“So Far From Home”

Photo:  Rosemary Hoyt [not related to Hoyt’s Drug Store] standing by Hearne City Limit sign in 1943.  Hearne’s “skyline” is in the distance over her right shoulder.

This article was a Literary Journalism assignment completed by Mrs. Hoyt’s grand-daughter while attending the University of Indiana.  The interviews of Rosemary Hoyt and Dr. Michael Waters, TAMU, were conducted in March of 2004.  Permission was granted by author to publish.

So Far From Home

“Lili Marleen,” a song about a girl who waits patiently for her soldier to return home, was picked up as an unofficial anthem by both Allied and German soldiers after the German Forces Radio began broadcasting it to the Afrika Korps in 1941.

Vor der Kaserne vor dem grossen Tor
Stand eine Laterne, und stebt noch davor,
So wolln wir uns da wiedersehn
Bei der Laterne wolln wir stehn,
Wie einst Lili Marleen, wie einst Lili Marleen.

It was June 1943 and Rosemary and John Hoyt [not related to Hoyt’s Drug Store] were living in Hearne, Texas.  Immediately after the wedding, Rosemary had moved to San Antonio where John was stationed, but then he got orders to report to a prisoner of war camp in Hearne, Texas.

“In the army, you know, when you got orders, you were to report at so and so place by a certain date and that’s where you would be,” Rosemary says.  So she and John went to Hearne – “a real little country cow town.”

At that time, the railroads were still running strong and Hearne was hopping with Army men and their wives, but at 21, after spending a year in San Antonio, Rosemary wasn’t much interested in the town.

“They had big cattle farms,” she says, “a little eating place, a bank and a post office, and that’s about it.  There was not much else there.”

The old man who owned the house where Rosemary and John were living, owned cattle and sometimes he’d take her with him to the cattle auctions.  But most of the time, when John went out to the base each day, she had nothing to do.

It wasn’t long before Rosemary got bored of sitting in their one-room apartment.  She began wandering around town during the day, and soon, she got tired of that too.  Texas was hot, humid and mostly empty.  Whereas San Antonio had been big and bustling – completely different from German village in Columbus, Ohio, where she’d grown up – Hearne was small and out of the way.  That’s probably why the prisoner of war camp was put in Hearne, she decided.

One day, when John went off to the base, Rosemary made up her mind to “hire a taxi cab to take me on out there.”  She figured the Army must need people to work at the base. Maybe they would need a typist.

When the taxi arrived, Rosemary marched down the gravel road, passed the guard at the gate and on into the camp.  To her right were barracks for the American officers stationed at Camp Hearne.  She and John could have gotten their living quarters there too, but none were available when they arrived.  Instead, they had to find their own place to live in town and all they could get was a single bedroom in someone else’s house.

 “We want your full name,” the Army officer said.

“Rosemary Schumacher Hoyt,” she answered.

“Are you German?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Do you understand the language?  Can you speak and understand German?” they asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Would you object to working in the hospital?  It’s inside the compound where all the prisoners are kept.  The prisoners all work in the hospital too,” they told her.

The hospital!  That’s where John works, she thought.

“No,” Rosemary answered, “I wouldn’t mind at all.”

The officers led her into the prisoner’s compound and then took a right down the gravel road.  Camp Hearne wasn’t a pretty place, by far, but then again it wasn’t made to be pretty – it was just for use until the war was over.  The compound was divided into three sections for the prisoners to live in (each with a mess hall, lavatory, company office and six barracks) and a section for the hospital.

To get to the hospital, she had to walk passed the prisoners’ barracks, 20-foot wide by 100-foot long buildings the Army called “war mobilization structures.”  They were made of wood and most just had black tar paper covering the outer walls, but the hospital buildings were a bit nicer and were covered with wooden siding painted white.

When Rosemary reached the hospital, she was escorted to Major Redwine, her husband John’s boss.  Well, he was everyone’s boss because he was the chief doctor in charge of the hospital, but Rosemary could tell he was a nice man and she liked him right away.  Major Redwine was older and he had served in the Army for years.  He was also a Texan, which might explain why he seemed right at home in the surroundings.

“You’ll do just fine,” Redwine told her and showed Rosemary to her new, little office.  Well, she hadn’t even had time to see the place when who comes walking down the hallway but John!  At first he walked right by, without even noticing, then he heard Rosemary talking and did an about face back into the Major’s office.

