Some 10,000 German and Italian POWs went through the Algona camp—often housed there temporarily until they could be shipped out to branch camps around the Midwest to work on farms and in factories, log timber, even detassel corn, to replace American laborers who were off fighting the war.
Jerry Yocum, a retired high school history teacher, was there to show us around, and we asked him whether there’d been any prison breaks. He acknowledged that there’d been one or two, and that had been a concern of some Algona residents. But he says, “People were more concerned about the guards who’d show up in town to party!”
The museum includes a display of WWII military uniforms, weapons and artifacts, POW uniforms, a 1940 Ford Army staff car and the interior of the barracks.
It also includes a collection of what’s believed to be the largest collection of POW artwork in the country—done by prisoners to pass the time while behind barbed wire.
One prisoner had painted a hauntingly realistic and beautiful portrait of his sister back home. He traded it to a guard for a carton of cigarettes!
What we found most moving, though, were letters on display— written by prisoners to folks back home expressing their loneliness and yearning to be home, and reassuring loved ones that they were in good health and being treated well.
These letters were reminders that though these prisoners were enemies in a bitter war, they too were someone’s son. We could have spent several hours at the museum but had to head for home.