Historical society hosts POW talk

Jess Oaks
Posted 3/1/24

TORRINGTON – Mary Houser, president of the Goshen County Historical Society, called the meeting to order around 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 27 at Platte Valley Bank.  

After a short …

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Historical society hosts POW talk


TORRINGTON – Mary Houser, president of the Goshen County Historical Society, called the meeting to order around 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 27 at Platte Valley Bank. 

After a short introduction of guests, prayer and accolades, Houser led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. 

In attendance were guest speakers Dick Vandel, Dave Eddington and Paul Puebla to discuss their personal interactions and researched material regarding prisoners of war (POW).

“Thank you all for coming. I’m so excited about this program tonight,” board secretary, Deb Davidson said. “Dick (Vandel) has done a very wonderful job with the research and putting it together and you can see he might be just a wee bit on stage shy because he brought two guys with him. We have over 250 years of people of Goshen County memory right sitting right up there so I think you’re in for a really good program.”

The society also offered a raffle which was available for attendees during the program.

“Dick brought a book that was donated by the author of this book for our chapter so we’re having a little raffle it’s a dollar per ticket or six for $5.00 so if you want in on the raffle that’s what we have up here,” Davidson mentioned. 

Vandel was only five years of age when most of the POW camps originated in Goshen County and the surrounding area however he jumped at the opportunity to research and present the topic to the Goshen County Historical Society. 

“Last fall, my wife and I took our two daughters and grandchildren to Yellowstone Park and on our way back we stayed all night and Dubois, Wyoming. There was a POW camp in Dubois, Wyoming. We went to a little museum there after we had breakfast and walk you through there. I saw some of the stuff about that camp and a low and behold, there laid a book called ‘World War II Prisoner of War Camps of Wyoming,’” Vandel told the crowd. “I purchased one of those books and then I contacted the author Cheryl O’Brien, and she gave me the permission to use it in any manner because she didn’t want to drive down from Dubois, Wyoming in the winter to give a presentation here.”

Eddington moved to Goshen County when he was seven years old, and Puebla was an orphan at Saint Joseph’s Children’s Home at age three. 

“One thing that we all remember or many of us remember here was December the 7th 1941,” Vandel began. “I think we all remember that because that was a date that changed America. It did several things, one of all of got us involved in the World War II but the other thing was it started the transition of a lot of people from rural to the industrial parts of the country. That meant a lot of our young men and women and workers that wanted to work in the shipyards and stuff all left rural America,” Vandel said.

“In 1942 was when the provost marshall got together and decided what are we going to do with these prisoners of war that come to America,” Vandel said. “’In September 1942 the Provost Marshall General’s Office developed a prisoner of war camp construction program. The number of incoming POW to be incarcerated in the United States quickly escalated which necessitated the need for additional POW housing. Designated areas within existing military bases, former civilian conservation camps, fairgrounds, auditoriums, and tent camps were identified as options to fill the critical needs prior to the plans for construction to new facilities,’” Vandel read from O’Brien’s book. “One of the first new facilities in the state of Wyoming was Camp Douglas in Douglas Wyoming,” Vandel explained. “That camp got started in probably in the latter part of 1942.”

Many of the local POW camps were nestled within the agriculture areas in the county. 

“One of the interesting things about the Camp Veteran unit is that it had been set up as a CCC camp (civilian conservation camp). Dave shared with me that it was moved out there when they finished the work on Camp Guernsey. They moved down to Veteran to set their camp up and they were going to quarry the sandstone or limestone rock and then they use that to line up the canal GID (Goshen Irrigation District) ditch from Torrington to Gering,” Vandel said. “That’s why that camp was there.”

“The first prisoner of war camps were established in Wyoming in 1943 and included Camp Douglas, the Francis E. Warren Prisoner of War Camp and four branch camps at Veteran, Wyoming, Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, Worland and Ryan Park. The camp Scottsbluff Nebraska base camp was also in operation in 1943 supply and prisoners to the branch camps in Wyoming,” Vandel explained. 

