by Harriette Graves
Bulletin Features Editor
World War II prisoners of war from Germany left their mark on Camp Bowie.
It's been over 50 years since the POW's were here, but reminders of their presence in and around Camp Bowie are still evident.
A mural painted by a POW on the wall of what is now the City of Brownwood's senior citizens center was uncovered over 10 years ago during renovation. And there's a small area at Jordan Springs Cemetery where several prisoners of war were buried following their deaths here of natural causes. Their bodies have since been moved to their hometowns in Germany.
The prisoner of war camp was established during 1943 in the valley immediately below the dam on the Brownwood Country Club property.
Admission to the prisoner of war camp was restricted. W. L. Watson, one of Brownwood’s foremost historians, and Dr. A. J. Turner, who served as a chaplain at Camp Bowie during World War II before joining the Howard Payne University faculty, recall their association with POWs.
Watson said at one time he had the opportunity to go inside the barracks in the Camp Bowie area.
A visiting bishop, who spoke German, was given permission to enter the POW camp and address the prisoners. Watson said he POE area looked very much like other parts of the camp where American troops were housed.
Turner tell a fascinating story about his associations with prisoners of war. As a chaplain during the time POWs were at the camp, he said the prisoners were "nice young men" caught up in a war.
"We used some of the prisoners of war every week to clean the chapel. They were trustworthy, did an excellent job. They took pride in their work and were very friendly toward us, " Turner said.
"On occasion, we even had lunch with them. Burl Roberts of Brownwood and I were chaplains for Camp Bowie personnel, including the prisoner's of war."
He especially remembered one young prisoner who served the camp as a baker. "He made the best sweet rolls we had ever eaten," Turner said.
Many years after the war ended, Turner was on a train in Germany. Before arriving at their destinations, Turner and a man and woman seated behind him became acquainted. When he realized that Turner had been a chaplain during World War II, the man said he had been a POW in America. "It's such a small town you probably never even heard of it," the man said to Turner. "But it was Brownwood and Camp Bowie."
The two began to compare memories. "I told the German couple that while I had been a chaplain at Camp Bowie, there was a baker at the POW camp who made the best sweet rolls I had ever eaten," Turner said. Recognition flooded the man's face.
"I was the baker," the German told Turner. After the war he had gone into business an built a successful chain of restaurants in Germany.
A half century later, POWs still remember Camp Bowie. A letter recently arrived at the Brownwood Bulletin from a former prisoner here. "I will always remember this period in my life with certain gratitude due to the circumstances we experienced in that time," Ernest Gies said. He wrote in his letter that he was a cook in the officers' mess hall and was allowed to express his musical talent by performing in the camp's band.
Area home to POWs during World War II
Prisoners of war held by the United States had a taste of Central Texas thanks to a prisoner of war facility built within the confines of Camp Bowie during World War II.
in 1943, Charley Oehler, a contractor from Galveston, constructed the camp in less than 30 days. it was located just east of the Brownwood Country Club dam.
The camp was built inside a wire fence that had heavy barbs on top of the wires. The camp had wooden barracks, mess halls, a medical facility and a command building.
Approximately 500 to 600 prisoners were at the camp most of the time. several work groups were assigned to clean up tasks outside of the compound. Supervisors were American sergeants at Camp Bowie.
One group kept the Brownwood Country Club in good condition. This group was managed by a German noncommissioned officer. The golf course was for the use of the Camp Bowie officers when they had time to play.
"I had a pass to go inside the camp," John A. Thomason said. he was allowed in the area because he served as head accountant for the contractor.
"Two of us went to the golf course. The German golf pro asked us to wait for the tower guards to warm up their machine guns, thinking that they would shoot into the caliche hill next to the east end of the lake. We had a very frightening experience when we were on the Number 3 hole, just west of the lake, and the machine guns started practicing on the ducks in the lake.
"The bullets bounced off the water and went inches over our heads into the hills to our west, knocking large limbs off trees in the area where the Holley home is now located. We hit the dirt and never went back there again," Thomason said.
The late Leesy Watson, in his World War II memoirs, mentioned that not too much is known of the POW camp. he noted that a mural was painted in one of the barrack buildings. The artist, a German POW, painted the mural, and it is now in the Camp Bowie Senior Citizens Center, which itself was converted from a Camp Bowie Army Service Center. Watson was a Brownwood businessman an dcivic leader whose personal diaries have become a historic record of local events throughout much of the 20th century.
Local historians also recall that a number of Japanese prisoners of war were held during that era south of the Camp Bowie access road off Austin Avenue.
(Information about German prisoners of war at Camp Bowie during World War II has been furnished by John A. Thomason and the late Leesy Watson.)
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