POWs Serving in Second World War Honored by U.S.

The Second World War saw many casualties, but luckily also many survivors, some of them former POWs. Many such prisoners of war were honored by the United States Department of Defense recently for their hardships at the hands of the enemy. Some of these men were never actually labeled as official POWs due to some hazy restrictions regarding the location in which a soldier had to be imprisoned to receive the title.

The treatment of Jewish prisoners at concentration camps is common knowledge regarding World War II, but many forget about the internees at camps intended for men who served the Allied forces. Many of these POWs did not even wish to escape solely to go home, but to aid the war effort from which they had been removed. These men of honor knew that a war was being waged without them and wished to return to battle. Some of them also carried the guilt of knowing that many comrades were killed while they survived to be imprisoned.

One camp in which many troops were imprisoned without receiving honors was that of Wauwilermoos in Switzerland. The oversight was due to the fact that Switzerland itself was not an Axis power. When the Pentagon prepared to honor 143 surviving POWs, Wauwilermoos was among the corrections they made to ensure proper credit was given where due. Unfortunately, only eight of the men kept there were still alive to receive their commemorations. Some men had to be posthumously recognized due to the length of time taken to correct the error, The Washington Post reports.

It was an emotional ceremony for those alive to attend it. It brought to mind not only the days spent imprisoned, but all of the men who were lost along the way. It was also a time that many of the prisoners were falsely accused of betraying their home county. Many of the POWs were accused of voluntary imprisonment as a means of escaping duty. They were ultimately cleared of the treasonous allegations when it was discovered that they had tried to escape in excess of a collective one thousand times.

The POWs honored were all advanced in age, and many never lived to see the receipt of their status. In some ways the mistake is sensible, since Switzerland was neutral at the time of WWII and therefore had no reason to house a prison camp. Unfortunately, the man who ran the camp sympathized with the Nazi cause. Since Switzerland was not a part of the war, it was also not monitored for potential war crimes in the way the camp was run. This meant hard times for the POWs, so being honored even this late in the game seems the proper move to commemorate the enormity of their struggles.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE