History is generally taught in terms of placing events in a timeline. A particular event occurred on such-and-such date, and the course of humankind is diverted to one direction or another. While this is fine when studying the course of history in general, unaddressed are the men and women whose lives are inevitably changed in the process. That is where the real history lies, in the individual stories.
During World War II, Great Britain would have seemed to be the logical place to house European prisoners, simply due to its proximity to the battlefield. The problem with housing POWs there, however, was the ease with which those prisoners could have easily been armed again. A flight of bombers loaded with small arms could fly over a camp one evening, drop those weapons to men below who could quickly overpower their captors, and all of a sudden Great Britain would have been invaded from within. Housing POWs there was an easy answer, but not the wise one.
When the U.S. entered the war in 1941, it became the best place to house prisoners. Thousands of miles away from the front lines, it was the furthest away and separated from belligerents by oceans on both sides. Over the course of the war, over 400,000 prisoners of war were held in nearly all 50 states, and the treatment they received here was usually better than their American counterparts could expect abroad. These prisoners often worked in the same areas as American civilians, and in some cases, side by side. Interesting, however, is the fact that many people don’t know this little tidbit of American history. It’s just not mentioned, not out of shame, but more due to its insignificance when considered with all the other facets of the war and the times. Additionally, the people who were adults at the time, or nearing adulthood, are now gone. With them go the individual stories, the stories of people who kept and were kept.
This is one of those stories. Seventeen year old Markus Goethe, a young German soldier, finds his life forever changed after D-Day.
Targeted Age Group:: This book is for all ages.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
“I wrote ‘The Ship to Shawano’ because I found the whole story of POW camps in the U.S. intriguing. I would dare say that most Americans have no idea these camps existed, and even fewer realize that they probably live within a couple hundred miles of where one of these camps were.”
“Writer Erika Armstrong recently wrote,’…enemies are often in that position by circumstances.’ I tried to demonstrate that very concept in the story.”
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The characters were all loosely-based upon people I’ve encountered throughout my life. Rather than choosing individuals and simply changing the names, I chose to select certain characteristics of people, and combined them to make each character unique.
The subject of the book, Markus, is roughly the same age as a member of my family, and I tried to envision how he would react and behave if placed in the situations Markus faced.
“A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails, and then asks you not to kill him.”
Markus closed his eyes and let the wind wash over his face. It was his first time on deck today, and the fresh air and warmth of the sun wakened his senses. He reached skyward and stretched every muscle he could, bringing the sensation of movement to each limb. As he stretched, his left leg reminded him that things were not quite back to normal. He immediately lowered his head and focused his attention on his aching thigh. He traced the outline of the bandage as though he could magically make things well again. It was better, though. Much better than it had been.
While the rest of the men around him participated in calisthenics, he sat and stared at the endless ocean. It had seemed to be an endless journey, this trip across the sea. He had never been on a ship before, and while this one was not particularly large, it seemed gigantic in his eyes. The irony of being aboard what was known as a “Liberty Ship” by the people who funded, built, and now employed the vessel was lost on him.
The thrumming of the ship’s engine was constant, and though he had grown used to it, he anticipated the time when it was no longer present. He didn’t know what else that time might bring, but at least it should bring some quiet. He supposed that for some it simply faded into the background and maybe was no longer heard, but for him, it served as a constant reminder.
Not long ago he was with the men in his unit, fighting to repel the invading force they had been told wouldn’t come, and if they did, they would never stand a chance against the troops of the 709th Static Infantry Division. From the Führer down it had been said that the strength of the German army could repel any force. There may be losses along the way, but in the end the Reich would prevail. That was really the only message that Markus had ever heard.
He was injured while his unit was fighting a delaying action, their duty being to stall the enemy as the Germans left Cherbourg. A bullet had gone through his thigh, and his fighting days came to an end. He felt pain, naturally, but he also felt disappointment that he would no longer be able to help the comrades with whom he fought. Mostly, though, he felt scared.
After he was shot he was quickly captured and transported to a makeshift holding camp for the injured. Captives not in need of medical attention were housed in the Cherbourg jail. One by one they were each identified and interrogated. The Americans had hoped to gather at least some actionable intelligence, but knew that wasn’t terribly likely. At the least they might be able to identify any Nazi fanatics and keep a closer watch on them.
Markus was in the camp for two weeks. He received medical care and his leg, though still very stiff and sore, was getting better. The pain was nowhere nearly as bad as it had been. On his fifteenth day as a captive he was transported with the other prisoners to a large gray ship in the English Channel. He and his fellow captives assumed they were now headed to England, but after the first day at sea they knew they were headed somewhere else. America was the logical destination.
About the Author:
M.W. Tyrrell was born in Spencer, Iowa, and has spent the majority of his career in banking and finance. A lover of history and flying, he is a perennial student pilot with hopes of one day getting his ticket punched and flying coast to coast.
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