Originally created 11/18/99

Fort Gordon commemorates German POWs



Cordoned off with a white chain, two small cemetery plots dotted with stark white headstones serve as constant reminders.

"It is our sincere wish they not be forgotten, and we hope that peace will endure so these lost soldiers did not die in vain," said Col. Velma Richardson, deputy commander of the Signal Center at Fort Gordon, at a ceremony Sunday that honored the 21 German World War II prisoners of war and one Italian POW who are buried at Fort Gordon.

Each year, Fort Gordon holds a ceremony at the gravesite to coincide with a German holiday, Volkstrauer Tag, or "people in mourning." Since 1952, Germans have set aside the second Sunday before the start of Advent as a national day of mourning for those who died during World War I and World War II.

"The event not only commemorates fallen soldiers but all other persons who were victims of that war and victims of what was then Nazi Germany," said Deputy German Consul Bernd Kuebart, who participated in the ceremony at Fort Gordon.

"It is difficult to imagine there was a time when our nations were at war," he said. "I think it is good that it is difficult. Our fallen comrades help to remind us how we must keep and work for this friendship."

After the short speeches, wreathes were placed at the German and Italian cemetery sites. There was a 21-gun salute, and a bugler played Taps.

Thousands of POWs were brought to the United States during World War II. The Allied victory in North Africa in the spring of 1943 and the invasion of Normandy 13 months later caused a dramatic increase in the number of Axis POWs. Instead of being kept in North Africa or near the front lines in Europe, POWs were sent to the United States on empty transports. POW camps stretched from Maine to California; some held as many as 5,000 prisoners, while others only had a few dozen.

"They worked an eight-hour day and were paid 10 cents an hour," said Col. Richardson. "They helped overcome the labor shortage created by the war."

During their imprisonment, they contributed more than $72,000 to the International Red Cross, which equated to one month's pay for every soldier brought to America. Nearly 500,000 POWs were brought to the United States.

The soldiers buried at Fort Gordon ranged in age from 19 to 44. They were treated according to the terms of the Geneva Convention of 1929, according to the program for the ceremony.

"Thank you for treating these POWs decently and in a humane fashion," Mr. Kuebart said.

Not all prisoners were treated fairly, including Mr. Kuebart's grandfather, who returned home from a POW camp in Soviet Siberia in 1955, 10 years after the war's end.

He returned with only two of his teeth -- the rest, Mr. Kuebart said, had fallen out as a result of the abuse he received in the camp.

The prisoners at Fort Gordon were all released by 1946, according to the program.