Abbeville resident remembers walking 10 miles to see German prison camp in Acadiana

During World War II, the government needed a place to keep 425,000 German prisoners. Louisiana was one of 46 states that housed the prisoners during the war. There were more than 25 prisoner of war camps in the state; one Abbeville residents remembers walking 10 miles to see the German prisoners when he was young.

Edward Reed, who now lives in Abbeville, grew up near Iowa, La. When he and his friends were 12 years old in Iowa, it was not uncommon for them to walk the 10 miles from their house to check on the Germans.

His friends would walk along what is now La. 165, which was a dirt road, to visit the camp. Along the way, they would kill snakes and mess around during their walk.

“We would go see them, but we never talked to them,” said Reed. “We would go just to see them, and that was it. Walking is what we did when we were young. We walked to our favorite fishing and swimming hole. It was nothing to walk.”

Reed said he remembers the camp thanks to a photo he found in his parents’ photo album years later. He is unsure who took the photo but cherishes it today.

POW camps were common in Acadiana during the war. There were camps in the small towns like Iowa, along with towns like St. Martinville, Rayne, Marksville, Youngsville, Franklin and Eunice.

In Vermilion Parish the camps were in the Kaplan Gueydan area.

Gen. Bob LeBlanc, who is 91, remembers the POW Camp in Kaplan. He said he remembers returning from the war and hearing that a female friend was dating the American soldier who was in charge of overseeing the camp.

“I don’t remember much,” LeBlanc said.

The living arrangements for the prisoners were not all that bad. The camps were surrounded by barbed wire and there was a watchtower. The Geneva Convention required the United State provide living quarters for the Germans like its own military. The required measurements were 40 square feet for every enlisted man and 120 square feet for every officer.

The Geneva Convention’s mandate of equal treatment for prisoners also meant that they were paid American military wages. They could work on farms or elsewhere only if they were also paid for their labor, and officers could not be compelled to work. As the United States sent millions of soldiers overseas, the resulting shortage of labor eventually meant that German POWs worked toward the Allied war effort by helping out in canneries, mills, farms and other places deemed a minimal security risk. Prisoners could not be used in work directly related to the military work, or in dangerous conditions. The minimum pay for enlisted soldiers was $0.80 a day, roughly equivalent to the pay of an American private.

When the war ended, many Germans stayed in the Acadiana area and never went back home.

The POW Camps in Louisiana (Acadiana area) during World War II included:

•Eunice, Acadia and St. Landry parishes, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

•Franklin, St. Mary Parish, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

•Gueydan, Vermilion Parish, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

•Iowa, Calcasieu Parish, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

•Jeanerette, Iberia Parish, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

•Jennings, Jefferson Davis Parish, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

•Jonesville, Catahoula Parish, LA (branch camp under Livingston, LA)

•Kaplan, Vermilion Parish, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

•Lake Charles Army Air Field, Calcasieu Parish, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

•Marksville, Avoyelles Parish, LA (branch camp under Livingston, LA)

•McCain’s Gin, Lincoln County, LA (branch camp under Ruston, LA)

•Melville, St. Landry Parish, LA (branch camp under Livingston, LA)

•Rayne, Acadia Parish, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

•St. Martinville, St. Martin Parish, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

•Sulphur, Calcasieu Parish, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

•Thibodeaux, Lafourche Parish, LA (branch camp under Livingston, LA)

••Youngsville, Lafayette Parish, LA (branch camp under Polk, LA)

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