Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, May 1, 2000

Book tells of POW experiences in Howard Lake

By Andrea Vargo

It all started when Myron Heuer of Howard Lake wrote an article for the Herald a few years ago that described a prisoner of war (POW) camp at the Wright County Fairgrounds in 1944.

Dean Simmons, who was doing research on POW camps in Minnesota, saw the article and contacted Heuer, as part of the research he was doing for his book, "Swords into Plowshares."

He contacted Heuer to find out what he knew about the camp, and promised to get back to him when his book on the camps was finished.

Unfortunately, Heuer died last February before the book was complete, said Simmons.

Simmons said his research started as a student at the University of Minnesota in 1989 and continued in Germany in 1991, after he had received a copy of an old address book signed by Minnesota POWs.

Two of those former prisoners were from Howard Lake, he said.

Most of the POWs in the United States were Italians or Germans from the African Corp, and the two prisoners from Howard Lake were German.

Geneva Convention

According to the Geneva Convention, POWs were to have food and housing equal to what the military had.

In one camp in the southern part of the U.S., when a group of prisoners had to stay in tents until their barracks were built, servicemen were moved out of their barracks and into tents until the prisoners' barracks were complete, Simmons stated.

In the U.S., POWs had nice camps, university courses, libraries, relatively good food, and recreation areas.

Because of the education prisoners received in the U.S., Simmons claims the rebuilding of Germany was done almost exclusively by these prisoners, who had a taste of democracy.

Part of the Geneva Convention stated that prisoners could work at jobs that were not war-related.

They had to be paid for their work at the going rate for a particular job.

The prisoners in Minnesota were paid 80 cents per day, and the state took 70 cents of that for room and board.

"Does that sound familiar?" asked Simmons.

When the prisoners went home, they purchased as much as they could to take with them, as the money itself was not worth anything in Europe.

Howard Lake camp

Base camp for the prisoners that lived in Howard Lake in the summers of 1944 and 1945 was Algona, Iowa.

There were about 15,000 of prisoners in that base camp.

The camp in Howard Lake was formed because of the request by Northland Canning Company in Cokato for workers.

The camp was filled with anti-Nazi prisoners, because at the same time problems among the prisoners at Algona occurred.

The African Corp prisoners still felt Germany had a chance. Fights and some murders of POWs by other POWs took place, Simmons said.

The POWs who came to the U.S. after the invasion of Normandy realized there was no way Germany could win the war.

Prisoners could ask to be transferred out of Algona for safety reasons, and many of those came to Howard Lake, Simmons said.

The POWs in Howard Lake were based at the fairgrounds in the grandstand and other buildings, Simmons explained.

They worked at the cannery in Cokato, and during the times between canning corn and peas, the POWs worked for local farmers or in a chicken/egg processing plant in Cokato.

The prisoners were in Howard Lake for two or three months in each of the two years the camp was in operation.

In his book, Simmons writes about the other experiences the POWs had in Howard Lake, as well as providing a wealth of information on the other camps scattered throughout the state.

Autographed copies of the book are available at Old Town Gallery in Howard Lake.


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