No longer foes – friends honor the fallen

In a quiet, forested section of what was once Fort McClellan in Anniston, Ala., former adversaries, once intent on each other’s destruction, gather on hallowed ground to honor WWII soldiers who never went home.

During the war, approximately 435,000 enemy combatants were transported to the United States for internment. Fort McClellan, which closed in 1999, was the site of a large Prisoner of War (POW) camp built to accommodate up to 3,500 prisoners. The camp was opened in 1943 and closed after the war in 1946. The first prisoners were from the famous “Deutsches Afrika Korps” under German Gen. (later Field Marshal) Erwin Rommel and were captured in North Africa in 1943.

The last prisoner in the camp was returned home by 1946; the camp was closed and quickly demolished. The most prominent historical reminder of the camp is the German-Italian Enemy Prisoner of War (EPW) Cemetery.

As the hub for smaller satellite camps in the region, the POW camp at Fort McClellan was the last to close in the southern U.S. after the war. Four German POWs died while interned at Fort McClellan. After the war, the remains of other prisoners, which had been buried in satellite camps, were relocated to the POW cemetery at Fort McClellan. In accordance with military tradition, when these soldiers were buried they were given the same rights as an American soldier, including funeral honors and standard headstones.

The POW Memorial Ceremony, which remembers these fallen soldiers, has been held at McClellan each year for more than four decades. Once conducted by the U.S. Army, local civilians assumed the responsibility of the annual event after Fort McClellan closed, upholding the traditional format established by the military. In 2022, American Legion Post 111 stepped up to assist with military honors at the annual services.

While there are other German and Italian POWs buried in the U.S. this cemetery is unique. It is believed to be the only stand-alone POW cemetery in America. The annual memorial service is the only one of its kind that has continuously honored interred POWs in this manner. The next Annual Prisoner-of-War Memorial Ceremony will be held on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, at 1:30 p.m. at the German Italian Memorial Cemetery in Anniston. The cemetery is located at 3541 Shipley Rd.

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