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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,
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 route.
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
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.
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.
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
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:
Good-by big 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
You took it from me, finally this consciousness
Of mine to belong
to that brave mankind.
Good-by busy office at this post,
desks and copies and typewriters.
Good-by folks, all you clerk-typists and
Stenographers, with silk stockings, powdered faces
And rouged lips.
I was amazed seeing you sitting
Liesurely at hard work with "cokes"
Good-by America: Iím going to England as a joung slave
to Russia as an old one.
Good-by Ė You swell life.
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
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.
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 40.00.
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 with.
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.
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.
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.
those 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.
Mountain Division Memorial Highways|
Swift monument at the gate|
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