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Camp Salina article attracts national attention to WWII camp preservation

 

Katelyn Allred

Staff writer

7/12/18

 

SALINA—The Saturday Evening Post published an article in their May/June 2018 issue about a World War II-era prisoner of war camp in Salina.

The national magazine ran a three-page story exploring the history and restoration of Camp Salina. It covered how the camp was restored, as well as the experiences of German POWs there and the incident known as the Midnight Massacre.

According to the article, Camp Salina was originally built to house Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) employees during the Great Depression. But during World War II it was turned into a camp to hold German POWs. Since many American men were away at war, the prisoners were recruited to help harvest crops and do other labor, and they generally got along well with locals. The Germans wrote home to their families praising the food, garden clubs, dances with locals and permission to drink alcohol.

Their interactions with locals were numerous and often positive. POWs took meals from families whose crops they were harvesting and made jam from fruit children would bring them. Many of them said it was the best time of their lives.

The article explains that their treatment was motivated by the notion that American POWs would be treated the same as German POWs were treated. If America treated German prisoners well, the Germans would respond in kind. This turned out to be untrue, but it created an environment at Camp Salina far different than one would expect in a POW camp.

The camp wasn’t without its problems. While many soldiers only wanted to get home to their families, some were deeply loyal to the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler. These prisoners sought to punish “traitors,” and encouraged escape attempts to prove loyalty.

The article tells the story of the bloodiest incident, known as the Midnight Massacre. It was not caused by Nazis, but by an American soldier. Early on July 8, 1945, a guard named Clarence Bertucci climbed the guard tower and fired into the tents of sleeping prisoners. He fired 250 rounds, killing nine people and wounding more than 20. The soldiers thought the government had decided to kill them all, and the townspeople thought the prisoners were rioting.

Once people knew what was going on, they set to work carrying wounded soldiers to the tiny Salina hospital. They treated patients everywhere—in spare corners of the hospital and even on the front lawn.

The site was restored and opened in 2016 to tell the town’s story. Locals donated artifacts, including letters from prisoners who they kept in contact with and a jewelry box made of matchsticks and Popsicle sticks. The restoration was carried out by Salina local Dee Olsen, along with his daughter Tami Olsen, and stands as a reminder of the rich history of the town and of Sanpete County.