BY SARAH LANGSDON
World War II created an unique problem for the United States. The country had to deal with quartering, maintenance, and utilization of enemy prisoners of war as well as the lack of labor homeside to deal with the expanding military installations and agricultural needs. Ogden was in a position of needing cheap labor and having a military installation that could house prisoners of war. In 1943, the first prisoners of war arrived at Camp Ogden, built on the north end of the Defense Depot Ogden.
The camp was constructed from November, 1942 to January 22, 1943, and consisted of a cold storage plant, warehouses, station hospital, compound number one, and an athletic field. Later, in 1943, camp headquarters, theaters, recreational hall, fire station, compound number two, and military and civilian housing were also built. The first group of 1,030 Italian prisoners arrived from New York on April 9, 1943, with more added throughout the year, until there were 4,657 prisoners interned.
The prisoners arrived and were given exams, processed, and then given supplies, such as clothing. The uniform was dyed dark blue and had P.W. painted on the back, arm sleeves, and pant legs. This was to make sure they were not mistaken for the American uniform. The prisoners were divided into 16 companies of 250 men each.
The prisoners were allowed recreation and religious services. The recreational halls were used, and 1,300 could attend service at one time. The Italian prisoners maintained both a band and an orchestra. The band had twenty-eight musicians and gave concerts once a week with instruments donated by the Catholic Church. They also used the athletic fields to host weekly soccer matches between companies.
With the county wide shortage of laborers, the prisoners were employed to work in warehouses at the depot, canning factories, and farms. Many of the men were employed and provided basic needs for the incoming prisoners, such as dyeing uniforms, fixing shoes, and tailoring clothes. The workers repaired over 4,000 pairs of trousers, 700 jackets, 550 shirts, and 200 mattresses in just under a year. There was a camp garden that provided produce, not only for the prisoners, but which was also sent to Bushnell Hospital and Hill Field. During the harvest season, the garden yielded over $10,000 worth of produce.
Once Italy surrendered in September 1943, the Italian prisoners were organized into Italian Service Units. They were still considered prisoners of war but had increased freedoms. They were allowed visitors in camp and could attend church, picnics, museums, and other places of interest when accompanied by American officers. This led to an increase of fraternization between the Italian men and American women who both worked at the depot and attended events such as dances at St. Joseph’s church.
With the positive experience housing Italian prisoners, Camp Ogden also became home to German prisoners as well. It was the only camp in the United States that utilized both at the same time. There was a need for additional manpower as the Italian Service Units were moved to other occupations at the depot. The first Germans arrived in 1944, with a total of 2950 coming over the next year. The prisoners continued to work as well as receive training in the English language and on-the-job training such as fork-lift operations.
The camp remained open until 1946, when all the prisoners were shipped out to the east coast for their return home. Over the years, many Italians returned to Ogden and made a life in Utah. There were also some Germans who came back and had had fond memories of being treated well and the beauty of the area.