1940-1949: IN THE SHADOW OF WAR
German POWs curious but non-threatening
By the end of World War II, what began as a military base in Fort Wayne for training Army railroaders had become home to 600 German prisoners of war.
Camp Thomas A. Scott was built in 1942 for the Army's 130th Railroad Battalion. It was northeast of McMillen Park, between Wayne Trace and the Pennsylvania Railroad.
In 1944, barbed wire and guard towers were erected around the camp, and German prisoners were shipped in. Many were from the famous Afrika Korps, commanded by Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.
Residents grumbled sometimes about generous treatment given prisoners. They could play pingpong and pool and listen to their own radios. They had cigarette allotments of two packs a day, even though rationing limited American civilians to a single pack.
Bob Hire, 61, who grew up on the south side of Fort Wayne, not far from Camp Scott, was 6 or 7 while the German POWs were here and remembers seeing them frequently.
"We used to go out and watch them play baseball," he said. "I guess that was their only entertainment."
Although the barbed wire, armed guards and guard towers made a lifelong impression on him, he doesn't remember ever being afraid of the enemy soldiers.
Hire, who is retired now, formerly was Allen County's emergency-management director.
"It was actually pretty low-security, but they weren't criminals; they were prisoners of war," Hire said.
Some residents who were children then remember taking nickels from prisoners to buy soft drinks for them, but Hire never had contact quite that close.
"They'd see you sitting in the car or pressed up against the fence, watching them play baseball, and they'd wave, but I never understood a word they said," he said. "I don't think anybody was in fear of them. They always seemed happy."
Camp Scott was closed on Nov. 16, 1945, six months after Germany surrendered and three months after the war with Japan ended. The prisoners were returned to Germany, and their quarters became temporary housing for returning American servicemen.