(From the Monday, November 4, 2002 edition of the Watertown Daily Times, page D6 and D4).
by Paul Hornak, Times Staff Writer
FORT DRUM--Six half-forgotten German soldiers imprisoned here during World War II are to be remembered later this month by the Army and Watertowns German-American Club.
The men died before or shortly after Hitlers forces surrendered and, in the turmoil of postwar Europe, their families never were found. Their remains lie in a small burial ground off Route 26 between Evans Mills and Great Bend beneath headstones marked only with name and date of death.
Drum crews keep the spot groomed, but it has been years since anyone thought to place a wreath or play the German version of "Taps," "Ich hatt einen Kamaraden," said Lt. Col. Douglas E. Nash, 10th Mountain Division civil affairs officer.
"There was evidently an old German gentleman who used to do it, but he passed away several years ago and didnt pass the torch," the colonel said Sunday. He decided last year that it was time to hold an annual observance.
Nov. 17 was chosen because it coincides with Germanys National Day of Mourning, which like Americas Veterans Day honors soldiers killed in battle, though without regard to nationality and with special emphasis on the world wars.
"In Germany, Id been to several of these as corps G-5. I went to one last year at which Americans whod died in Huertgen Forest were recognized," he said. "There was an honor guard to honor our guys. When I came here I thought they already did it, but I checked and, lo and behold, nothing was being done. Its not the Armys fault. Were a transient population. I thought Id get something started. It seemed like the right thing to do."
Drums first ceremony might have been last November, but post-Sept 11 deployments of the 10th Mountain Division interfered. Col. Nash spent winter and spring at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
The German-American Clubs Margarete K. Cameron will be among members attending the 11 a.m. event later this month. A native of Germany who married an American soldier, she recalled Day of Mourning ceremonies in the town where she grew up.
"It is held on the second Sunday before Advent at a memorial statue. There was a somber wreath-laying, usually with instrumental music," she said.
The club is hoping to interest American Legion and Veterans of foreign Wars posts to send representatives. It will be the first time the club, which is made up mainly of German brides, has honored prisoners buried at the Cemetery on Drum.
As Pine Camp, the installation was the site of a stockade housing between 1,500 and 4,000 captives from Nazi armies between 1943 and 1946. Some 2,500 Italian prisoners also were held there. German, Italian and Japanese prisoners sent to the United States numbered about 400,000, scattered in camps from Northern New York to Alabama to Arkansas to Missouri to Texas.
Fort Bliss, in western Texas, has observed the National Day of Mourning at its graveyard for decades because of a large German Air Force training contingent based there. The posts commanding general and the mayor of nearby El Paso ordinarily attend.
History indicates German and Italian POWs at Pine Camp werent exactly oppressed. During the day they worked as lumberjacks or farmhands at scattered camps, and at night they ate and slept in barracks a prison monitor from neutral Switzerland found difficult to over-praise.
The inspector called the inmates "exceptionally well fed" and rated morale "outstanding."
Mrs. Cameron recalled her math teacher, a former captive of the Americans, telling the class "of all places youd want to be a POW, the U.S. had the most humane treatment. Some didnt want to go home."
As the war wound down, Italian prisoners were allowed to go to movies and restaurants in Watertown. To dispel rumors of "coddling," the Army had to invite officers of the Watertown American Legion to check the camps discipline for themselves.
The Germans buried at Drum died of natural causes, according to Army records. Two Italians also died while imprisoned on post, one of drowning in Remington Pond. One Italians remains were returned to Italy and the others are buried in the Route 26, cemetery.
(The following are notes that I made during a trip to look at these stones on November 5, 2002. Chuck Morgan)
These gravestones are located approximately 3.2 miles from the intersection of highways 11 and 26, on route 26, heading towards Great Bend. They are adjacent to a small cemetery, which I believe to be Sheepfold Cemetery. The measured coordinates for this burial site are 44 03 13 North, and 075 45 06 West. The stones are visible from the highway. Following is the information on the seven stones:
Rino Carlutti, Pvt. Italian, October 17, 1944
Karl Elert, GEFR German, December 21, 1944
Franz Heitmann, German, July 7, 1945
Heinrich Schmidtmeier, OGEFR German, August 18, 1945
Joseph Mueller, OGEFR German, August 31, 1945
Christian Huppertz, OGEFR German, September 28, 1945
Since I couldn't help but wonder if these soldiers' families had ever been notified of their deaths, I posted a message on the German section of RootsWeb.com. A kind person by the name of Inga suggested by email, that I forward this information to the German Red Cross, since they had a program to locate World War II deceased, which I did. Just a day or two later I was informed by the German Red Cross that in 1952, the families of all of these soldiers had been notified and their belongings returned. Thanks again to Inga, for translating one of the replies which was in German!
Also, a second article appeared in the newspaper after the remembrance ceremony was held.
In the Thursday, November 21, 2002 edition of the Watertown Daily Times, the following letter appeared, submitted by Francis R. Gates*. (Francis has a great deal of interest in cemeteries, especially in St. Lawrence County, and has contributed much to the mapping and maintaining of local cemeteries; therefore I am inclined to accept the information that he presents in this letter). The letter follows:
I read with interest Paul Hornak's article in the Nov. 18 Watertown Daily Times, of the remembrance ceremony at the LeRaysville cemetery for the German POWs who died at Pine Camp during the World War II era.
The article called it the Sheepfold POW Cemetery; this is not the case.
It was a civilian cemetery before 1940 and would more properly be called the LeRaysville Cemetery.
I have relatives in the Sheepfold Cemetery, which also predates Pine Camp. It is about one mile west of LeRaysville on the road that led to Childs Hill where the farm of Dr. Sylvester of Black River was.
In the LeRaysville Cemetery, there was also two Italian POWs' grave sites. Anecdotal history has it that the German and Italian graves were separated by some distance as the Germans refused to be buried alongside the Italian soldiers as by that time Italy had already surrendered and the Germans had occupied Italy.
Francis R. Gates