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Florence's prisoner of war camp (Arizona in WII)
Arizona Daily Star ^ | Elaine Raines

Posted on 08/28/2009 5:58:18 PM PDT by SandRat

The men arrived on troop trains that came in the night. They all wore heavy coats with a big P on the shoulder and they would be spending the duration of World War II at the prisoner of war camp in Florence. It was one of more than ten such camps in Arizona.

Star files
The view from the guard tower of the camp in 46.

The first prisoners who arrived in Florence, about 70 miles northwest of Tucson, were Italian POWs. That was in May 1943.

But, following Italy’s surrender in early September of that year, the prisoners were shipped out. The German prisoners soon followed.

For an article on the camp, three Arizonans who had been stationed at Florence as guards spoke to a Star reporter. They were A.E. “Bud” Gomes, Don Young and Burt Freireich.

Star files
A map showing the location of the camp.

Gomes said there were two kinds of German prisoners — the draftees who had little enthusiam for the war and what he called the “hardcore Nazis.” Most he said were decent fellows who worked hard and hated to be idle.

The men were put to work in the camp picking cotton. They were paid 50 cents an hour. Young said the POWs often placed bets amongst themselves as to who would pick the most.

Star files
Don Young, in the middle of this 1944 photograph, worked in the motor pool at the POW camp.

The prisoners were allowed to buy tobacco, but not cigarettes. So, they improvised making their own devices to roll cigarettes. They also built a bar made of cactus for the camp’s officer’s club.

In contrast, the Italians were more easy-going and carefree despite their predicament and the uninteresting work. They often sang while they marched and performed operettas in the compound.

Freireich said the guards were in charge of work details of between 23 and 28 prisoners. Each guard was given a carbine and three bullets. Freireich said he kept his bullets in his pocket.

“I didn’t see any way I could stop 20 guys with three bullets, if they decided to rush me,” he said. “I figured it made more sense to surrender an empty carbine if it came to that.

Gomes recounted one particular story that had remained with him through the years. Late one night a group of new POWs arrived. He asked if any spoke English and one stepped forward.

Then the German said: “Do you mind if I have a cigarette?”

Gomes said no.

The German said: “Remember when you could get a pack of these for 13 cents.”

Gomes looked at the man: “Yes, I do. But how the hell do you know about that?”

It turned out the German had lived in Cleveland for several years before the war and decided to visit his parents in Germany. The year was 1939. When he arrived in his homeland, he was drafted.

Following the war, the camp served as a minimum security prison and later a hospital. The site was closed down for good in 1966. Today, nothing remains of the camp.

A Seattle author, Jack Hamann, has created a Web site on the Florence camp at

TOPICS: History; Military/Veterans
KEYWORDS: epow; godsgravesglyphs; phoenix; tucson

1 posted on 08/28/2009 5:58:18 PM PDT by SandRat
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To: SandRat
I was in the American Consulate in Hamburg in the 70's on some business, and the German national I was working with there told me he was a POW at the Papago Park camp in Phoenix during the war (I didn't realize there had been one that close to a town).

I asked him why a former U.S. POW would end up working for the U.S. government when he went home.

He laughed and said, "I tried to stay when they released us at the end of the war. We rode horses, walked in the desert, worked in the park, even played tennis. They said no, you must go home now.".

'Bout fell out of the chair. He wanted to retire to Phoenix or Mesa, probably lives there now for all I know.

2 posted on 08/28/2009 6:07:44 PM PDT by Regulator (Welcome to Zimbabwe! Now hand over your property)
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To: Regulator
Fixed the link: Papago Park POW Camp
3 posted on 08/28/2009 6:08:55 PM PDT by Regulator (Welcome to Zimbabwe! Now hand over your property)
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To: SandRat

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Just adding to the catalog, not sending a general distribution.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.
GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother, and Ernest_at_the_Beach

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4 posted on 08/28/2009 6:10:30 PM PDT by SunkenCiv ( Jan 3, 2004__Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: SunkenCiv
Once on a train ride from Kitzingen to Frankfort I encountered a former POW who'd been housed in Arizona. He wanted to practice English. Turned out he'd been taken captive at Dunkirk by withdrawing Brits. Then, later on when the US was in the war and the camps opened in Arizona, he was sent there ~ one of the first.

He was put to work raising sugar beets. After the war he got into the sugar beat business in Germany and did well at it. He said he regularly visited old friends from the sugar beat farm in the States.

5 posted on 08/28/2009 6:18:33 PM PDT by muawiyah
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To: SandRat

Growing up in Superior, AZ, I remember this camp clearly. At one time, I believe it was used to house illegal aliens who had committed lesser crimes and were pending deportation at the end of their terms.

6 posted on 08/28/2009 6:19:38 PM PDT by JimSEA
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To: JimSEA


7 posted on 08/28/2009 6:20:49 PM PDT by SandRat (Duty, Honor, Country! What else needs said?)
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To: muawiyah

Thanks muawiyah. A friend’s father was a German POW, liked what he saw while he was interned here, went back after the war to take care of some matters, then emigrated to the US.

8 posted on 08/28/2009 6:33:39 PM PDT by SunkenCiv ( Jan 3, 2004__Profile updated Monday, January 12, 2009)
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To: SunkenCiv
My cousin was a German POW, a part of Rommels Africa Corps captured in El Alemaine. He spent the war traveling the west, working.
9 posted on 08/28/2009 7:15:23 PM PDT by gunner03
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To: SandRat

There’s a small cemetary in Camp Blanding, a NG training center for German POWs who died during confinement, from their wounds I guess, there’s only a handful of graves. I always wondered why the Germans didn’t take the bodies back.

10 posted on 08/28/2009 8:11:16 PM PDT by SeminoleSoldier
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To: SandRat
Loved reading the info on the Florence Prisoner of War Camp.You said at the end of the story that nothing remains of the site.
However , Florence Public Works is using part of the original “system” for water or sewage. There is still an original chimney standing and you can still see on google earth part of the circular foundation for something .
I am going to investigate further with a gentleman I met that seemed to have information on the property and what was there . Perhaps i can link some pictures.
11 posted on 07/29/2015 9:52:51 AM PDT by Maszaan (Florence Prisoner of War Camp)
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