CEMETERIES
The POW cemetery is now on land that
was given back to the former owners, when the camp was decommissioned
in 1946. Three other cemeteries exist and fencing is currently
being installed around two of them. The third cemetery consists
of only three graves, a father and two sons who were killed by
Indians. MSG West also says that two cougars reside at
Camp Swift, one golden and another darker one. Sightings were
as recent as last year.
WORK, PAY AND LIFE
AT THE CAMP
While each barrack housed 16 prisoners,
if all prisoners had all returned from their contract work outside
the fence, there wouldnít have been enough barracks for them all.
Contractors had to provide off base housing, while the Army provided
the MP guards.
Prisoners were paid 80 cents per
day while the farmers and/or contractors paid the government the
going rate of 2.60 per day per prisoner. Prisoners were unable
to spend all of their script and some at Camp Wallace in Texas
City donated $440.00 to the local YMCA who had given them
books. Officers werenít required to work and Junior Officers were
paid 20.00 per month, Captains, 30.00, and Field Grade and above
Ten Texas Universities provided camps
with correspondence courses and university credits! In addition,
mail from Germany was promptly forwarded and Swiss monitors visited
the camps to insure The Geneva Convention rules were being complied
Itís likely that German children
had their equivalent for "What did you do in the war, Daddy?"
One can imagine hearing: "Well, up to í43 I was an Oberfeldwebel
(Master Sergeant) in the Afrika Corps, then I went to Texas and
stuffed olives." Stuffed Olives? Our researcher read where
prisoners near Alvin
grew peppers and tomatoes and canned them along with olives.
This puzzled us until a photo was
found of a bunch of smiling POWs sitting at a sorting table stuffing
strips of pimento peppers into imported olives. Nice work if you
could get it.
The Bastrop museum files also contain
a letter from 1993 wherein a former POW thanks the Bastrop
Historical Society for information they furnished him and
enclosed two snapshots of a German funeral at Camp Swift. One
shows the flag draped casket (POWs were even allowed to fly the
Swastika Flag) being carried by pallbearers and the other shows
a US MP Honor Guard firing a salute.
Washington received many complaints
that the prisoners were being treated too well. FDR defended
the policy by reminding Americans that the Germans held US prisoners.
After the war, the wisdom of this was apparent in the statistics
on the mortality rates of American vs. Russian POWs. Camp Swift
prisoners were sent to England for two more years where they helped
clean up some of the mess (and presumably were told not to do
it again) before they were sent back to two Germanys.
of you under 40, we won. 1946 found Camp Swift with a skeleton
crew of 800. This is the year the dictionary formally recognized
such words as jerk, cheesecake (as in leg art) and jive. Congressman
Lyndon Johnson visited with all of Bastrop Co. mayors at a
barbecue in Bastrop State Park and it is here (some historians
believe) that LBJs lifelong fondness for Elgin
sausage began. Their Honors wanted Camp Swift reactivated, LBJ
wanted to be reelected. Shortly before elections, a convoy of
Troops from the 12th Cavalry at Camp Hood (approximately 1000
men) conspicuously occupied the Camp. Johnson was reelected, the
troops inconspicuously convoyed back to Camp Hood and Camp Swift
was reduced to lumber being sold at $5 per truckload.
The current Editor at the Bastrop
Advertiser, Davis McAulty recently visited the site
of the POW cemetery. His flowing and detailed description made
us feel we neednít visit the site ourselves (besides, there are
cougars out there). Mr. McAulty is a policemanís dream eyewitness.
This is one guy who would get the number of the get-away car.
According to the Editor: "The site is overgrown by pines,
and a small sandstone wall defines the perimeter." His estimate
of 10 Ė12 marker-less graves matches our researchers total of
11. Most but not all of the graves are visible due to the depression
in the soil where they were evidently exhumed for return to Germany
or else became cougar chow.
10th Mountain Division
Swift monument at the gate