Construction and WAC use
Camp Ruston was built by the local T.L. James Company under the supervision of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on 770 acres (3.1 km2) about seven miles (11 km) west of Ruston, Louisiana in 1942. The land was purchased for $24,200, and construction cost $2.5 million.
The camp served first as a training center for the Fifth Women’s Army Corps from March to June 1943. Approximately 2,000 WACs received basic training at the camp. Once prisoners were shipped to Camp Ruston, the WAC training center was shut down.
Ruston P. O. W. Camp Buildings
|Nearest city||Ruston, Louisiana|
|Coordinates||32°32′0″N 92°44′30″W / 32.53333°N 92.74167°WCoordinates: 32°32′0″N 92°44′30″W / 32.53333°N 92.74167°W|
|Area||less than one acre|
|Architect||Department of War|
|NRHP Reference #|
|Added to NRHP||December 13, 1991|
From June 1943 to June 1946, the camp served as one of more than 500 prisoner of war camps in the United States. The first 300 men, from Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s elite Afrika Korps, arrived in August 1943. In 1944, the captured officers and crew of U-505 were sent to the camp and kept in isolation in a restricted area in order to prevent them from communicating to the enemy that secret German naval codes had fallen into Allied hands.
During 1944, French, Austrian, Italian, Czech, Polish, Yugoslav, Romanian, and Russian prisoners were also housed in the camp. During their incarceration in Camp Ruston, the prisoners benefited from food, medical care, and physical surroundings which were better than what their countrymen were experiencing at home. They were permitted to engage in athletic and craft activities and allowed to organize an orchestra, a theater, and a library.
Those prisoners who were enlisted men were required to work at the camp and for farms and businesses across north Louisiana. 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 which they could use in the camp canteen.
In 1944, the War Department began a program to educate prisoners of war throughout the United States in academic subjects and democratic values. One source of books was the library of Louisiana Polytechnic Institute (now Louisiana Tech University). Some prisoners even took correspondence courses from major American universities.
Only 34 prisoners escaped and remained free for over 24 hours, and only one was never recaptured. At least nine prisoners died at Camp Ruston. These resulted from previous wounds and illnesses, or, in one case, from an attack by other prisoners.
The last prisoners left Camp Ruston in February 1946 for repatriation to native countries. From 1947 to 1958, the site served as a state tuberculosis sanatorium, and in 1959, it became the Ruston Developmental Center, a facility for the mentally disabled. Much of the area once populated by prisoner barracks is now part of a livestock facility for Louisiana Tech University.
Most of the prisoners had established amicable relationships with the American personnel at the camp and with the local people for whom they worked. Former prisoners who returned to Ruston in 1984 to join local residents in a 40th anniversary reunion and in 1995 for the Camp Ruston Symposium confirmed the friendships they had made in Ruston during the war.
Camp Ruston documentation project
In the 1990s, increased efforts were undertaken to preserve the history of Camp Ruston. In 1992, the camp’s remaining buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and, in 1994, Louisiana Tech University and the Ruston Developmental Center began the Camp Ruston Documentation Project to collect historical materials concerning Camp Ruston.
During 1994-95, several events and activities were held which brought attention to Camp Ruston. These included an archaeological survey of the Camp Ruston site, a symposium, talks to regional historical organizations and to school children, appearances on local television, exhibits, slide presentations, and provision of material for a taped segment on Camp Ruston for the LPB-TV program “Louisiana: The State We’re In.”
In 2007, a new documentary was produced for LPB on Camp Ruston. The program featured archival film and photographs as well as reenactments of events in the camp.
The records and physical artifacts related to Camp Ruston continue to grow in the archives maintained by the Special Collections Department at Louisiana Tech University.
The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, where the U-505 is displayed, also has records related to the U-505 crew and their internment in Camp Ruston.
Prominent former POWs
Many of the German soldiers interned at Camp Ruston had other occupations prior to the war—doctors, professors, writers. Among those to achieve notoriety after the war were:
Heinz Lettau - Luftwaffe [Air Force] major during the war, Lettau emigrated to the U.S. and became one of America's preeminent meteorologists and a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin.
Alfred Andersch - an Army soldier who deserted to U.S. forces in Italy, Andersch became Germany's controversial modern novelist.
Hans Goebeler - perhaps the most well-known member of the U-505 crew, Goebeler emigrated to the U.S. after the war. He was a fixture at U-boat events and war memorabilia shows. Goebeler recorded his experiences on the U-505 crew and in Camp Ruston in Steel Boats, Iron Hearts: A U-boat Crewman's Life Aboard U-505 [Savas Beatie LLC, 2004].
Movies and books
Playing with the Enemy, published by Savas Beatie, is the story of Gene Moore, a young baseball prodigy drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers. His career is interrupted by World War II and he is assigned to a U.S. Navy baseball team playing exhibition games to entertain the troops in North Africa. After D-Day, his team is sent to Virginia where the U-505 crew has arrived from Bermuda. The navy baseball team secretly escorts the submarine crew to Camp Ruston. Moore and his teammates teach the submariners to play baseball. A major motion picture by the same name was under production and was scheduled for release in Fall 2009. The film would have starred Jack Nicholson, Gary Sinise and other well-known actors.
Savas Beatie plans to publish a book in 2010 on the U-505 crew's internment at Camp Ruston, coinciding with the release of the movie Playing with the Enemy.
- Camp Ruston Collection. Special Collections Department. Prescott Memorial Library, Louisiana Tech University.
- Harris, Wesley (2006). Fish Out of Water: Nazi Submariners as Prisoners of War in North Louisiana During WWII. RoughEdge Publications. ISBN 9780966688924
- Moore, Gary. (2006). Playing with the Enemy. Savas Beatie. ISBN 1932714243
- Otts, Daniel Oscar. (1971). A Historical Study of the Ruston Prisoner of War Camp. Thesis. Monroe, LA: Northeast Louisiana University.
- Schott, Matthew J. (1981). Bayou stalags : German prisoners of war in Louisiana. Lafayette, LA: University of Southwestern Louisiana.
- National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Harris, Wesley L. Fish Out of Water: Nazi Submariners As Prisoners in North Louisiana During World War II. Ruston, LA: RoughEdge Publications, 2004. ISBN 9780966688924
- Louisiana Tech University, Department of Special Collections, Manuscripts, and Archives
- Camp Ruston Digital Archive, LOUISiana Digital Library