Discovering POWs’ lives

Historian’s book gives details of 15,000 prisoners held in Missouri during WW II.
Sunday, January 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:51 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

Today the Sigma Phi Epsilon house on Kentucky Boulevard at UM is full of students. Sixty years ago it was full of prisoners of war.

During World War II, 15,000 Italian and German POWs were held in 30 camps in Missouri. Today, many people know nothing of this local lore.

David Fiedler, author of “The Enemy Among Us: POWs in Missouri During World War II,” will recount the history of these POWs at 2 p.m. today at the Boone County Historical Society.

“I am a lifelong Missourian, and I was astounded that I had never heard anything about it,” Fiedler said. He learned of the POWs at a military history museum at Fort Leonard Wood.

According to Fiedler, the life of a POW in a Missouri camp was relatively easy. Prisoners often worked on farms and enjoyed a fair amount of freedom. Many of them formed sports leagues, theater troupes and orchestras. They went to movies and attended Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Ninety of the POWs who lived in Boone County during the war stayed in what is now the Sigma Phi Epsilon house. After the war all of the prisoners were sent home, but a few of them chose to immigrate to the United States.

Fiedler’s speech will last for approximately 40 minutes, and he often spends time answering questions after his talks.

“He is an accomplished speaker and really knows his subject,” said Deborah Thompson, executive director at the Boone County Historical Society.

Fiedler graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with degrees in political science and German. He was a captain in the Army Reserves. Fiedler’s work has appeared in “Missouri Life” and “Missouri Conservationist.” He lives in Fenton.

“The Enemy Among Us” will be available for purchase today at the Historical Society.

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