Fort Reno WWII POW Camp


Posted on Thursday, September 28, 2006 08:57 AM by J. Corbridge
Source: Historic Fort Reno, Inc (www.fortreno.org)
The Fort Reno POW Camp was constructed in 1943 and included 65 temporary structures including an administration building, barracks, hospital, canteen, guardhouse, shops and mess halls. Originally the POW Camp was intended for Japanese soldiers, but the increasing numbers of German and Italian prisioners captured by Allied Forces in North Africa changed the nationality of the occupants.

The German prisoners began arriving July 4, 1943. By August 30, 1,000 prisioners had arrived at the Fort Reno POW Camp. The number of prisioners fluctuated with transfers to and from other camps. The total number of German prisoners held at Fort Reno was 1,335.

The 435th Military Police Escort served as guards for the camp and included 130 men and two officers. The company was trained at Fort Custer, Michigan and the majority of the guards were from Ohio. The prisoners were divided into companies with an American serving as commander. The non-commisioned officers were Germans.

The prisoners worked at a variety of locations and were paid 80 cents per day. Many worked as farm laborers at Fort Reno while others worked at Tinker Field and the Douglas modification plant in Oklahoma City. The prisoners constructed two buildings at Fort Reno - Lucas Hall and the Chapel - and enlarged the Officer's club. Other work performed by 250 to 260 German prisoners each day at Fort Reno included carpentry, bakery, shoe repair, auto mechanics, tailoring, butcher, and hay hauling. The German POW's planted trees on both sides of the entrance road to the Fort Reno post.

Local farmers paid the goverment $1.50 per prisoner per day. In turn the goverment paid the prisoners 10 cents per hour in script money which could be used to purchase items from the Canteen. The farmers provided transportation to and from the camp for the prisoners and a guard. The German prisoners brought their own sack lunches from the camp, but often farmers would provide a meal or a snack. Some local farmers who employed the prisoners kept in touch with the POWs after they returned to Germany.

The POW Canteen provided items such as toilet articles, luxury items, cigarettes and beer for prisoners to purchase with their wages. Each prisoner was allowed to purchase two pint bottles of beer per day. During warm weather the prisoners would drink in the "Biergarten" constructed outside the canteen. The Canteen was run by four POW's who conducted the monthly inventory. Monthly sales were approximately $11,00 of which $2,250 was profit. The profits from the cantten were used to purchase items for the camp such as radios, gramphones, records and subscriptions to newspapers and magazines.

Local preachers who spoke German lead church services for prisoners. The church services alternated between Catholic and Protestant faiths and between 600 and 700 prisoners attended services on a regular basis. Eventually two chaplains amoung the prisoners conducted the Sunday services.

The motto "And ye shall know the truth, and truth shall make you free" printed in English and German was hung over the doorway to the school at the Fort Reno POW Camp. Evening courses from elementary English to advanced work in history, civics, sociology and intellectual thought were offered to the German prisoners. The library provided access to major American newspapers and magazines and included writings of leading American thinkers. The extensive use of radio broadcast of news and both commercial and educational movies were part of the educational program. The access to university lecturers furthered the emphasis of the school to provide a detailed functioning of American democracy.

A list of the German prisoners held at Fort Reno POW Camp is located at the Canadian County Historical Museum in El Reno. The Fort Reno Visitor Center has a copy of the list.