- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 1999

Records at the Fort Meade Museum hold at least 455,000 tales of men from across the seas, many who had unexpected and sometimes profound effects on America in the five years following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor 58 years ago today.
There are three stone bridges at Fort Meade. Some of the thousands of German and Italian prisoners of war held in military and old Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Maryland and Virginia built those bridges.
The bridges illustrate a respect, even friendships, that developed between the enemy prisoners and American families, whose sons were overseas to kill the POWs’ comrades until the dictators surrendered.
Franz Lendl, who was 18 and a German grenadier when captured on the second day of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, returned seven years ago to Fort Meade, where had had been confined.
Mr. Lendl had come with his son, Johann, who explained, “I grew up hearing him tell stories about America. How great it was, how wide, how tall… . It’s a great feeling. My father is very happy about this trip.”
Many POWs had been told by Nazi propagandists that German bombers had virtually destroyed many American cities, and that Americans were disorganized and vicious.
Instead, America was untouched by shells. The POWs in Maryland and Virginia were sent to farms whose young American men had gone to war to non-war-materials factories, even to schools, like Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
In 1992, the son of a Howard County farmer, Ronald B. Smith, wrote that the POWs were courteous and hard-working, including their leader, Hermann Loew, who had been a chemical engineer and, as an officer, was not required to work on the farm.
A respect and friendship developed between the POWs and the Smith family. After the war ended and the POWs went home in January 1946, Mr. Smith’s father sent a check for $47.11 to Mr. Loew, a large sum in Germany then, for his wages on the farm.
In later years, Mr. Loew and his wife often returned to the farm, en route to visit a daughter who married a Texan. Mr. Smith, similarly, went on to serve in the Army in Germany and marry a German woman.
Fort Meade, just off the Batimore-Washington Parkway halfway between the two cities, was the Enemy Prisoner of War Information Bureau, maintaining records on 400,000 Germans, 50,000 Italians and 5,000 Japanese captured by American troops and held in 650 camps in the 48 United States.
The records began with capture of a Japanese citizen pulled from Pearl Harbor waters on Dec. 8, 1941, and ended with the last enemy captured in 1945.
But it wasn’t until September 1943 that the first 1,632 Italian and 58 German prisoners arrived at Fort Meade. Across Maryland, an average of 3,000 POWs at a time labored during the war.
Other camps in Maryland were at Berlin, Cambridge, Camp Ritchie in Washington County, Camp Somerset at Westover, Camp Springs and Fort Washington in Prince George’s County, Church Hill in Queen Anne’s, Dundalk, Easton, Edgewood Arsenal in Harford County, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Green Ridge near Flintstone, Holabird Signal Depot in Baltimore, Hurlock, Pikesville, Smith Point near Grayton and Westminster.
Virginia camps were at Camp Ashby, Camp Lee, Camp Peary, Camp Pickett, Fort Eustis, Fort Custis, Fort Patrick Henry, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, and Richmond ASF Depot.
“[POWs] worked, studied, played, escaped on occasion and sometimes harassed and even killed one another in ideological disputes,” wrote Arnold Krammer in his 1979 book, “Nazi Prisoners of War in America.”
The POWs who had been officers did not have to work and were frequently separated from other POWs because they were deeply ingrained with Hitler’s Nazi philosophy. The work was varied.
“The life of a German POW who spent the war years as a PX clerk at Fort Meade, Md., for example, in no way compared to that of the POW who picked cotton at Camp Como, Mississippi,” Mr. Krammer wrote.
There is a cemetery at Fort Meade for 33 German and two Italian POWs. Except for one, the graves are marked by simple white headstones, all alike and usually unadorned.
But there are often red and white flowers around the headstone bearing the name of Werner Henke, a U-boat commander accused of sinking more than 160,000 tons of allied goods, materials and equipment.
He and 40 of his crew were rescued after allied planes and ships sunk his boat off the coast of Africa in 1944. But, on June 15, 1944, Capt. Henke broke loose as he was being questioned at the Navy interrogation center at Fort Hunt, just south of Alexandria, Va.
He climbed over one fence and was on top of the second when two guards riddled him with bullets. Officials have wondered if it was a real escape attempt or a certain suicide, since he was likely to go on trial in Britain for not rescuing women and children from a ship he had sunk.
Fort Meade officials say they do not know who places flowers on his grave.
c The Ellicott Mills Journal contributed to this report.

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