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Bastrop Hotels

Texas | Features | World War II


by General Principles

Book Hotel Here › Bastrop Hotels

WWII US soldiers in front of Texa Oldest Drug Store
US soldiers in Bastrop, Texas
Old postcard

Buy US War bond
Back of card showing:
Buy US war bond


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.

Today, Camp 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.

WWII soldier in Texas
Soldier on Pass in Austin Texas 1943
Old postcard

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.

WWII US field artillery
US Field Artillery
Old postcard

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:

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 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.

Three officers
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 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.


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 40.00.  

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 with.

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.

For 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.

10th Mountain Division Memorial Highways
TE photo

Camp Swift monument
Camp Swift monument at the gate
TE photo

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, Highway 290 to Austin from Elgin, Highway 95 from Elgin to Bastrop and highway 71 from Bastrop to Austin make up the three Tenth Mountain Division Memorial Highways.

© John Troesser

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