Friday, August 19, 2016

Camp Douglas POW Museum

Douglas is an interesting small town.  While there, we saw one additional attraction that I would like to share. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is located in what was the former officer’s club, which I believe is the only camp building that still survives.    From 1943-1946, the camp, consisting of some 180 buildings set on over 350 acres, housed Italian, and later German prisoners of war.  The POWs and the 500+ military personnel associated with the camp were a boon to the area.  Not only did the community benefit from construction of the camp and from housing and feeding the prisoners, but residents were also encouraged to hire the POWs on a voluntary basis as laborers on their farms and ranches or in the timber industry for a daily wage of $4.  This was very important, as most of the men were away in the service. 

Apparently the prisoners were as happy to be in Douglas as the residents were to have them.  There were few attempted escapes, and some of the prisoners returned home with over $500 in savings from their work.  In spite of being on opposing sides in the war, friendships developed between members of the community and prisoners.  These continued long after the war ended, through correspondence and visits between residents and former prisoners.  Some former POWs later returned and settled in the area.  One Italian POW is quoted as saying, "I never felt like a free man until I was a prisoner in your country."

The prisoners gave back to the community in other ways, as well.  Of special significance are the murals on the interior walls of the former officers club which were painted by three Italian POWs.  These men are known only by their signatures on the murals, but V. Finotti, E. Tarquinio and F. DeRossi gave us scenes of lasting beauty and value.  Though these individuals had never seen the old west other than in books or movies, they recreated scenes from memory and from pictures in books and magazines, some of which are also on display with the murals. 

Over the years, the local I.O.O.F. lodge has maintained the building and these remarkable murals.  The dry Wyoming climate has helped to preserve the murals, and I hope you will some day have a chance to see them for yourselves.

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