News

    German POWs Return to Maine in Friendship

    Related Articles

    Adam Allington

    Although the battles of World War II were fought on foreign shores, many of the soldiers who were captured in those battles ended up on U.S. soil… as all across the country, high school gyms, local fairgrounds and remote military bases were converted into POW camps. One of them was at an Army Airbase just outside Houlton, Maine, in the northeastern most tip of the United States.

    The road to Houlton began in the harbor of Portland, Maine. Today, in historic "old port," seagulls soar just above the roof-tops, and early summer tourists meander along cobblestone streets, window shopping as they walk. Hans Krueger saw a much different sight in the summer of 1944 as he and his fellow POWs stepped off a boat and onto American soil for the first time. "When we marched through the town, there were lots of people standing on both sides of the street, and a lot of women were crying… so that struck me, they did not throw stones or insults, it was a very quiet affair."

    A small, properly dressed man, with bright blue eyes framed by long wisps of white hair, Mr. Krueger was one of nearly 500,000 German and Italian prisoners who were transferred to the United States as the Normandy invasion force overwhelmed Axis positions, and captured troops filled European POW camps.

    Most of the POWs who landed in Maine were sent hundreds of kilometers north to the camp at Houlton Army Airbase. From here, the men were put to work picking potatoes for local farmers and cutting lumber for the paper mill.

    Karl Hagan was just a young farm boy of 15 when his family started using POW labor on their farm. "We used to have to go up to the airbase to pick 'em up," he recalls. "(We) used 'em for both picking beans and picking potatoes."

    Even though they were prisoners, Mr. Hagen remembers that many of the young Germans who worked alongside him seemed to adjust easily to their new surroundings in America. "I think they got a drastic change of outlook when they hit this country. I think that they had been fed so much propaganda. A lot of them were awful thankful to be here [instead of] over in Germany at that time because things weren't going too well for them over there. I think they felt a lot safer and felt there were better cared for here then they would be back on the front lines in Germany."

    The legacy of these POW's in Maine marks a brief yet important footnote in the history of warfare. It proved that the rules adopted by the Geneva Convention, which require decent treatment of captured soldiers, could be implemented and adhered to on a large scale. And that treatment helped lay the foundation for post-war German/American relations.

    Today, 60 years after the war's end, Hans Krueger is back in Houlton. With him are three of his former comrades, Gerhardt Kleindt, Rudi Richter and Hans-Georg Augustin. The men have responded to an invitation from the town of Houlton to all surviving Houlton-POWs, to return and be recognized as friends and made honorary residents of the town. They chatted with townspeople, some of whom they remembered, and visited the site of the camp, where much had changed. Little remains of the once bustling Army airbase… a few crumbling foundations, pitted runways and some rickety hangers. Walking through the overgrown fields with four men who were behind barbed wired the last time they stood on this spot, one can't help but wonder "why come back?"

    For these men, the answer is an easy one. "This was a part of my youth," Hans-Georg Augustin explains, "and I want to see it again." "Four years of our youth," Gerhardt Kleindt points out. Rudi Richter agrees, adding, "As young men, we thought we were doing a good thing to become a soldier, and we feel as though we have been misused." Looking around at the remains of the camp, Hans Krueger says, "This POW time has changed my life and the outlook of my life and how to see people and judge people. I am glad that I had this experience, which has transformed me."

    The return of the POWs to Houlton was big news for this small town. Although potato farming is no longer the big business it once was, the seeds of friendship and understanding that were sown in those fields so many years ago, continue to bear fruit.

     

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora