(From the Monday, November 18, 2002 edition of the Watertown Daily Times, page D6).

 

About 40 Come Out In Frigid Rain to Honor Former POWs

by Paul Hornak

Times Staff Writer

 

FORT DRUM--In cold rain against a curtain of pine trees, an American soldier born after World War II and a German-American woman too young to remember very much about it placed a wreath Sunday morning at the gravestones of six German soldiers who died while prisoners at Pine Camp.

 

Sgt. 1st Class Pat Muir of the 10th Mountain Division Civil Affairs Office and Ursula Mickle, president of Watertown’s German-American Club, became the first to pay formal honor to the POWs since 1959. A tape on a boom box held by a boy in a baseball cap played "Der Gute Kamerad," the German song of remembrance for soldiers.

 

The approximately 40 people in a semicircle on the ice-encrusted lawn at Sheepfold POW Cemetery heard taps from a 10th Division bugler and an invocation from Chaplain (Maj.) Richard Koyama.

 

The profession of arms was honorable and courageous, "something to be respected even between enemies," he said.

 

German-American Club member Friede Young, Watertown, read a statement from Bernhard von der Planitz, Germany’s consul general in New York City. In it, he thanked "the good people of Watertown" for burying the prisoners, whose remains could not be sent home because no relatives could be found.

 

"They were in their twenties, thirties and forties. "They had parents, some of them might have been married. Maybe they had children," the statement said. "Let us not forget the millions of victims who have no grave, whose names die with them, whose families do not know where to plant a flower, where to light a candle, where to put a stone."

 

About a dozen members of local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts turned out. A flag detail from Black River included the black and white POW-MIA banner devised during the Vietnam war. The veterans, including Chaplain Koyama, said it was right to memorialize the dead Germans despite the Nazi regime they represented.

 

Valence Peets, Carthage, a life member of the Disabled American Veterans, said that for years France and Germany have honored American soldiers buried there. The Germans deserve the same respect, he said.

 

"They did serve their country in a way," he said.

 

Frederick Saur, Brownville, is a veteran of World War II whom the Army assigned to the South Pacific because his German relatives were fighting for Hitler. He went on to serve in two more wars before retiring as a command sergeant major.

 

"I agree with it," he said of the ceremony. "The German government honors our folks. When President Kennedy got killed, German soldiers built a monument at our post and every day they laid fresh flowers for many days afterwards."

 

The soldiers buried near Route 26 between Evans Mills and Great Bend were German Army privates and corporals except for Franz Heitmann, who was a customs assistant. They died at Pine Camp, the pre-1950s name for Fort Drum, between August 1944 and September 1945.

 

Irvine J. Buchal came to pay his respects because he remembered seeing German POWs on lumbering crews near his native Copenhagen. Son of German-speaking immigrants, he knew the language perfectly.

 

"I tried to talk to them but they couldn’t understand me. You know how it is, like trying to talk to somebody from the South in this country," he said.

 

Margarete K. Cameron, German-American Club secretary, said the prisoners’ ties to the Nazis never was an issue in planning the commemoration. Nov. 17 is the German Day of National Mourning, a holiday instituted after World War I to honor fallen soldiers.

 

Hitler tried to politicize the memorial when he came to power, a move Germans greeted by ignoring the observance. It was revived after the Allied victory.

 

"All these veterans’ organizations wouldn’t have turned out if there had been any question," Mrs. Mickle said. "People say that if you’re German you’re right away in the Nazi Party. That’s not true."

 

She said many Germans weren’t members of Hitler’s ruling National Socialists and were drafted into the service. Club members said some people joined the party without believing in its goals, just to get a paying job.

 

"We knew very little about the Holocaust," Mrs. Young said. She went on to tell a wartime story of a German woman and her 12-year-old son who played host to German and American soldiers stranded in the mountain snow at the holidays.

 

"She made them put their guns down. She said, "This is Christmas eve night. Let us be at peace.’ And they all sat down and had chicken soup," she said.

 

The club plans to make the memorial a yearly event, perhaps with representation from the German Consulate beginning in 2003. Officials said they couldn’t attend Sunday’s observance because of the distance and short notice.

 

The 10th Division civil affairs officer whose inquiries about the Day of National Mourning (Volkstrauertag in German) spurred club members to organize the ceremony wasn’t present, either. Lt. Col. Douglas E. Nash was on a military assignment at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

 

The club placed chrysanthemums at each German’s grave and at the marker of the lone Italian POW buried at the cemetery, Pvt. Rino Carlutti. An invitation to the local Italian-American Civic Association to join the observance went unanswered, Mrs. Cameron said.

 

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