Camp Opelika -- WWII POW camp
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Celebrating Opelika's Past

CAMP OPELIKA

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.

The 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 property lease.

The 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.


CampOpelika.jpg

Camp Opelika was a POW camp that could accommodate 3,000 or more prisoners during World War II.  The castle above was built by German prisoners about 1944.  This image appears more than once on this website.

powplate.jpg

The above image was received from Shelley Spallina.
I recently came across a wooden plate of my mother-in-laws that has an etching of a man stepping over the watch towers and barbed wire fence, Around the top of this wooden plate it states prisoner of war camp opelika, and on the bottom it says U.S.A. 1943-44.  It also has what I believe might be the artists signature under the mans foot. 

cigaretteboxii.jpg
Donated by Ray Huckaby

cigarettebox.jpg
Donated by Ray Huckaby

The above cigarette box was made by one of the German prisoners while he was at Camp Opleika.  He gave it to my uncle, and later my uncle gave it to me.  It has six sides.  It starts with, Opelika-1945-Deutsches (German)-Kriegs(War)-gefangenen(prisioner)-Lager(camp).
Ray Huckaby, Class of 1955.

Return to: Opelika History