Today we traveled into our fourteenth state [Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama]. We departing Columbus, MS and ended in Livingston, AL, 80 miles away.
Our trip today took us through the town of Aliceville, AL. During WWII, the state of Alabama was home to approximately 16,000 German prisoners of war (POWs) in 24 camps. The internment of these POWs significantly affected the social and economic history of Alabama. With the German soldiers interacting with American guards and Alabama residents, the presence of Axis POWs brought the war to the Alabama homefront in a unique way.
In 1943, Allied forces defeated German and Italian armies in North Africa and captured 275,000 enemy soldiers. The logistical strain of securing these prisoners in North Africa prompted the U.S. military instead to move the POWs to the United States. The Army Corps of Engineers rapidly established camps in nearly every U.S. state to house them. As Allied armies penetrated Europe, hundreds of thousands of new prisoners were captured and also sent to the U.S. By 1945, the nation was host to more than 500 camps with some 425,000 POWs.
The Army Corps of Engineers constructed Alabama's first camps during the winter of 1942-1943. Army doctrine dictated that camps be built either at existing military bases or at sites distant from major cities and industrial centers, and military surveyors toured the state for suitable locations. The Army first selected two sites near the rural Alabama towns of Aliceville and Opelika, located in western Pickens County and eastern Lee County, respectively. Camp Aliceville would become Alabama's largest POW camp, with a capacity for 6,000 prisoners, and Camp Opelika was capable of housing 3,000 POWs. As construction commenced, Army engineers established another camp for 3,000 prisoners at Fort McClellan, located in Calhoun County in northeastern Alabama. These three facilities served as the first major POW camps in Alabama during World War II. A fourth camp for 2,000 prisoners was added in February 1944, at Fort Rucker in Dale County in south Alabama.
POWs play soccer at Camp Aliceville, AL.
Tomorrow we are off to Thomasville, AL.