Lighting the Fire Within, Learning & Preserving Our Heritage

POW Camp Stories

(Alva's German Prisoner of War "POW" Camp)
Alva, Oklahoma, Woods County
June, 1942 - November, 1945

"Hitler's Hard-Core Troops Held in Alva"

(Alva Review Courier, Sept. 10, 1995 - by Helen Barrett)

POW tower & VFW PostAccording to Helen Barrett, "In June 1944 the United States had nearly 300 prisoner of War camps in secret locations. By 1945 that number had increased to 666."

She goes on to say, "Camp Alva, called 'Nazilager' by other German prisoners, provided housing for the dedicated Nazis, SS and Gestapo stalwarts and confirmed troublemakers. Many of the men were from Field Marshall Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps, the German force that fought in North Africa."

In the Time-Life Books publication titled "Prisoners of War" by Ronald H. Bailey, the author wrote, "Camp commanders tended to send to Alva anyone who proved troublesome regardless of his political bent."

Because Alva was so far from either coast, it was ideal just in case prisoners tried to escape. Some tried, but only one nearly succeeded in his attempt to return to his homeland.

Helen reported that, "The Aug. 9, 1946, issue of 'The New York Times' reported the capture of one German prisoner of war from the Alva camp."

The United Press article datelined Aug. 8, 1946, Metz, France, stated, "A German prisoner of war who escaped from a prison camp in Oklahoma and made his way around one-fourth of the globe was arrested today on the threshold of Germany by French police. The prisoner was taken into custody at Forbach, near here. He said he had stowed away on a Portuguese cargo boat to Lisbon. From there he entered Spain and crossed the border to France. The trip across France took 78 days."

Leo Meyer Stationed in Alva

An Alva resident, Leo Meyer, manned the switchboard for fourteen months at Camp Alva during WWII. People from Alva who served at this location include former guard Richard Kirkham, the late Dub Myers, and others now deceased.

Meyer was quoted as saying, "They asked me if I could operate the switchboard. I told them I'd never looked at one before, and they said 'You're just the man we need.'"

Meyer and two other soldiers, manned the switchboard in eight-hour shifts, two on, four off. Although he knew some of the incoming calls were undoubtedly highly confidential from defense officials in Washington, DC, he was very careful not to listen to any of the conversations.

"We would ring an officer's phone and a light would come on when they picked up," he explained. "When that light came on, we had to close the key."

"If we were caught with the switch open, it would be the end," he said. "You'd better not do that to an office!"

Few Escapes

Meyer remembers prisoners attempted to escape by tunneling under the barracks. Dirt from the tunnel was either spread over the ground beneath the buildings or flushed down the toilets creating a plumbing nightmare. One escapee made it as far as the Texas border.

One German escapee became hungry after days without food and found an area farmhouse to wait for it's occupants to return home. The Alva family, of German descent, was able to communicate with the prisoner. Soon he was back in custody.

"One made it as far as the Texas border," Leo recalled.

"About 2,000 POW's were continuously hosed at the camp, which had a capacity of 5,800 men,"

Meyer's only contacted with the prisoners was when he helped show movies in the camp theater. "The German enlisted men couldn't understand the films, but they sure enjoyed them and laughed a lot. The Officers didn't even smile. They thought it was a waste of time." Meyer said.

It has been reported that, "The German POW's were innovative in their attempts to make home-brew. Potato peelings were hoarded from the kitchen and blended with smuggled fruit and raisins to make a form of wine or beer."

Meyer's also got to take a few of the prisoner's photographs as they were being processed when they came in by the trainload. He was known as the camp photographer.

Prisoners at the Alva site were segregated into groups of officers and enlistees. Meyer recalls that some of the German Officers were really mean.

Meyer was sent to the German officer's quarters once and caught a glimpse of the seven foot tall walnut Swastika eagle statue the prisoners had made. The seven foot tall walnut wood Swastika eagle statue that a German SS troops imprisoned at the camp, hand carved from wood scraps and glued together. it is now housed at the Alva Cherokee Strip Museum along with other artifacts from the camp.

[The hours at the Cherokee Strip Museum are 2pm-5pm, Saturday and Sunday. During the Weekdays, Clubs and Organizations coming through can call ahead to make appointment to view during the weekdays if necessary.]

Meyer's commented that he felt so uneasy the entire time he was in the officer's building that he asked his captain not to send him there again. His request was honored.

Helen also reports, "Records show five prisoners died at Alva, including one man shot in an escape attempt. One prisoner died of a heart attack, one from complications from an appendectomy, and two prisoners committed suicide by hanging themselves."

[Other sources report that the two suicides were questionable, but no facts to back it up were ever disclosed. Do we have any investigative reporters out there that need an assignment.]

The camp site closed November 1945. All that remain of the camp site is the now remodeled VFW Post, the concrete water tower, and scattered throughout the Alva area are homes remodeled from buildings formerly serving as barracks at the camp.

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