POW camp has its own place in history

In times of war, societies change to adapt to the needs which present themselves. In McCulloch County, during one of the most famous wars in history, a Prisoner of War Internment Camp was established barely a stone’s throw from the downtown square. The camp was actually located two miles east of Brady. It was comprised of 360 acres over which were scattered nearly 200 buildings, involving an investment of $2 million. One of the largest buildings was a 150-bed hospital in a camp that had a capacity of 3,000 prisoners. Activated on Sept. 15, 1943, the camp employed numerous McCulloch County residents until it was de-activated shortly after May 7, 1945. Over the years, the camp was dismantled and eventually replaced by homes. As the years passed, the only remnant of the camp that remained was the guard shack that stood at the entrance to the camp. Vandalism and auto accidents reduced the shack to mere rubble. A couple of years ago, Heart of Texas Historical Museum board members acquired what was left of the rubble with the intent of rebuilding the shack as part of a museum display. Those rocks now lay in wait as the musuem continues toward its goal of building a one- of-a-kind military display that will feature a rebuilt replica of the old shack built from those same stones. With rocks as the only evidence of the POW camp that remains, there are several Brady residents with vivid recollection of their days spent as employees of the camp. For Brady residents Blossom McDonough and Dean Pate Johnson, a trip down memory lane provides tidbits of a history that many will never see. McDonough served the camp at the young age of 19 and worked in the hospital ward as a records clerk. Born and raised in Wyoming, Blossom came to Brady after high school graduation when her father, a banker, was transferred to Brady to assist G. Rollie White. She entered college and began studying French. Upon graduation, she and others were offered an internship working for an American company in France. After the stint in Europe, she returned to San Antonio where she worked for the Office of Sensorship translating letters. She met a man named Joe at a friend’s wedding in Brady and after several months of long-distance correspondence, the two were engaged. He was a band director at Brady High School and when he joined the military and was eventually accepted to officer candidate school, he proposed. “We were married and a week later, he was shipped out on active duty for six months,” said Mrs. McDonough. “We spent much of the first year of our lives learning about each other by writing letters.” He was eventually shipped off to Europe and she returned to Brady where her parents lived. She got a job at the POW camp working in the medical ward. “I worked back in a building and I basically didn’t ever see anyone whom I didn’t work with,” she recalls. “It was located on a road that was not very well traveled. Mrs. Johnson, a few years younger than Mrs. McDonough, started working in compound three as a post engineer and property clerk to the officer in charge. She came to Brady as an appointed individual within the state health department. “I was born and raised in Camp San Saba and grew up living on the Brook ranch,” said Mrs. Johnson. “While I was attending business college in Austin, I decided to go into civil service rather than work in a factory. That is how I ended up in Brady working at the POW camp. “At the age of 19, I had 21 people working under my supervision,” she said. “That is just what we did to help out in the war effort.” The World War II POW camp had its share of stories that still circulate in circles today. At one time the prisoners dug an escape tunnel starting at the floor of their barracks and continuing out under the fence and into a nearby field. Whether any prisoners escaped is not known, but as the story goes, it was reported that some of them simply went out to visit around town for a few hours and then returned to camp later by the same underground route. “I never actually saw the tunnel because they found it before I arrived,” said Mrs. Johnson. “It was quite the story though, and everyone seemed to know about it.” The Brady camp’s only claim to fame is that Sgt. Joe Gottleib was stationed there. Better known as Joey Bishop, the television comedian. He was in special services at the camp planning and staging entertainment for the troops and serving as the editor of the camp newspaper. The Heart of Texas Historical Museum is in the process of renovating a military building removed from Curtis Field and in tandem with the guard shacks from the POW camp and Curtis Field. This display will be completed in the next few months with a projected grand opening over the July 4 holiday. The display will be accessed by actually walking through the old guardshack from the POW camp. For more information about how you can help financially with the renovation of the museum display, contact Bert Striegler at 243-5418.

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