Memories of Camp Clark POW Days

Friday, February 17, 2017

Editor's Note: The following column originally appeared in the Friday, Nov. 15, 2002, edition of the Nevada Daily Mail.

On Nov. 11, 1942, Pvt. George Breen from South Dakota, who had just been assigned to Camp Clark on Nov. 1, marched proudly in the Armistice Day Parade around Nevada's Square. He had 35 cents in his pocket and that was all the money he had. On Nov. 11, 2002, George Breen was interviewed in his home on North Washington Street by David Fiedler, who is writing a book for the Missouri Historical Society about the Prisoner of War Camps during World War II in Missouri. Sixty years to the day, from when he had first been in Nevada, George and his wife, Norma, celebrated Veteran's Day by sharing memories of a special time in each of their lives. We didn't ask him how much money he had in his pockets this time.

The first prisoners at Camp Clark, the ones that George guarded, were from Italy. These prisoners arrived in a ragged state and most of them appeared to be happy to be out of the war and appreciated the treatment they received in the camps. After they had been in the camp for a while, individuals were hand picked to be in groups that were sent to auxiliary camps where they worked in the fields or in factories. George traveled with these groups. They went first to Atherton, Mo., where the prisoners picked up onions and potatoes that had been dug by machines. They repeated the same thing in Minnesota and then went to Nebraska where the prisoners worked in factories for the war effort.

Camp Clark was one of four Prisoner of War Camps in Missouri. Others were in St. Genevieve County, at Camp Crowder and at Fort Leonard Wood.

George said they had one guard for 150 prisoners. The guard was needed mainly to keep U.S. civilians away from the prisoners. He didn't have any problems with the Italians and tried to interact with them as much as possible. He learned some Italian to help communicate with them.

He was quickly made sergeant and was put in charge of some athletic events for the G.I.'s who were at the camp.

Mrs. Charlie Logan started a girl's service organization in Nevada where they had dances at the Armory on East Cherry Street every Saturday night. Norma Norris was one of the girls who attended these dances. George asked her to dance and their friendship grew. They both enjoyed dancing and when George left that night he told Norma he would see her the next Saturday. He did see her, but he had been made M.P. for the night so they didn't get to dance that time.

George had a standing pass so he could come to Nevada any time he wasn't on duty. He would hitchhike in from Camp Clark or try to catch a ride with some of the many civilian workers at the camp. Everyone picked up soldiers in those days and he never had trouble getting rides. There were also dances held at Camp Clark. The girls would be brought into the camp in trucks and were not allowed to go anywhere on the camp except the recreational area. Norma said she never saw or talked to any of the prisoners.

After the Italian prisoners were moved from the camp, George also left to take surgical technician training. But before he left, on June 14, 1944, he and Norma were married on June 10. She stayed in Nevada while he served overseas. When he was in the Philippines he had a reunion with his younger brother who did not know George was in the same camp. George had found out where the brother was and walked up to him in the camp without the younger boy knowing he was anywhere around. That was a pleasant memory for each of them. George was in the Philippines while preparations were being made for the invasion of Japan. After the bomb was dropped he was then sent to Japan.

Meanwhile, back at Camp Clark, new prisoners, this time from Germany, arrived. They were quite different from the Italians and didn't adjust to the rules at first. After the war was over, the barracks and guard towers were sold. One tower was used for years at Logan Field. Other buildings were sold to farmers or businesses.

David Fiedler, the writer of the soon to be published book about Missouri's World War II Prisoner of War Camps, had spent time earlier that afternoon at Camp Clark with Terry Ramsey, director of the Bushwhacker Museum. They were both impressed with the beauty of the place, the state's only full-sized rifle range and the care of the area that has been part of Nevada's history since 1908. Fiedler was also impressed with the life this former G.I. had made for himself as a carpenter and homebuilder in his adopted town. Examples of his woodworking handiwork were evident in their home where wood burning pictures were being prepared to donate to local fund-raising events.

Upon discharge George was a technical sergeant.

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