German Prisoners of World War II living, working, and dying in Utah
The Emery County Historical Society meeting was held at the Museum of the San Rafael. It was opened by Evelyn Huntsman by announcing the entertainment of Justan Potter and Brandon McCandless singing "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessings."
Dottie Grimes then introduced Allen Kent Powell the Senior Historian with the Utah State Historical Society and former resident of Huntington. Grimes said, "He has been instrumental in our obtaining an archives here in Emery County. He also started a pilot program designed to put archives in all counties of Utah. It is a real privilege that we have the archives here. Mr. Powell is an author who has written at least six books, some of which are about Emery County. He is responsible for the Utah Encyclopedia and Utah Trivia. He currently teaches history at Westminster College."
Powell went on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Germany and has a great love for Germany.
Powell presented a program at the Emery County Historical Society about German prisoners of World War II living, working and dying in Utah.
Powell grew up in Huntington and after an Emery High School field trip, when he was a senior, one of the teachers mentioned as the bus passed through Salina, that is where the German prisoners of war were killed. From that comment, he became interested in the history of the German prisoners of war killed at Salina.
Powell said, "The story of German prisoners of war is one that I have found fascinating for many years. In 1963 when the movie The Great Escape came to the Capitol Theater in Huntington I was a junior.
"I was fascinated by the story of those soldiers that were captured of various nationalities, incarcerated in a camp in Germany and some of the prisoners carried out an escape. The 200 prisoners participating in the escape ended up getting 80 prisoners out. It was a fascinating story and a fascinating movie based on the true facts.
"When I went on a mission to Germany and was going house to house, on at least three or four occasions we met older men who had been prisoners of war in Utah.
"I was invited to investigate the story of German POWs in Utah by the University of Utah Press and was given a grant from the National Endowment For Humanities to spend three or four weeks in Germany collecting interviews and putting together information that ended up in the book Splinters of a Nation.
"Tonight we will start with the story of the shooting of German prisoners of war in Salina on July 8, 1945. At that time there were 250 German prisoners held at Salina to help harvest sugar beets and work in the sugar beet fields. They were housed in 43 tents. On the evening of July 8, about midnight one of the American guards opened fire with his machine gun from the guard tower, shooting through the tents. Nine of the prisoners died and 19 of them were wounded. I have slides of two of those men that were wounded who came back to the United States in 1988.
"Karl Oakrugar was shot in the foot. Herbert Barkoff was also shot in the foot. They were invited back to help participate in activities in Salt Lake. They then went to Salina and held a meeting there at the high school. About 500 people attended.
"During the Salina meeting Herbert spoke about what the experience meant to him, coming back after all those years to the place where he had been wounded. This was a very moving experience. I became good friends with both of these gentlemen. They had many stories to tell about harvesting sugar beets at Salina.
"Karl and Herbert visited the Fort Douglas Cemetery, where the nine POWs are buried. There is at Fort Douglas a monument to another group of German prisoners. These were individuals who passed away while they were incarcerated during World War I.
"The CCC building in Salina was the Prisoner of War Headquarters for Salina in 1945. These POW men were shipped up from Arizona. They had been taken prisoner in North Africa in 1943.
"Private Clarence Bertucci, the guard who shot into the prisoner tents was from New Orleans. He joined the Army in 1940. He had spent time in England, but never spent time on the actual battle front. There are several rumors as to why he did the shooting, similar to what has happened in Afghanistan recently.
"One rumor is that Bertucci had lost a brother fighting for the American forces in Europe and this was an act of revenge. Checking with his mother in New Orleans she said he does not have a brother. One of the prisoners of war, suggested that maybe the reason he did this, was because he didn't want to be shipped off to Japan to fight at the end of the war there. The story that still circulates in Salina is that he had been drinking and informed the waitress at Mom's CafÃ©, something exciting was going to happen that night.
"July 8, 1945 Private Clarence Bertucci shot into the 43 prisoner tents wounding 19 and killing 9. That was more than 10 percent of the prisoners of war that were incarcerated at the camp.
"In the end Bertucci was found to be insane and was incarcerated in an insane asylum in New York where he died in 1969.
"After the shooting, the wounded prisoners were taken to the four room hospital in Salina. There was not enough room in the hospital for all of them. Some of them were put on stretchers on the lawn and cared for there.
"When Mr. Barkoff from Germany visited Salina in 1988 he had one request. He wanted to visit the cemetery where the doctor and the nurse, that cared for him and the other prisoners, were buried. He at that time put flowers on their graves," Powell said.
This is another fascinating part of Utah History.