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Camp Clinton

Camp Clinton was a Prisoner-of-war camp that operated from 1943-1945, in Clinton, Mississippi just off of present-day McRaven Road, east of Springridge Road. The camp was used primarily for German army prisoners during World War II who were captured in battles that took place in Africa, most of whom were members in the Afrika Korps. There were several Italian POWs as well as Italy and Germany were allies fighting alongside each other in Africa.

Notable

Camp Clinton is particularly significant compared to other POW camps in the country. The camp's prisoners provided the labor during the initial, and more tedious, phases of construction of the Mississippi River Basin Model. Their work, valued at several million dollars, allowed the United States Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with and complete their flood control project. In the decades after the Basin Model's completion, data collected during tests helped to save billions of dollars in property damage. Further significance was due to a special compound having been constructed at Camp Clinton where all but a few of the German generals held in the United States were confined. Out of nearly forty generals in American captivity, thirty-five (and one admiral) were at one time or another held at Camp Clinton. No other facility for German generals existed.

Camp Clinton held 3,000 prisoners at its peak. The camp consisted of of land, barracks for the POWs and bungalows for the POW Generals, a hospital, soccer field and other various buildings.

Daily life at Camp Clinton

Life at Camp Clinton wasn't harsh as most people would perceive a POW camp.

Prisoners organized a theatrical group, symphony orchestra and a jazz band. Prisoners that chose to work were paid eighty cents a day which was deposited in their own "kanteen", so you often saw young "boys" walking around sipping pop. They could wear their own uniform if they didn't feel right wearing GI uniforms with "PW" in large white letters on their back. A well-equipped hospital was located on the grounds and the prisoners received the same care as the Americans.

Though most of the prisoners were from the Afrika Korps, there were men from the air corps, paratroopers, infantry, artillery, armored, marines, and even some from occupied countries like Poland. The average age of the enlisted prisoners was 22, with many being in their teens. It was the only US camp that housed German General officers. They were "imprisoned" in private bungalows where two generals would live and were allowed one aide to share between them. One of their complaints was that the communal toilet did not have privacy walls. After much discussion, the commanding German officer decided that since the Americans didn't have that luxury, neither should the POWs.

Escapes

One noted escape attempt involved the prisoners having tunneled from their barracks in the compound to within of the high twin fences surrounding the compound. They had removed tons of dirt without leaving a visible trace. To conceal their efforts, prisoners had sewn cloth bags in their pant legs. The bags had a draw string at the bottom. As they tunneled each night, they would fill their bags with the excavated dirts. The next morning while working, they would pull the draw strings of their bags which would distribute the dirt over fresh ground in their work area where they were clearing land for the subsequent building of the Mississippi River Basin Model. On this particular night when the lights were turned on for the bed check, a German prisoner was under his blanket wearing his back pack. He was questioned but gave vague answers. He said he was ready to go with the others. A heavy guard was posted and the next day the tunnel was discovered. It ran from the floor of the barracks and almost reached the mesh wire fence.

One General (Ramcke) did find a way to escape. With a little help, he sawed through the bars in a culvert under the camp. He escaped and then went to town and checked in to the Heidelberg Hotel. He wore his uniform so that no one would notice the PW on the back. Using the hotel stationery, he wrote a scathing letter to the State Department complaining about the treatment at the camp. No copy of the letter has been found so its contents are unknown. He then broke back in to the camp and went to sleep.

After Camp Clinton closed

After the camp was closed, the area sat vacant for a while. In 1946, construction was begun on a $250,000 new office and laboratory building and was in operation by late summer. The Concrete Division, now known as the United States Army Corps of Engineers Mississippi Valley Division made use of many of the camp's vacant structures. In 1969, the Concrete Division was moved to Vicksburg where an ultra-modern facility had just been completed. Two years later, in 1971, the old camp site used by the Concrete Laboratory was declared surplus. By this time, the administration and operation of the Mississippi River Basin Model had been moved to a nearby facility and all but a small number of the buildings original to the camp were dismantled. It was announced that state and local governments and non-profit institutions would be allowed to make application to acquire the property. Among those who expressed an interest was Mississippi College, a private four-year Christian college located in Clinton. After an extended period of negotiations between the government and the school, the two parties reached an agreement on the transfer of the land.

On April 20, 1973, in a special ceremony at the Waterways Experiment Station (WES), the deed to was presented to Dr. Lewis Nobles, president of Mississippi College. According to school officials, the greatest portion of the property was to be used for field research in biology, botany, and chemistry and as a center for physical education and recreation. Conference and administrative facilities and a driver education course were also planned.

Most of the proposed programs, however, were never put into effect. A recreation center was set up in one of the abandoned WES warehouses, but it was used for only a short time and no longer stands. Apart from an occasional field trip to the area, no study facilities were ever built.

Present day

The only regular use of the property has been for cross-country track events. Currently much of the site is overgrown and except for some of the old crumbling streets and a few foundations, there is little evidence that a 3,000 man POW camp was ever there.

In 1996, 50 years later, former staff and 20 German former POWs returned to Camp Clinton for a small reunion.

See also

References

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