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Hopkinton Welcomes Military Prison Museum Bus

An old bus remembers younger times in history, when European POWs lived in the United States.

The bus carrying a museum memorializing World War II prisoners held in the United States is an old schoolbus painted military green and rusted across the back.

An aging big-screen television is held in place with what looks to be salvage wood wedging it into a corner and a bungee cord to keep it from toppling.

The stories the screen tells are of boys. Boys brought to this country as prisoners. Boys who earned art supplies, formed musical bands, staged plays and - considering their forced separation from all that they loved - lived well.

But the only ones left who remember the German-prisoner boys in Iowa from that time are their sons and daughters, and their Midwest hosts' sons and daughters, now old themselves.

Those who visited the museum in Hopkinton Friday to salute those events and times were well past school-age too.

They have aged better than the bus. But there was not a one who seemed surprised or dismayed at the exhibit's exhaustion. They were glad it was parked next to Hopkinton Green, glad to be able to see it.

A lifelong Hopkinton resident so modest he insists his name not be used remembered herding Italian prisoners off a ship in Boston Harbor "with my little" he mimes motioning the prisoners along with his rifle.

He was in the Coast Guard. "Don't write my name," he said. "I didn't do much.

"There's a group in this town who did a lot ... those Iwo Jima guys."

It is hard to think of this man as the boy he must have been in 1944.

In the context of the bus, it is hard to see the Italian and German boys who were imprisoned in the United States as boys. You see from their faces that few had ever used a razor, but they are museum pieces. They are in their 90s now or dead.

Prisoner Thomas Kaib is among the dead, but his memory is vividly alive in Algora, Iowa. In December 1944, a lonely youth away from home, he started to carve a scene of waist-high figures for Christmas 1945. It opens free - at his inisistence - to the public every Christmas season to this day.

The pictures and repeating DVD tell one story of war prisoners in our country. The clubhouse of the Wildwood Golf Club in Charles City, Iowa, the last prison barracks building standing, tells another.

And the bus? There is its intent, and its secret. Its intent was set by Michael Luick-Thrams, a midwestern Quaker who wanted to tell of the relationships between the prisoners and the people who lived around their camps. 

Luick-Thrams, a young man, began at the turn this century to gather memories and evidence before it was gone.

A half-century after the war's end when the  DVD was made, Luick=Thrams sums up his research this way: we have no enemies, only friends we haven't met.

But the secret message, the unintended side-effect, is decency.

Luick-Thrams showed decency by recognizing these events and creating the Traces Center for History and Culture.  

Irving Kellman shows decency by nursing the aging museum across the country and bringing towns like Hopkinton the chance to look history in the eye.

And most importantly, the bus shows the decency that Americans showed to the prisoners.

Even the idealistic Luick-Thrams knows that decency wasn't entirely altruistic, but was so the Germans would treat captured Americans well.

But it worked. And it reminds us that decency, whether carried in an old, rolling museum, in altruism, or self-interest, is the American way.

More on the prison camps in Massachusetts, including Cushing General Hospital in Framingham which used prisoners as staff, can be found at www.denkmalprojekt.org.

Anabell Jones December 12, 2012 at 07:21 PM
That is so kewl, nice to see people turning classic vintage things into something educational. Always have to do the best for our vets http://www.airsplat.com/government-airsoft.htm lol That rhymes. Anyways, nice to see people taking their time to do things for people who took YEARS out of their time for us.

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