Camp Weingarten evidence remains

Sunday, October 18, 2009
Gary Huck stands beside the stone fireplace that remains from the World War II prisoner of war camp at Weingarten, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

I recently learned a World War II prisoner-of-war camp was built about 70 miles north of Cape Girardeau at Weingarten, Mo. It held about 5,000 Italian soldiers captured during the war. They worked for pay to help ease the manpower shortage because Americans were gone to fight.

These steps lead to the camp cemetery, which is now vacant. Five Italian POWs were buried there during the war.

I wondered what evidence remained today of the camp that was in operation for just two years. I looked on the Internet and found a picture of a stone fireplace that was part of the officers' mess hall at the camp, along with a concrete slab that was a tennis court.

This concrete caduceus was found one day by Huck, who pulled it up with his tractor. It was located in front of the camp hospital.

So I set out to see this for myself. Mapquest made it easy, and because Weingarten is small, I located the site quickly. It is off the beaten path, actually in a residential backyard. Nothing else around suggested the presence of thousands of POWs.

A concrete tennis court remains near the fireplace.

While studying the scene, a man came up to me and offered to show me around. Gary Huck told me he leases the property from his mother-in-law, who acquired it from the U.S. government, which bought up land for the camp and then sold it after the war. His property is adjacent, and his driveway was the main road to the prisoner-of-war camp.

This concrete ammunition depot, about 10-foot-square, has an old cattle feeder built against it. It's one of five, each with a concrete slab in front. Huck uses them for storage.

We walked over to the fireplace. It was then that I realized the mess hall had been built above ground, as some concrete pillars remained near the fireplace. Huck said he uses the tennis court to work on his farm equipment. "My kids had their graduation parties out here," he said. "If I could recycle all the concrete on this property, I'd be a millionaire."

While I examined the stonework, he asked, "Are you in a hurry?" No. "Would you like a tour?" Absolutely. So armed with my point-and-shoot (inspired by David Crowe's minimalist approach to photography), I climbed aboard Huck's four-wheeler and traveled back in time. These pictures provide a glimpse of a mostly unknown chapter of history.

Concrete foundations remain from the camp's shoe repair shop that was built above ground.
A prisoner of war engraved his name on this sandstone outside a building that is now gone. It is weathered, but still readable is the date, 9-9-43, POW Italy.
Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: