World War II brought many challenges to the United States for several reasons, including how to house the thousands of German soldiers who were surrendering at a rapid rate as U.S. troops advanced in Europe. One branch camp for these prisoners of war was located in Princeton, Texas. This farm town had already constructed a migrant worker camp complete with bunks and accommodations that could be easily converted to house the German prisoners.
Toward the end of World War II,
prisoners of war were arriving in the United States at a rate of 30,000 a
month. By the last few months of the war, that rate had increased to 60,000 per
month. Ultimately, the United States was forced to house as many as 425,000
enemy troops in prisoner of war (POW) camps. There were 511 POW
camps located across the country. Texas was home to twice as many of these
camps as any other state. By the end of the war, there were approximately
78,982 enemy prisoners being held captive in Texas alone. One of these POW
camps was located in the small town of Princeton, Texas.
Princeton was an
obvious choice for one of these camps. The town was already home to a facility
built to be used as a migrant worker camp, and time pressure was a significant
consideration given how fast enemy troops were being captured. Transitioning
the migrant camp to a POW camp was cost effective because the government did
not have the expense of building a new facility. And Princeton was the fact it was a small farming community
with nowhere to hide should any prisoners escape. So in February 1945, the Princeton POW camp opened for prisoners. According to the
book Princeton: 1881-2000, the
Princeton POW camp was known as Branch Camp #2, an extension of the Camp Howze
base camp in Cooke County.
Like most POW
camps in the United States, the Princeton facility featured barracks-like
shelters with beds and wood stoves, as well as 139 concrete slabs for tents.
There were also two utility buildings, complete with 24 wash tubs, clotheslines
and showers. These camps were typically operated like military training sites,
and prisoners had a strict schedule to follow.
Collin County historians say that townspeople and members of the
Princeton community surprisingly did not mind having this POW camp here. Interviews with residents showed there were good relationships between those people in
the community and the prisoners held there, and the townspeople would bring
gifts to the prisoners. The reason behind the good will shown to the prisoners
from the local farmers centered around the fact these men were good for the
economy. The local farmers would often drive their trucks to the POW camp and
pick up a few prisoners accompanied by a guard and take them to their land to
do manual labor. The farmer got cheap help and the prisoners got to leave the
camp and were often fed by the farmers. The base pay for a day’s work was
around one dollar and fifty cents. This also benefited the government, because
a portion of this wage went directly to the camp to help pay for camp operations including food,
clothes and facility maintenance.
At the end of war
later, the prisoners were shipped back to Germany, by way of France and
Britain so they could help repair the war-damaged European countryside along the way. When
Branch Camp #2 closed, eight months after it opened, it returned to its original
operation as a migrant worker camp until it closed for good in 1969. The
migrant labor/POW camp still welcomes visitors as the J.M. Caldwell Community
Park, and its grounds have been converted to feature ball fields and picnic
areas. The original concrete slab that was once the community hall is still present,
now a pavilion for community gatherings, and the old water tower sits in the
distance as a landmark for the onetime POW camp.