“What are you doing here?” John asked her.

Before she could answer, Major Redwine came out and said, “Lt. Hoyt, please do not bother my new secretary.”

Every morning after that when John went into the base for work, Rosemary went with him.  Rosemary didn’t know how much the Army would pay her as a typist, but she figured whatever she got would be more than she’d had before.

As far as she knew, Rosemary was the only woman working in the hospital – all the rest were men.  Well, she knew a few women worked in the business office outside of the compound, but she was the only one inside and the only way to get inside was to pass by the guards at the checkpoint.  “You see, the compound was a barbed-wire affair, with great big, high wire walls and guards in towers with guns,” Rosemary said.  The guards needed to know who you were and where you were going.  If you worked in the compound, the guards got to know you, but that just meant they knew exactly where you were supposed to be when.

Everyday, the guards went through Rosemary’s pocketbook, once going in and once again on the way out.  It didn’t seem to matter that Rosemary wasn’t an officer – the guards checked John too – but with about 4,700 prisoners to keep inside the compound, they were understandably cautious.

The guards told her once if they told her a thousand times not to carry anything in her pockets and to put just personal stuff in her purse.  Still, the day came when Rosemary tried to take in a couple of magazines.  Just magazines, she thought, but the guards told her she wasn’t to do that.  She wasn’t allowed to bring anything in or take anything out.  No papers, no magazines, no books – no nothing.  She didn’t really understand why, but they took her magazines anyway and wouldn’t give them back until she went out the gate that night.

Rosemary and John were still working at Camp Hearne at Christmas time, when the prisoners put up a Christmas tree.  It was all decorated, and Rosemary thought it was such a sad thing that on Christmas, the young German men were so far from home.  To her, the prisoners seemed very unhappy.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been so sad if she didn’t know them, but well, she couldn’t help but get to know them.  She could talk to them, couldn’t she?  The Army didn’t really want anyone working in the compound that couldn’t understand German.   Most of the prisoners didn’t speak or understand English – at all – and made no attempt to learn.  If you couldn’t speak German with them, you were just out of luck because they weren’t going to learn English.

This meant that John had to speak German too.  He’d really picked it up quickly when he joined the Army and by the time they were stationed at Camp Hearne, he was almost as fluent as Rosemary.  The Army had a class and, of course, he could get help from Rosemary.

Unsre beide Schatten sahn wie einer aus.
Dass wir so lieb uns hatten, das sah man gleich daraus
Un alle Leute solln es sehn,
Wenn wir bei der Laterne stehn,
Wie einst Lili Marleen, wie einst Lili Marleen.

Wolfgang Heineke was a prisoner and he worked in the hospital, in fact, sometimes he worked for Rosemary.  His job was just to be there to do whatever the hospital staff needed him to do.  If there was a hall to be swept, or if Rosemary wanted to send a message from Major Redwine over to another building, then Wolfgang was there to do it.

After a while, Rosemary got to know him.  Wolfgang was young, maybe only 18 or 19 years old and, of course, he was from Germany, with a wife and new baby waiting for him back home.  Wolfgang would often tell Rosemary how he unhappy he was – he wanted very much to go home and see his family again.

So it was that Rosemary got used to the German prisoners, one by one, day by day.  She figured they were just people like anyone else.  It’s not that she forgot the young men were prisoners – it’s just that they were so young.  Most of the prisoners she met were under 25 years of age.  A big group of them had all been picked up together in North Africa.

No, she knew they were prisoners.  There was no telling what they did when they were in the German Army.  Still, she believed the young men were probably put in that position by the German Army and, well, because bad things just happen in wars.  As far as she could tell, most of them were decent men and when prisoners like Wolfgang came in to Rosemary’s office, she knew it was important to be able communicate.

There was one day, Rosemary wanted her window up, but try as she might, she couldn’t get it open.  It was stuck.  The hospital didn’t have air-conditioning, nor did the other buildings in the camp.  Really, Rosemary felt lucky to have a window to open at all.

She decided the stuck window was a good job for Wolfgang.  She called and he came right over.

“Macht das Fenster auf,” she told him.

He said “Nein nein, Fenster auf gemacht.”

In other words, she had said it wrong, but she didn’t care.  Instead, she just motioned for him to put the window up – and that’s what exactly he did.

