Robertson County TX
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The information below is from a brochure published by the City of Hearne.
History Of Camp Hearne
During World War II, great numbers of German prisoners were captured. Under increasing pressure from the other Allied forces, the United States built prisoner of war camps across the U.S. In March of 1942, the Hearne Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Texas Congressman Luther Johnson suggesting Hearne as a possible internment site. The following month, Hearne was selected and approved as a site by Colonel B. M. Bryan of the Provost Marshal General's Office. Construction started in September, 1942 on property approximately one mile to the northwest of the city center.
The camp was completed in February, 1943, and the first prisoners began arriving the following June. Considered a main camp, Camp Hearne was originally designed to accommodate 3,000 prisoners, but plans were modified to eventually hold almost 5,000 prisoners. Following the standard camp layout approved by the Provost Marshal General's Office, the camp was divided into three sectors. Each sector was subdivided into four companies of 400 men each. Barbed wire fences isolated the camp from the surrounding community and each sector was enclosed with more fencing.
The first prisoners to arrive were captured in North Africa and belonged to Rommel's Afrika Korps. Among these prisoners were members of a German military orchestra, complete with their instruments, who later supplied Camp Hearne with much-needed entertainment. Near the end of the war, a few Japanese prisoners were held at Camp Hearne.
Politically, the prisoners at Camp Hearne were divided into two groups; pro-Nazi and anti-Nazi. Although they were kept isolated from one another in different compounds, the pro-Nazi group caused many problems and there were several confrontations between the two groups. One prisoner was murdered by fellow prisoners who suspected he was a spy.
In February, 1944, the War Department classified Hearne as a non-cooperative camp and designated it as a reservation for the isolation of NCOs (non-commissioned officers). In March, Camp Hearne became the Central POW Post Office, handling all censored mail to German prisoners in the United States. When 800 NCOs who had previously refused any work volunteered to work in the Postal Unit, camp officials became suspicious. The German workers studied postal markings, obtained rosters of POW camps across the U.S., steamed open letters, and inserted information after censorship clearance. This Nazi spy network was successful in developing a secret system of inter-camp correspondence. Numerous investigations revealed the spy network and the postal unit was transferred to another camp in July, 1945.
Life at the POW camp was, for most of the prisoners, better than what they had left behind in Europe. Gymnastics, soccer, and art classes were common, as were English classes. The prisoners at Camp Hearne had theatre, complete with orchestra pit, where they performed elaborate skits and plays. It is also rumored that a clandestine broadcast radio was hidden somewhere in the theatre, from which news from Germany was broadcast to other prisoners in Central Texas. The prisoners also had at least one short-wave radio they constructed and had hidden under a stove in the barracks.
Barracks were constructed of wood frames covered with black tar paper. Mess halls, lavatories, and the PX had concrete slabs, as did the theatre. Some of the prisoners worked on surrounding farms harvesting cotton, onion, and peanuts, while others worked at a shop in the camp that repaired blankets and raincoats.
To make time pass more quickly, prisoners in Camp Hearne built several elaborate, waist-high castles and fountains, complete with moats and waterfalls. They used local rock and concrete for construction, and kept goldfish and turtles in ponds outside their barracks. A family of possums is shown in an old photo of one subterranean enclosure. Fountains actually contained pumps the could keep a continuous flow of water falling over water wheels and into surrounding moats. Female statues adorned two fountains, as did water-spraying frogs and other sculptures.
Camp Hearne closed in 1947 and the property was subsequently sold. The City of Hearne obtained the property, with the original intent to be an industrial park. Through the years, all of the buildings were removed and many of the fountains and other structures torn down. Two of the barracks are in use today at Hearne's Blackshear School, less than a mile away from the original camp.
In 1996, Dr. Michael Waters with Texas A&M University got permission from the City of Hearne to begin excavation of the site. For several weeks in the fall and winter, his students conducted a methodical clearing and search of some of the area. Mess hall foundations and barracks steps were uncovered, and many artifacts found, including buttons, medals, canteens, and toothpaste tubes. Most recently, in the fall of 1997, the theatre was uncovered, complete with old make-up tubes.
Dr. Waters received photos of the camp from the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland, verifying many of the fountains and ponds that had been built in the compounds. He has managed to uncover several of the fountains and ponds, although they have been heavily damaged. Some of the structures have been located thanks to directions provided by former POWs who have returned to the camp.
Plans are underway to conduct walking tours of the camp. It is hoped that increased interest in the site will result in historic designation by the State of Texas and the National Register of Historic Places. From there, reconstruction of some of the buildings and a museum housing recovered artifacts will be the next step.
If you are interested in learning more about Camp Hearne, contact the Hearne Chamber Of Commerce at 304 South Market Street, Hearne, TX 77859, 979.279.2351. Donations for this project will be greatly accepted and appreciated!
A Request For Information
Dr. Michael Waters at Texas A&M University has investigated the history of Camp Hearne. The objective of his research is to preserve the history of Camp Hearne before it is lost. He is routinely gathers information about the camp. If you have any historic photos of Camp Hearne or historic items from the camp such as paintings, carvings, copies of the camp newsletter, items made or used by the prisoners, or other items of interest, please contact Dr. Waters at the Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843-4352. His office number is 979.845.5246.
Page Modified: 30 May 2012