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Wanted: Information on local POW camp

Historical Society hopes to place marker at site

Wanted: Information on local POW camp

Wanted: Information on local POW camp


The Bulloch County Historical Society hopes to preserve a unique — and almost forgotten — tale from Statesboro’s past, but will need the help of community members willing to weigh in.
As part of an ongoing effort to erect historical markers at notable locations in the county, the organization plans to dedicate a plaque that tells the story of a prisoner-of-war camp that sprang up in Statesboro during World War II.
Before work can move forward, though, historical society members are asking that anyone with information about the camp, or a memory of its prisoners, contact them and share the story.
“We are trying to gather any memories and stories that we can from this time period, about this camp and its operations,” said Dr. Brent Tharp, the historical society's program vice president. “Also, we don’t exactly know, at this time, where to actually put the marker. We’ve gotten conflicting stories and there is not a good document base to show where the camp was located. Any information people have to offer would be welcome.”
The camp in question was founded in Bulloch County in 1943. Hundreds of prisoners — mostly German and Italian — would be held within its gates, and all would play a role in the county’s surviving World War II.
“This is a story that is intriguing and has so many ties with the agricultural and military history of the county,” Tharp said. “What we know is: the main camp was located at Fort Stewart. But, in the years 1943, ’44, and ’45, there was such a significant labor shortage here in south Georgia — because men were fighting abroad — that there would be no way to bring the peanut crop in. So the request was made to bring POWs in to help. Subcamps were then set up, and one of them was here in Statesboro. In the fall of those three years, there was a significant amount of soldiers held in these camps, all of them responsible for harvesting the peanut crop.”
According to Bulloch Times reports in 1944, the U.S. Army established 26 facilities, like the camp in Statesboro, across the South’s “Peanut Belt,” and each prisoner was to be paid “the standard wage for such work — 40 cents per hour, per man.”
An article in the Oct. 19, 1944, edition of the Bulloch Herald said 2,125 men erected some 57,000 stacks of peanuts in just 38 days, saving a peanut crop that might have otherwise gone unpicked and left to rot.
The general consensus, according to historical society member Deweese Martin — who is researching the topic — is that the camp was most likely located near what is now U.S. Highway 301 North, near the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport.
“I’ve talked to everyone I can — close to 20 people. Most everyone seems to agree that the camp was located on the Dover Highway, out around what is now the airfield,” he said.
The camp also established a footprint farther into town, he said, where a holding pen was constructed to station prisoners during the early morning hours — where farmers would meet with a group, and guard, before travelling to the farm to work.
The location of the holding facility is still very much in question, he said.
One theory places the pen near what is now Braswell Food Company, one on Oak Street, and another where Highway 301 and Zetterower Avenue meet.
That bit of information is just one missing piece that the historical society hopes to discover from any community stories. 
“Any information anyone has about the holding camps, the camp location, or the camp in general is invited to share,” said Virginia Anne Waters, representing the organization. “I think it is a really neat story. Today, many people don’t know that we were shipping POWs here to Bulloch County to work on our farms.”
To provide information about the camp, or learn more, people are asked to contact Waters by calling (912) 682-9003, or emailing hideaway@frontiernet.net.
    Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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