While World War II raged across the globe, Americans back on the homefront were heavily engaged in the war effort. There were training camps, military maneuvers, war bond events, and scrap drives. Rationing of food, rubber, and gasoline were necessary to fulfill military needs. World War II affected everyone personally and most did their part to support their country.
One of the most fascinating aspects of homefront life during WWII was the presence of prisoner of war camps in communities across America. There were hundreds of them, housing mostly German and Italian troops. The Japanese rarely allowed themselves to be taken prisoner. From June 1943 to June 1946, Camp Ruston served as one of more than 500 prisoner of war camps in the United States.
The camp was built by the local T.L. James Company on 770 acres about seven miles west of Ruston in 1942. From June 1943 to June 1946, the camp served as one of more than 500 prisoner of war camps in the United States. At its peak in October, 1943, the camp held 4,315 prisoners, making it one of the largest POW camps in America.
The first 300 men interned in Camp Ruston arrived in August 1943 from Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s elite Afrika Korps. Thousands of German captives followed after landing at east coast ports and traveling by train to the camp. French, Austrian, Italian, Czech, Polish, Yugoslav, Romanian, and Russian prisoners who had been conscripted into the German military were also housed at Camp Ruston.
In 1944, the captured officers and crew of the German submarine U-505 were sent to the camp and hidden in a restricted area to prevent them from communicating to the enemy that secret naval codes had fallen into Allied hands. They could not communicate with their families for the duration of the war.
During their incarceration in Camp Ruston, the prisoners benefited from food, medical care, and physical surroundings better than what their countrymen were experiencing at home. The prisoners engaged in athletic and crafts activities and were allowed to organize an orchestra, a theater, and a library. Some took courses through American universities.
Prisoners who were enlisted men were required to work at the camp or for local farms and businesses. They picked cotton, felled timber, built roads, and performed other tasks to help solve the domestic labor shortage caused by the war. They were paid in scrip for use in the camp canteen to purchase cigarettes, soft drinks, writing paper, and even beer.
The camp closed in June 1946 after the last prisoners were removed. Very little of the camp remains today. Four dilapidated buildings exist on what is today the West Campus of Grambling State University on LA Highway 150 west of Grambling. The portion of the camp where prisoner compounds were located is just north of West Campus. Owned by Louisiana Tech University, the former prisoner area is now used for beef and hay production.
Tags: History | Museums
The Louisiana Tech Library maintains a huge collection of Camp Ruston items including documents, photographs, uniforms, and artifacts. The Special Collections floor is open in Wyly Tower Monday-Friday when the university is in session. Call 318-257-2935 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on operating hours and tours. Click here for a look into Special Collections, Manuscripts, and Archives.