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.
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:
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.
Old post card
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.
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 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.
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