Vandel went on to mention there were four POW camps in Goshen County as well as a temporary, fifth camp, located at the armory, which were used to distribute workers to smaller camps. 

“I think the first prisoners that came were ones that came out of the Italian theater in the early part of World War II over the European theater. There were German prisoners of war, Italians, and Japanese but I could not find anywhere in in this book or anything that we’ve looked at that there were any Japanese prisoners brought here to this area to work,” Vandel explained. 

Many of the workers spent their days in the fields as mechanical farm machinery hadn’t been invented. 

“In 1943 the United States government authorized use of the prisoner of war labor on military installation,” Vandel explained. “Then, in the fall of 1943 a prisoner of war labor program was established through the cooperation of the war department the war manpower commission and the more food administration to make prisoner of war labor available to the civilian sector. This is what we did that had opened up the movement of those people out here where they could be used for in the civilian use. Wyoming branch came from it was established to provide prisoner labor more efficiently to area farms and local timber operations.” 

Vandel then turned the conversation over to Eddington. 

“This prisoner of war camp, my first experience as in, here, take your CCC camp there at Veteran and converted into the prisoner of war camp. The first prisoners were German prisoners, and they really weren’t guarded other than they had a lot of military guards with walking sticks but there weren’t any walls or fences or anything like that. They caused a little bit of trouble and stuff like of that order,” Eddington recalled. “So, they really weren’t out there very long.”

Eddington recalls the Germans being at the camp for a short duration because they were difficult to guard. He further explained after the Germans were sent to camp Scottsbluff, the Veteran camp housed Italian POW. They weren’t closely guarded, but it was feared, like the Germans, the Italians would escape, he mentioned. 

“The Germans had captured these people (Italians) in the war and put them in the frontline. They hated the Germans. They camp had, I don’t know, probably about 150 prisoners in it. It was a pretty big CCC, so it was a pretty good sized camp,” Eddington said. “They were really good workers and the thing I can remember most about it; I used them quite a bit in the beet fields and hoeing beets. They’ve helped me with other things. They really weren’t guarded very much,” he recalled. “My farm joined the prison camp in just the barbwire fence between us.” 

Eddington recalls the POW joy of running the steel-wheel tractor and plow. Eddington stressed once more how hard the POW worked as everything done in the fields was done by hand. 

“There’s a difference of opinion about how people felt about the prisoners. Someone said they didn’t deserve anything extra,” Vandel said. “A lot of these prisoners were 15 and 16 years old these were just young boys and they got subscripted into the military over there and they got captured and were brought over to America.”

POW were utilized in potato, sugar beet and dry bean fields throughout the valley, according to Vandel. Some of the POW were utilized in the timber industry, manufacturing railroad ties, he added.

The pay was reportedly $.80 per day for the POW, Vandel explained. 

“I grew up at Saint Joseph Orphanage. I came there in 1941 on July 31. My mom died in Cheyenne on May 27 of ‘41,” Puebla explained. “It was wonderful place to grow up I left at the end of the night grade on my own after I finished I after 9th grade. In 1945, actually summer 44, the nuns were first generation German girls, so they spoke German. That was my first foreign language. They would make up goodies and we would walk down to the POW camp down by the factory and hand those to the guards while the nuns spoke to the Germans the majority of them according to the notes were Catholic and they hated the war, but they had to go to war anyway,” Puebla added.

“That $0.80 that they got paid, the Germans saved that money and Saint Joe’s was opened up September 7, 1930. It was never painted on the inside. During the war we had a hundred children in that one building. We were in dorms 20 at a time well there were plenty of us to carry stuff down to the Germans,” Puebla said. “Those Germans shave their money and six of them came the Saint Joe’s and painted the whole (inside of the church) also six Italians came,” Puebla recalls.

Puebla’s life continued to intermingle with some of the people who touched his life at the orphanage. 

“There is there are so many coincidences in the world. I can come up with a lot more that I’ve had in my lifetime. The world is so small people are so wonderful I wish that everybody could accept that,” Puebla added. 

This discussion continued on, discussing the remaining POW camps throughout the area.