Author to speak on Iowa's POW camps in Sibley
During World War II, the U.S. had to take captured enemy soldiers away from the fighting, and due to enlistment there was a labor shortage back home. As a solution to both problems, some of the POWs were brought to the U.S., where companies could contract with the government to hire POWs to work.
SIBLEY, Iowa — About 25,000 German, Italian and Japanese prisoners of war worked on farms, in canneries and wherever they were needed in Iowa between 1942 and 1946, yet when Linda McCann mentioned the POWs at a family Thanksgiving dinner, she was met with silence and baffled stares.
“Literally nobody but me knew about it,” the Iowa author recalled.
McCann decided that needed to change, and wrote “Prisoners of War in Iowa” about the lives of the prisoners attached to the main camps in Algona and Clarinda, as well as the 19 branch camps around the state.
She’ll speak about those camps, and her other work, at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Sibley Public Library. The event is free, and McCann will have copies of her books available for purchase and signing.
During World War II, the United States had to take captured enemy soldiers away from the fighting, and due to enlistment there was a labor shortage back home. As a solution to both problems, some of the POWs were brought to the U.S., where companies could contract with the government to hire POWs to work.
“The thing that kind of blew my mind is that we had about 650,000 in the United States, and every state but three had POWs,” McCann said.
Most of Iowa’s prisoners were German, and therefore had a shared heritage with many Iowans, some of whom were first- or second-generation immigrants themselves and still spoke the language.
One Algona prisoner recalled that he had a brother who had moved to the U.S. before the prisoner was born, and the two men were able to meet for the first time.
The Japanese and Italian prisoners weren’t as well-received.
“Farmers actually went to the camp and said ‘I won’t have Japanese working on the farm,’” McCann said.
Though many people don’t know about the Iowa POW camps at all, the men did leave traces of their stories behind. McCann often hears about prisoners who were able to stay after the war, but that didn’t happen in Iowa.
She also hears a lot about prisoners who escaped or disappeared, and that did happen — but it only happened to about 20 of the 650,000 POWs in the U.S. And they found they couldn’t get through the war like that and turned themselves in, McCann said.
Only about four of the Iowa prisoners returned to the U.S. and became citizens after the war, but many of them returned for a visit or stayed in contact with people they met in Iowa.
McCann grew up in the Waverly area, near where one of the branch camps was located, and she always loved history. When her daughters were young, she took time off from work to spend time with them and got involved in genealogy, and from there, her interest in local history expanded.
She wrote a self-published book about some of the defunct towns and cities of Butler County and was approached by a publisher asking if she’d be interested in doing a county-wide book.
Since then, McCann has published 14 books, including “Lost Butler County” as well as “Prohibition in Eastern Iowa,” “Civilian Conservation Corps in Northeast Iowa” and “The Cedar Valley Road.”
McCann will also speak at the Spirit Lake Public Library at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 16.