Schon rief der Posten: Sie blasen Zapfenstreich
Es kann drei Tage kosten! Kam’rad, ich komm ja gleich.
Da sagten wir auf Wiedersehn.
Wie gerne wollt ich mit dir gehn,
Mit dir Lili Marleen, mit dir Lili Marleen

 Camp Hearne was built right before Rosemary and John arrived in Hearne.  The camp’s first prisoners were captured in Tunisia in May 1943 from Rommel’s Afrika Korps.  During World War II, Texas had more than 50,000 prisoners in 70 different camps.  Of these, Camp Hearne was the third-largest POW-only camp in Texas.

The good thing about the camp was that it had just about everything the prisoners might need.  It had rows of wooden barracks, a post office, and a hospital – all inside the barrier.  The bad thing, for the prisoners anyway, was that they had to stay there until the war ended.

Inside the hospital was a “great big cafeteria,” with “long tables and chairs right after one another,” Rosemary says, “and everyone could sit wherever they wanted to sit.”  All the prisoners working in the hospital ate there, the officers ate there, and John and Rosemary ate there too.

“Course you know they had the German boys cooking and it was real good,” Rosemary says.  “It was all German food.  Those German boys could cook.”

Rosemary thought this was just great, not because it was German cooking – her favorite – but because it meant she didn’t have to cook.  She and John could take their meals there and lots of times, they ate breakfast, dinner and supper at the hospital.  Sometimes she felt like they practically lived at Camp Hearne.

The hospital was also good for more than just its mess hall.  It provided basic medical care for everyone in the camp.  If a prisoner got sick, he was put in a hospital bed with someone to look after him.  Every once in a while, one would come in with a severe illness or injury and the Army would have to send him to a bigger hospital somewhere.

John role was as a medical administrative officer for the hospital.  Rosemary didn’t exactly know what that meant – she just knew that he took care of hospital office business.  She also knew that Major Redwine was the doctor in charge and they had one or two other staff doctors.  The hospital even had a little emergency room.

Rosemary knew that last part first-hand because one day, she got sick and had to go to the emergency room.  The young man who ran it was a medical orderly named Fritz (Haus?).  Fritz was a little older than Wolfgang and he had medical experience.  Maybe he had been a medic in his troop, thought Rosemary, before he was captured.

He mixed up some medicine and gave it to Rosemary, and Rosemary didn’t even think about what she was taking.  She just gulped it down and thanked him.  Turns out the medicine worked fine, but she later realized he could have knocked her out with it if he’d wanted to.  She was sure glad he didn’t.

Deine Schritte kennt sie, deinen zieren Gang
Alle Abend brennt sie, mich vergass sie lanp
Und sollte mir ein Leids geschehn,
Wer wird bei der Laterne stehn,
Mit dir Lili Marleen, mit dir Lili Marleen?

Hearne was probably not even considered a big camp, but then again, Rosemary thought, it was hard to tell how many prisoners they had there.  From her perspective, everything at camp ran smoothly.

“But, I’m sure there was a lot I didn’t know,” she says.  “I know there was.  Well, that’s why they had these Army officers there that ran everything.  I’m sure they had problems with the prisoners, but I never knew.”

She got the feeling that most of the prisoners accepted the fact they would be at Camp Hearne until the war ended.  They had no choice – they just had to live there and make do.

What she maybe didn’t know was that Camp Hearne’s prisoners were divided into pro-Nazi and anti-Nazi supporters.  Although the Army tried to isolate the groups in separate sections, one prisoner was murdered when his fellow prisoners decided he might be a spy.  It was hard even for the Army to keep an eye on them all day, every day.

Prisoners did sometimes escape from Camp Hearne, but most didn’t make it too far.  One man got out and headed down the road towards Franklin, the next town over, “wearing civilian clothes over his camp uniform and heartily singing German army marching songs,” wrote Texas A&M Professor Arnold Krammer about the prisoner.  “He was gently returned to camp and for some reason could not understand how the local farmer who caught him had seen through his clever disguise.”

Sometimes Rosemary got a glimpse of trouble among the Army officers as well.  Her job was to type letters for Major Redwine and to take care of his books – to do whatever he wanted done.  One set of letters she typed was for a big investigation involving a Major who had shot himself in the head.  A man named Lt. Post headed up the inquiry and she got to read about it as she typed up the paperwork.  At first the Army thought the Major had been shot by a prisoner, but Lt. Post’s investigation showed that the officer had shot himself.  The Army sent the wounded officer away to a mental institution.

