07 July, 2012

07 July 1945

No letter today. Just this:


about the Utah POW Massacre

During WWII, over 15,000 prisoners of war were sent to Utah out of the over 425,000 prisoners of war in the United States. About 7000 of these men were Italians while about 8000 were Germans.

Beginning in World War I, camps in Utah were frequently used to house German nationals and prisoners of war. With the 38th Infantry located at Fort Douglas near Salt Lake City, Utah's location seemed ideal for housing German prisoners of war (POWs) following the United States' entry into World War II. Hundreds of German prisoners were held in the camps during the course of the war and often housed in tents due to the limited space available. Guarding the prisoners was not a popular duty for the soldiers stationed at the camps. Due to low morale and the general poor quality of training that the guards were provided, discipline was a continuing problem. According to one well-known history of the Utah prison camps, many of the guards were described as being
of low mentality, non-intellectual, (who) could neither understand nor see the reason for the Geneva Convention. Many drank and went AWOL. They read comic books rather than listening to news. They liked to think of themselves as heroes, their one desire being "to shoot a Kraut".
While guards with more military experience and better training became common towards the end of the war, numerous guards with disciplinary problems still remained.

Clarence Bertucci was definitely one of them.

Born in New Orleans in 1921, Bertucci was a sixth-grade dropout who enlisted in the army in 1940. Despite his long service in the military, he seemed incapable of being promoted beyond the rank of private and was a frequent discipline problem. He never served overseas except for an eight-month stint with an artillery unit in England and, like many other problem cases, was eventually transferred to Fort Douglas to serve as a guard. Despite his pathological hatred of Germans, he seemed to manage his duties well enough. According to later testimony, Bertucci had reportedly felt "cheated" due to being unable to serve in combat. He was also quoted as saying, "Someday I will get my Germans; I will get my turn." If he was upset by the news of the war's end and that the prisoners he had been guarding would soon be going home, he kept it to himself.

It should have been a routine night at the temporary prisoner of war camp that had been set up at the end of Main Street in Salina, Utah. Two months following Germany's formal surrender on May 7, 1945, the 250 German prisoners of war who were still housed at the camp were waiting to be repatriated to their homes. When Bertucci went out drinking on the evening of 7 July 1945, he showed no indication of what he was planning. According to the waitresses at his favorite bar, he simply told them that "something exciting" would happen that night and then he went back to the fort to begin his shift.

A cooling breeze rustled through the tents and the dusty town. At midnight Private Bertucci climbed a tower, relieving the guard. Below him lay the silent tent-city whose occupants, next morning, would be out in the fields, thinning beets. A .30-caliber machine gun pointed into the sky. Private Bertucci picked up a belt of cartridges and carefully threaded it into the gun. He had never been in action, but he knew how to work a machine gun. He lowered the muzzle and, aiming carefully, pulled the trigger. Methodically he swept the 43 tents, from left to right and back again. Screams and strangled shouts came from the tents. Above the screams, Private Bertucci heard an officer shouting at him. A corporal panted up to take Bertucci off the tower.

After Bertucci was taken into custody, he was completely unrepentant about what he had done. As far as he was concerned, the killings were justified because the victims were German. Following his placement in a local hospital for a psychiatric assessment, the military was forced to deal with the political fallout. The killing of nine prisoners by a U.S. soldier was a public relations disaster during what should have been a time of celebration. Ninth Service Command officers admitted that Bertucci's record already showed two courts-martial, one in England. His own calm explanation seemed a little too simple: he had hated Germans, so he had killed Germans. Despite the absence of any real evidence of mental impairment, Clarence Bertucci was declared insane by a military panel and sent to a New York mental hospital. There is little information available on what happened to him afterward or how long he spent in hospital. He died in 1969.

His nine murder victims, ranging in age from 24 to 48, were buried at Fort Douglas Cemetery. Dressed in U.S. military khaki uniforms, they were buried with military honors. Only their common death date and and the inscription on their tombstones distinguish their graves from all the others in the military cemetery. Twenty more German POWs were treated for wounds. These injured soldiers were repatriated once they were declared medically fit for travel. Bertucci's rampage marked a sad end to the otherwise successful internment of hundreds of thousands of enemy soldiers in U.S. territory during World War II and is still remembered as the worst massacre at a POW camp in U.S. history.

One of those killed in the massacre

On Memorial Day, 30 May 1933, a memorial had been erected by the German-Americans of the United States of America in cooperation with the American Legion of the State of Utah. It had been dedicated in memory of the men who had died while interned at Fort Douglas during World War I. In 1988, the German Air Force and the German War Graves Commission funded the refurbishment of the memorial statue at Fort Douglas Cemetery. A moving ceremony was held on the third Sunday in November (the German national day of mourning) and the statue was re-dedicated in honor of all the deceased prisoners as well as all victims of despotic governments around the world.

Memorial to German Prisoners of War who did not make it home
Fort Douglas, Salt Lake City, Utah

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