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Texas | Features | World War II

The McLean Prisoner of War Camp

McLean, Texas

Old Route 66

IH-40

by Delbert Trew

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A sleepy cotton field, two miles NE of McLean, Texas held 3,000 German prisoners of war from 1943 to 1945, as part of a national program during WWII. Eventually, before the war ended, more than 425,000 prisoners of war were held in the U.S.A. Texas had 33 camps.

The prison site included 25 to 30 buildings of various sizes designed to house the prisoners. Guards, and support personnel needed for security and sustenance. At first, horse-drawn wagons and equipment were used to save fuel for the war effort. Many local civilians worked at the camp as secretaries, nurses and in camp maintenance.

The town of McLean gained little from the camp as supplies were shipped in by the government. Citizens were invited to attend movies and other programs held at the camp and some rationed supplies were sometimes contributed to town organizations. At times, prisoners were allowed to work in leased crews to help pick cotton or hoe weeds from crops.

The prisoners arrived by train, were lined up on the main street of McLean by armed guards and marched two and one-half miles out to the compounds. Citizens were almost in shock as the troops marched through town as many wore bloody bandages and empty gun holsters on their belts. Many feared for their families with the prisoners living close by.

There was little trouble from the prisoners who were only too happy to be out of the battle zones and safe from injury. A few escapees were quickly captured and all trouble-makers were shipped to other prisons immediately after causing trouble. German troops from both the North African campaign and the Normandy Invasion were housed at the camp at different times.

Within days after the armistice the prisoners were removed, the camp declared war surplus and an auction was held to dispose of the camp and its buildings. Some were torn down for the materials and others were removed to new locations. The land was sold back to local farmers.

Today, the McLean Public Airport runway cut through the heart of the old compound. A careful search of the site finds only strange configurations of trees planted by the prisoners, ditches and concrete foundations where the wash and shower areas were located. A Texas historical marker stands at the SE corner of the prison grounds.

A good display of old photos, interviews, letters from both civilians, guards and former German prisoners and souvenirs made by the prisoners are featured at the McLean/ Alanreed Area Museum located on main street in McLean. Read more about the subject in a book, The McLean P.O.W. Camp by Delbert Trew. [Order Information]


Delbert Trew

Historical Marker Text

World War II Prisoner of War Camp at McLean

A permanent alien interment camp (prisoner of war camp) in the 8th Service Command was established here during World War II. Construction began in September 1942 and American military personnel and German prisoners began to arrive in July 1943. The site included 25-30 buildings to accommodate the military and civilian personnel required to operate the camp. Three large compounds housed the prisoners of war. Other structures included warehouses, engineering and fire departments, carpenter shop, and water plants. Facilities for the military were comprised of barracks, nurses' and bachelor officers' quarters, officers' club, post exchange and commissary, theater, laundry, and barber shop. A small hospital was shared by the American military and the prisoners of war. The first group of prisoners brought to McLean were members of the famed Afrika Korps commanded by General Erwin Rommel and were captured in North Africa. By October 1944 the camp exceeded its official capacity of 3,000 prisoners. The community was closely involved with the camp, and many local citizens formed lasting friendships with some of the German prisoners. The camp closed in July 1945.
(1997)

Related Topics & Stories

  • World War II
  • POW camp stirs memories
  • McLean, Texas

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