The camp, or at least the hospital, was fine, even pleasant most of the time, but there was an undercurrent of troubles surrounding the war.  Rosemary felt that something was always going on at Camp Hearne.  She thought that the Army watched the prisoners closely, but that sometimes it wasn’t close enough.

Mail was a big item for the prisoners because it brought them news from home, despite the fact that both the Americans and the Germans censored the letters and packages.  “One side blacked out words, and the other side cut them out,” former Camp Hearne POW Heino R. Ericksen said, “all that was usually left were greetings and personal information.”

Things went well enough with the mail system that in 1944, a few months after John and Rosemary left, Camp Hearne became a mail distribution point for all the German POWs in the United States.  Prisoners were put to work in the mailroom and a small group of pro-Nazi prisoners began using the system to terrorize other prisoners and their families back in Germany.  Eventually, the Army discovered the scheme and shut down the mailroom in July 1945.

In 1943 and ‘44, prisoners working at the camp were probably stationed in a shop repairing blankets and raincoats.  Some got a hold of enough raincoats to build a make-shift raft and tried to sail down a nearby river to Germany.  They didn’t get far before they were spotted and brought back to camp.  Seems that most of the prisoners didn’t really understand where they were in relation to Germany.

Other prisoners were given road and field work to do.  In the morning, local farmers took prisoners out of the camp in trucks to harvest cotton, onions and peanuts – stuff like that – then back into camp at the end of the day.  However, the vast majority of prisoners at Camp Hearne, around 80 percent, were non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who through the Geneva Convention, were not required to work.

These prisoners could spend the day playing soccer, practicing gymnastics or painting.  In fact, life at Camp Hearne was better than what many of the prisoners had left behind in Germany.  NCOs were paid about three dollars a week, unless they wanted to earn a bit more by taking a job in the camp like Fritz and Wolfgang.  Enlisted men earned around 80 cents a day for their labors.  Prisoners were paid in canteen coupons – enough to buy cigarettes at the end of each day.

When Rosemary and John left Camp Hearne in 1944, the prisoners gave Rosemary a large oil painting of a German landscape with a little house in it.  Unfortunately, over the decades, she’s lost it somewhere along the way.

For most of the German prisoners, the fight was no longer against the Allies, but against boredom.  Activities, classes and elaborate projects were developed to kept them entertained, and in later years, Camp Hearne had a prisoner’s theatre complete with an orchestra pit.  Several prisoners passed their time building gigantic, detailed water fountains that looked like German castles or made little ponds to keep goldfish and turtles.  It’s easy to see why townsfolk sometimes referred to the camp as the “Fritz Ritz.”

One prisoner of war, Wilhelm Sauterbrei, returned years later and was interviewed by a Houston reporter.  The reporter mentioned that as an NCO, he must have had it pretty easy.  Wilhelm replied, “I’ll tell you, pal.  If there is ever another war, get on the side that America isn’t, then get captured by the Americans – you’ll have it made!”

Aus dem stillen Raume, aus der Erde Grund
Hebt mich wie im Traume dein verliebter Mund.
Wenn sich die spaeten Nebel drehn,
Werd’ ich bei der Laterne stehn
Wie einst Lili Marleen, wie einst Lili Marleen

Most of the camp has been torn down now.  Only a few noticeable structures remain in an otherwise tree and bush-choked field.  After the war, people from Hearne moved several buildings from the site – one into town for a dentist office, and a couple more down the road for school buildings.  Nothing much else remains.

When Camp Hearne closed in 1947, the prisoners were eventually released back to Germany, some with a lay-over in England, but Rosemary and John were far away by then.  In 1944, John received orders to report to Indian Gap, Pennsylvania, and from there he went overseas.  Rosemary returned to her father’s house in Ohio until John returned from the war.  She kept in contact with Wolfgang for a year or two after the war was over and was glad to know he got back home safely to his wife and child.


2 thoughts on ““So Far From Home””

  1. I played there growering up . The things that they built while they where there . They worked on many of the farms in the area .

  2. Very interesting. I know time marches on, but it’s sad that Camp Hearne wasn’t kept in tact.
    Thanks for sharing this story/information.

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