Five German soldiers were buried at Fort Campbell in the mid 1940s. They were World War II prisoners of war who were captured in the Battle of North Africa and brought over to the United States.
Eugen Ulrich, Kurt Franke, Herbert Linder, Josef Reidinger and Guenter Cassens were all remembered on All-Saints Day, which is recognized every Nov. 1.
The prayers and message were given to the families and associates by Chaplain (Cpt.) Gregory Jackson, who referred to the graves as monuments and remembering stones, while referring to the story of Joshua in the Bible.
We honor these men because they fought for what they believed in, Jackson said. These memorials honor their lives and beliefs.
Two songs were played at the service: Germanys national anthem and Ich Hatt Einen Kameraden, a burial tribute performed on tape by German soldiers.
A long-time employee at Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville remembered the German soldiers working in her familys fields.
Mary Fergusons father owned a tobacco farm in Todd County when she was six years old. German soldiers, known as storm troopers, were brought to work on the farm and had tattoos on their arms that fascinated her. Her mother, who was of German heritage, cooked them a huge dinner at noon featuring many foods the soldiers enjoyed. She would sit with the POWs under a tree while they ate and talked to them as if they were friends — not an enemy of the country.
I just could not understand why these people, who looked exactly like us, were our war enemies, Ferguson said. I understood why the Japanese were enemies, but not these men with beautiful complexions, blonde hair and blue eyes.
She said the prisoners never attempted to escape while working on the farm. Ferguson recalled a time when her father told the prisoners to always wear long-sleeve shirts and a hat while they worked, even in the heat. They would end up taking off their shirts anyway and would become burnt by the sun at the end of the day.
About 3,000 soldiers were taken prisoner at the Battle of North Africa. These soldiers were not committed Nazis, although newspaper stories from the period reported some might have been.
There were three different internment camps at Fort Campbell, but the facilities have long since been torn down. The soldiers were divided by rank and were given the option to either work as orderlies in the hospital, installation supply department, or be hired out to local farmers and get paid $1.80 per day.
Regardless of the task, the prisoners were required to have lunch and go back to their camps by 5 p.m. each day. Each soldier was paid 10 cents per day by the American Red Cross for personal expenses.
There were numerous escapes from the camps by the prisoners, according to John OBrien, installation historian at the Don F. Pratt Museum, but their intentions were usually not an attempt to return to Europe.
They werent trying to go back to Germany, but merely to find a woman, OBrien said. The Germans believed the local women were dumb, and that they could get a good meal and some affection from them.
One of the soldiers buried on post, Josef Reidinger, escaped from the post but was shot and killed by military police at the L & M train station in Kentucky. The four other soldiers died of natural causes.
Americans in the area began to get upset in 1944 and 1945 after the Normandy invasion, because the German POWs were being treated decently by the post and many families had sons fighting in the war. The German prisoners at Fort Campbell had their own post exchange, sports field, mess hall and theater. After the war, the German POWs were freed, but required to return to Germany.
The original POW compounds were located where Lincoln Elementary, Hammond Heights, and Clarksville Base are today. The original graves for the five soldiers were located at the corner of William C. Lee Road and Bastogne Avenue, but were moved across the train tracks a few years later at the height of post construction and growth.
During the summer months, Richard Mazerik, the Edelweiss Club of Clarksville and Boy Scout Troop 525 maintain the graves and clean the forested area around them. They helped prepare the graves for Mondays ceremony by clearing out the leaves, making wreaths, and planting flags around the graves.
This was a wonderful experience, Jackson said in describing Mondays ceremony. These soldiers were fighting in a war they believed in and died away from the home they loved.