Texas Connects Us: Camp Hearne

In rural Robertson County, there's a museum that few people know about. It's a museum about Camp Hearne, one of the largest World War II prisoner-of-war camps in the United States.

"There's a tremendous amount of history here," said Melissa Freeman, the museum's program director. "I think it has a real important story to tell."

The story began in 1942, when Camp Hearne was built.

"This camp was enormous. It was 720 acres," Freeman said. "The prisoners here were very creative. We had a lot of people painting, a lot of people molding things out of concrete, building fountains, statues – all kinds of stuff."

Most of the prisoners were German.

"They were treated pretty darn good," said Matt Ware. Now 93 years old, Ware was a military police escort guard at the camp.

"A lot of them were people just like us. They was jerked up at the last minute and put in the Army without any training," Ware explained. "They was allowed to buy radios, and they'd take two old radios and make a short-wave radio out of it On certain nights you could hear them screaming and hollering after the Germans had shot down so many planes."

Ware remembers standing guard with another soldier as the prisoners planted onions in wide open fields.

"If they wanted to run, they could of run," Ware said. "We could have shot some of them if they would have run, but two men with 50 prisoners on 300 acres of land."

"There were few Nazis, but yet they took over this entire camp and they intimidated everybody who they thought at some point might be disloyal," Freeman said.

Camp Hearne was one of nearly 650 POW camps across the country, but its history, like those who served, is fading.

"Last I know, we was passing away at 600 and something a day," Ware said. "I had a lot of memories from there."

During World War II, Texas had roughly twice as many POW camps as any other state in the country.

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