As part of a relatively quiet and under-publicized government program, thousands of enemy soldiers invaded Iowa in 1943. With the hugely successful 1942 Allied campaign against Adolf Hitler’s vaunted Afrika Corps in North Africa, the number of enemy prisoners of war (POW) needing interment grew dramatically. Great Britain, no longer able to accommodate the increasing number of POWs, looked to the United States for help. Helping with the detainment of enemy POWs made sense, as American cargo vessels were returning home after delivering war materials with empty hulls.
What began as an experiment in isolated locations in the south and southwest eventually led to more than 500 camps and 400,000 enemy soldiers interned in the United States, including two camps in the state of Iowa. Due to a severe shortage of agricultural laborers coupled with increased War Food Administration quotas for farm goods, Iowa’s farmers needed help doing their part to assist the United States in winning the war.
This talk will focus on the creation of two POW camps in Iowa during the Second World War: one in the Northern Iowa town of Algona and one in the Southwestern Iowa town of Clarinda. Some of the topics discussed will be life in a prisoner of war camp, community relations, the POW labor program, branch camps in more than 30 Iowa communities and the arrival of Japanese prisoners at Camp Clarinda in early 1945. Camp Clarinda was one of only two camps in the country to house Japanese soldiers. The story of POW internment in Iowa is a fascinating story of Iowans being confronted by the enemy: an enemy they not only needed to help them meet their wartime goals, but also challenged them to find their humanity.
Chad W. Timm is an Associate Professor of Education at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. He taught high school history for 15 years and has also been teaching future social studies teachers since 2010. His Master’s Degree in Agricultural History and Rural Studies and his PhD in Education are both from Iowa State University.
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