By November 1943, the residents of Mexia, a town in the Texas hill country, had been putting up with war for nearly two years. They had endured the hardships of rationing, meat and gasoline shortages, and heartache for loved ones fighting overseas. Then one November day trains arrived from the East Coast, and suddenly hordes of enemy soldiers were marching into their very midst.
That afternoon, townspeople lined up along Railroad Street to stare awestruck at the seemingly endless stream of German soldiers. These 3,250 sunburned, battle-hardened veterans of the fighting in North Africa wore the khaki desert-style uni-forms, large billed cloth caps, and goggles that symbolized Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s infamous Afrika Korps. Their ranks soon stretched three miles down Tehuacana Highway as the soldiers walked to the newly constructed prisoner of war camp intended to house them for the duration. “We were a town of only 6,000 people,” recalled a longtime Mexia resident, “and we had just seen our population increased by 50 percent—and they were foreigners on top of it!”