During World War II, Brownwood, Texas had a very large army training camp. When German soldiers were captured in Europe, they were brought to the United States for confinement in POW camps, and thousands of these prisoners were sent to Camp Bowie in Brownwood.
In those days, farmers could hire these POWs to do field work for them such as hoeing peanuts. My brother-in-law, Alton Mercer, had a lot of peanuts planted and he and his wife Geneva along with their sons, James, Phillip, and Clifford, as well as my sister Maxine and myself hoed LOTS of peanuts.
When Alton learned about the prisoners, he contacted the camp about having a truckload of them coming to work for him. His farm was located where James Mercer lives today. The field to the south of James’ home was planted in peanuts. There was a big Post Oak tree in their front yard, and the army truck that brought the prisoners parked right under that tree.
I can remember the tall guard that came with the prisoners. He was, of course, wearing his army uniform, and he had a pistol in the belt that was strapped around his waste.
The women did not go outside around the prisoners, but I can assure you that we were looking at them through the windows! Most of them were either very young men or older men. By this time, the cream of the crop of the German soldiers had been killed off, and their army was taking whatever groups of men it could find.
I remember that Geneva served fried chicken, hot rolls, gravy, etc. and for dessert she had peach cobbler. When the guard came in to eat, he washed up and hung his best and pistol over the door in the dining room since Geneva and Alton had three little boys running around the house.
The soldier ate and ate, telling Geneva that it was the best meal he had had since leaving home. The German prisoners ate the sandwiches they had brought with them in the front yard. Alton gave them a big churn full of good cold buttermilk.
It was almost sundown when they finished hoeing that day, and Alton told the guard that they were welcome to go swimming in the tank that was just west of the house. His own boys swam there, and he thought the prisoners might enjoy it.
A few of the men were die hard Nazis, and they thought it was a trick. They walked around and around the edge of the tank looking for hidden wires or anything else that might make the tank a booby trap. Back at the house we could hear the rest of the prisoners whooping and hollering. I am sure that this was the first time they had been swimming since they had left home.
I have thought a lot about these men through the years. Did they go back home and tell their families about hoeing peanuts in Texas and a farmer who let them go swimming at the end of the day?
I hope so.
These prisoners were a long way from home and in a foreign land. I have read many stories about these German prisoners in America and how many of them moved to America after the war. I do know for a fact that the German POWs in America were treated much, much better than were our American POWs who were kept in German POW camps. - Missy Jones