In Italy during World War 2, bombing missions over the Italian Alps had to fly through anti-aircraft batteries 10,000 feet up the mountains, pretty close since we rarely flew higher than 16,000 feet. If hit we were told to try to make it across the Swiss border to avoid becoming German POWs. We’d be interned, but rumor had it we’d be treated like honored guests, might even go to college in Zurich or Geneva. It was far from the truth. Downed flight crews went into a barbed-wire POW camp much like those in Germany, and if they tried to escape, which is the first duty of a POW, and were caught, they were sent to a horrible jail and thrown in among the most degraded criminals in Europe.
American POWs in Germany were divided by religion, Jews sent to ancillary death camps. Pacific POWS who survived came back in the worst condition of all. I’ve read stories from King Rat by James Clavel to John McCain's account of “special treatment” by the North Vietnamese, to the recent Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, all of barbaric inhumanity.
But there's another POW story that remains untold, that of German and Italian POWs held in the USA, 400,000 Germans alone. The photo [above left] shows a group somewhere in rural mid-America, many of whom were loaned to local farmers whose sons were in the US military and needed farmhands.
I met an Italian ex-POW in Foggia, Savino Bufalo, a photographer on the staff of our paper, The Foggia Occupator, After VJ Day, he’d been quickly repatriated and told us cheerfully about having met an American girl while a POW and that he intended to emigrate to America and marry her.
Why has no American writer found one of these POWs and drawn out the story? Can it be because the experience wasn’t terrible enough to attract a publisher? Do all POW stories (with the exception of a farce like Stalag 17) have to be unmitigated horror? Yet there must be a publisher willing seek readers fascinated by the contrast between what happened to POWs in the U.S. and American held by any of our erstwhile foes. There's not much time left because WW2 vets are dying off.
Their story is especially needed to balance out the Bush/Cheney descent into barbarity that gave us Guantanamo and water-boarding, millstones we still cannot shed, and which drag the U.S.A. into the sinkhole of inhumanity alongside all of our erstwhile enemies whose stalags, gulags, and death marches will stand forever as grisly landmarks in the sordid depths to which Humano Sapiens regularly sinks.