WWII POW Camp
The Opelika Industrial Park on Marvyn Parkway
today is a bustling complex of both large and small industries.
A little over three decades ago, this site had a short-lived but bustling period of activity during
and immediately after World War II.
It was then called Camp Opelika, one of four prisoner-of-war camps constructed in Alabama to house prisoners captured
in the African and European battle areas as the tide turned in favor of the Allied armies.
Most older residents of the city still refer to the area
as the old PW Camp. There are many residents who at one time lived at the old PW camp after it was converted
into temporary housing for returning servicemen. Then in the 1950’s it was converted into an industrial
area with the old housing facilities gradually phased out.
The Opelika PW Camp was the second on to be established in the state. The first
one was at Aliceville. Later ones were at Fort McClellan and Fort Rucker.
The U.S. Government acquired land for the Opelika camp
near the southern limits of the city on Highway 37 (Marvyn Road). That area was chosen since it was scantily
populated. The land was acquired in 1942 from A.M. Williamson, H.L. Hall, W.S. Collins and F.J. Whatley,
all of Opelika.
contracting firm of Smith, Yetter & Co. of West Palm Beach, Fla., constructed the camp. Despite delays
caused by labor shortages and litigation over removal of electric power lines in the area, the firm virtually completed the
work by February 1, 1943.
The Opelika camp was designed to accommodate 3,000 or more prisoners and was officially activated on December 12, 1942.
Cost as reported in official army records showed it as $58,600 plus $18,000 for razing and clearing and $5,000 annual
first contingent of “several hundred” German prisoners arrived from North Africa via Boston the first week in
June, 1943. Residents of Opelika filled the streets to watch the prisoners as they came in by special train
and were transferred to the nearby PW camp.
Reports of the Opelika Daily News said that several of the prisoners informed them that their leaders
had told them New York City had been leveled by German bombs and the U.S. Navy destroyed by the Japanese and they were surprised
to find both the city and the navy still intact.
A total of 2,772 prisoners were interned at Camp Opelika by June 1, 1945.
The U.S. sought to establish camp libraries, study groups
and formal instruction programs in its PS camps. A report on Camp Opelika efforts in the educational field
indicated that 1,407 German prisoners received “graduation certificates” there. The classes
met a total of 1,885 times.