It’s a Small World, After All

Yesterday I learned that my little town had a POW camp during WW II. It’s a little hard to imagine this, German soldiers being brought all the way here, but they were. In fact, Colorado had several of these camps.

My friends and I went on an adventure yesterday to Del Norte (our primo destination) that involved lunch, a short stop at the fabric shop, and a long stop at the Rio Grande County Museum. I guess I’m just going to take you with me.

I picked them up at my neighbor’s house and we hit the road in Bella. Lots of chat in the car and me driving, looking at the mountains, noticing a herd of buffalo close to town that I’d heard of and never seen. Stock around here have a lot of different ranges and are trucked from place to place as well as sometimes driven on horseback. I didn’t say anything because my friends were pretty involved in the conversation.

We had lunch at the comparatively new Colorado Grille. Why the “e” I don’t know, must be residue from the days of “shoppe” etc. Lunch was good, the conversation was better. The waitress called me “honey” and I’m afraid the moniker has stuck. It is pretty funny. She was perky beyond all rational levels of perkiness, but what can you do? My brain was a little fuzzy when we set out, I think from all the books I’m contending with, but it cleared up over lunch, thank goodness. From there we went to a florist shop up the street.

There one of my friends engaged a young cowboy (about 9) in a chat. I just listened until she suggested he call me “honey.” Neither he nor I was having that. He’d been to the dentist and was relating the import of that experience to my friend who very charmingly drew him out. Cowboys around here pretty much start at birth. Later on I heard him walking, dragging the heels of this c’boy boots the way my mom would yell at my brother and I for doing, but it’s a great sound for a kid. “Don’t drag your heels! You’ll wreck your boots!”

Then we went to Kathy’s Fabric Trunk because I needed ribbon and elastic for my epic sewing project. Kathy has a daughter who is severely disabled and spends time in an elaborate chair under the watchful eye of a Labrador retriever. As we got there, she was on her way out. The Labrador and a little shit-zu/pekingese mix met us at the door. They came right to me. Kathy hugged my friends and when the dogs were finished acknowledging my presence (I honor that Lab with all my heart) I said to Kathy, “I’m kind of a dog person.”

“I noticed. So did they,” and she hugged me.

I got my “notions” and we headed to the museum.

The biggest treasures in that museum are the people, Louise and her husband, Alex. I love all the things that are there, but I love those two people more. They’re good, they’re passionate about their home where both their families have lived for many generations, they have incredible knowledge. Alex is struggling with dementia, but he KNOWS he’s struggling. Sometimes he knows me (no one knows why he would, but he does) and other times he doesn’t. But he always tells me a story.

Yesterday he told me about being stationed in Europe during the Korean War. My best guess is that the story took place somewhere that was German controlled during WW II possibly the Alsace. Alex had said he had been sightseeing with buddies in Holland, Belgium, and “other places.” He told of being in a town that was circular. That’s pretty common for medieval towns that have survived into the present, labyrinths of concentric, narrow streets. Alex said he and his buddy couldn’t find a way out and they asked all kinds of people for help but no one spoke English.

They finally found a man who could help them. Alex then asked the man, “Where did you learn English?” and was stunned to hear that the man had been a POW in Monte Vista, Colorado. What’s more, he’d known Alex as a little boy. The town was even smaller then and the POW camp was essentially in Alex’ neighborhood.

I came home and wanted to know more about the POWs. I haven’t found much, but I haven’t talked to the people at Monte Vista’s historical society. I found a fascinating article on POW camps in Colorado, though. Most of the POWs were captured in the North African campaign. They worked during the harvest season in the potato fields, taking the place of the Americans who had gone to fight.

The Featured Photo shows sketches done by a German POW. The Rocky Mountains, the Colorado State Capitol, and a tunnel — I think it’s the Moffatt Tunnel.

Here’s a link to the entire article in case I have piqued your interest. https://www.historycolorado.org/sites/default/files/media/document/2018/ColoradoMagazine_Summer-Fall1979.pdf

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/03/05/rdp-thursday-cinch/

18 thoughts on “It’s a Small World, After All

  1. Zeroing in on the POW part of your post: There was a similar POW camp in Camp Atterbury, central Indiana. The POW’s built a chapel which still exists with a small plaque giving some of the history. Atterbury is still an active Army base.

    • That is really awesome. I think it’s fascinating that all these strange small places (like where I live) had this moment in their history. Thanks for reading!

  2. My father was a guard over some Italian POWs in Virginia for part of WWII. He said they were delightful people who showed no interest at all in being enemies of the US.

    • That’s pretty much what I learned about the Germans here. First they were kept very confined but when everyone saw how nice they were they got moved. There were escapes, of course, but mostly they just worked on the potato farms. šŸ™‚

  3. So many fascinating detours to your day. It is so interesting to meet random people and hear their stories. It happens to me all the time (like today at the Apple store). I also had not known there were POW camps in Colorado. I had a vague memory there were a few somewhere and the “country” makes sense as escaping would have been a huge challenge and they helped out in the fields, as you say. How cool you found the crossword! A fun post šŸ™‚

  4. What an incredible story (the one about Alex meeting an ex-POW). Wars are nasty, but the things that out-of-combat people, like POWs, do and experience are incredible human stories. I was reminded of a book by an Italian POW in Kenya who escaped, climbed Mt. Kenya and sneaked back into camp before anyone noticed he was missing. Felice Benuzzi: No Picnic on Mount Kenya. That was one of the good ones.

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