POWs Over Here, Over ere
German PO s here…
American PO s there…
Nearly 400,000 German POWs were brought to the United States during WWII. HistoryNet records e Not-So-Great Escape from Papago Park in Phoenix. A fascinating story of ingenuity that failed.
Only about one in four prisoners in Compound 1 were gainfully employed picking cotton and doing other chores, earning eighty cents a day in canteen credits, not US dollars. e Geneva Convention exempted officers and noncoms from work detail, allowing them to sleep late and spend their days plotting ways to get beyond the wire fences: sometimes just to look around and then return to their compound.
Ken Wood tells about his father, Ronald R. Wood, who was one of a number of farmers in the Avondale-Goodyear area employing German POWs in the latter stage of WWII. “Because our young men were off fighting to protect our country, these prisoners were a welcome sight to our farming community. In the 40’s, cotton and citrus at harvest time were the big labor demanding crops. I remember Dad coming in for supper and telling Mom, ‘It looks like now we’re going to have our cotton harvested before the rains begin.’ Mom was so happy she gave each of us kids a second helping of Jello pudding that evening!
“e best I can remember, we had about 40 or 50 German POWs working on our ranch and most were bussed in from Papago Park in East Phoenix: although some were housed on the West Side. My sister, Margaret, was only 3 or 4 years old, but my brother Pug, and I were intrigued to see men who only a few months ago were fighting our troops – and now they were working for my Dad! Pug, being the curious boy, infiltrated the working German crew while they were picking cotton and before long made friends with many of them.
“Pug and I developed a special relationship with one prisoner. He was assigned to oversee the others so we called him ‘e Guard.’ His name was Franz L. Grutchmen. It wasn’t long before Franz noticed that every evening we had to go down the lane almost a half mile and herd the cows back to the barn to milk them. It was the custom to run cattle on the dirt ditch to keep weeds under control. Franz had a great love for milk and he noticed we drove the cows past the fields they were working in about the same time each evening. Soon he was waiting for us with his mess kit to fill it up 2 or 3 times with rich, warm milk.
“ey told us they weren’t against Americans as the hard- coreNazis soldiers were, but they were forced into the military against their will. Franz and I communicated a number of times by mail after he returned home to Germany.”
Richard O’Donnell from Pebble Creek, tells about being a POW in Germany. He does not like to talk about it. In fact his wife, Glo, said she didn’t know that he had been a POW until about three years after they were married when she overheard him talking with another POW. Richard would rather play tennis.
O’Donnell joined the Army Air Corps on Sept. 17, 1942. He became a navigator on a B-17, assigned to a bomb group in England in the 8th Air Force and flew missions over Europe. “We got there just before D Day but we didn’t get to participate because we weren’t checked out. We started flying shortly after.”
His plane was shot down. “We had to bail out and got captured. We were spread around Germany.” When first captured, O’Donnell was by himself. “e crew was eventually rounded up and I was put together with three of the gunners. We did not see the pilot or co-pilot. A couple of gunners were killed. We were marched to a town eleven miles away and incarcerated in the local courthouse. ey put us in a conference room and at night they put us in something like a dog pen with a guard
outside. ey didn’t feed us because we didn’t have ration cards. e harnesses on our parachutes had an escape kit attached and the guards allowed us to have the food that was in there.
t Richard O'Donnell WWII crew in front of plane. Richard was Navigator (front row on righ ), 8th Air Force, 3rd Division, 4th Wing, 447th Group, 709th Squadron
One of the gunners had a broken leg, close to a compound fracture, and they couldn’t provide medical service. ey let us take the morphine from our kits and we were able to control his pain somewhat. Finally, the German Air Force picked us up. en enlisted men and officers were separated. is was the last I saw of the gunners. I was given part of a loaf of bread and a hunk of bologna.
“I was taken by bus and train to an interrogation center just outside Frankfurt, put in solitary and left for awhile. Occasionally we heard someone screaming, ’Don’t do this and don’t do that … or, I want to talk.’ It was all staged. After a few days I was taken to a formal interrogator. Behind the desk was this fellow right out of Hollywood – Neat uniform, dagger, sword, everything. He spoke beautiful English. e interrogator asked me where the bombardier was, and called him by name. Name, rank and serial number...that’s all I would give him. We went through his little game for a while then he said, ‘I’ll tell you where he is. He was shot down before you. But, that’s where he made his mistake because I knew the bombardier was safe in the States. Prior to our trip overseas, the bombardiers were taken off the crews for