World War II took the United States by storm on December 7, 1941. It was a true national effort. Everyone had to put forth their best, even if it was as simple as buying bonds. Crossville, as always, did its part. Cumberland County always met its quota in war loan drives, eight total were given.
Crossville sent a great many of its people to war. At least seventy-three were killed in action. But what is probably best known about Cumberland County’s involvement in World War II is the “Jap Camp”. Although it never actually held Japanese Soldiers. In 1942, the Chronicle reported that the government was giving the county 3 million dollars to build a prisoner of war camp. Congressman Albert Gore sent the news by telegram.
The camp went on to hold German and Italian prisoners of war, who of course did not get along. There were about 200 similar camps around the United States, eleven of those in Tennessee.
Camp Crossville is located about two miles south of U.S. 70. During the war it was surrounded by two barbed wire fences, 14 feet apart and 12 feet high. There were nine guard towers. Each tower held machine guns and searchlights. The camp was guarded by the Military Police. In November of 1942 a train from New York arrived in Crossville carrying 68 prisoners, the first to be held at Camp Crossville.
One man, Gerhard Hennes, was a prisoner there; he tells his story in his book, The Barbed Wire. He goes on to tell how well treated they were, until the Americans learned about what was really going on overseas. From that day on their treatment was very different, southern hospitality had left the camp.
Escapes were not unusual at Camp Crossville. As one story is told, three German escapees encountered Granny in the woods. She told them to “git” and when they didn’t, she began to fire. She shot one dead. When the police arrived, Granny cried, learning that she did not shoot “Yankees” but instead Germans.
Today we all know Camp Crossville as The Clyde M. York 4-H Center. It is one of the only remaining POW camps in Tennessee.
- Cumberland County, W. Calvin Dickenson
- The First Hundred Years, Bullard & Krechniak