“Whittling” as an Art Form

Among the many activities offered to prisoners of war during their internment at camps across the country, woodcarving was a notable pastime. At Camp Hearne, we have been privileged to receive several woodcarving projects, or what some might call “whittling,” created by prisoners and generously donated to our exhibit.

These carvings vary greatly in terms of detail and craftsmanship; some are intricate masterpieces, while others are more modest in their execution. However, each of these works of art represents a prisoner’s earnest endeavor to occupy their time and make the most of their confined space. Beyond their intrinsic artistic value, these carvings held an additional significance as they became a form of currency within the camp. Prisoners would offer their creations to guards they considered friends or trade them for coveted items like cigarettes, coffee, soap, and other necessities.

Recently, we had the privilege of receiving a remarkable woodcarving project, a hexagonal box, as a donation to the Camp Hearne Exhibit. This unique artifact was generously contributed by Catherine Mottet from Lubbock, Texas.
Catherine’s uncle had served as a guard stationed in Texas during WWII. Before leaving the state, he contacted his niece in Dayton, Ohio, to inquire about any mementos she might want from Texas. She requested a pair of cowboy boots. However, as time passed, she expressed curiosity about whether he might possess one of the inlaid boxes crafted by the camp’s prisoners. He informed her that he had, in fact, held onto a hexagonal box created by a German POW.

For years, Catherine took great care in preserving this distinctive piece of artwork, and she eventually decided that it deserved a place in a museum. We are incredibly fortunate that she chose Camp Hearne as the final home for this historically significant and visually captivating creation.

World War Two Bomber visits Hearne, TX

submitted by Everett Gibson

The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is a four-engine heavy bomber developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC).  Relatively fast and high-flying for a bomber of its era, the B-17 was used primarily in the European Theater of Operations.  The B-17 and many other WWII aircraft were repurposed after the war and continued to fly for many years before these warbirds were retired. 

In 1967, an American Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-17G-95-DL built by Douglas-Long Beach, was purchased by the Commemorative Air Force’s Gulf Coast Wing “Texas Raiders” group, which maintained and flew the aircraft out of Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport in Conroe, Texas.   

Earlier this month, a military aviation enthusiast shared a special story about this magnificent warbird and Hearne’s small municipal airport.  But, we need a little history of the air field before we get to Everett Gibson’s story. 

Kent Brunette, a local historian, writes: “[The] Hearne Air Field was constructed as an auxiliary landing field for the Bryan Air Force Base (BAFB).  A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project built to exacting military specifications, Brown & Root began construction on Hearne Air Field on August 7, 1952.  Hearne Air Field was finished by March 1, 1954.  Formal dedication ceremonies were held on May 13, 1954.”  A true product of the Cold War era.

A Hearne Democrat newspaper article at the time reads: “Constructed chiefly to provide a practice area for students learning landings and take-offs, the asphaltic concrete strip of the auxiliary field provides an alternate strip in the area should the jet runways on the Bryan base be restricted for any reason.  During flying hours, Hearne Air Field will accommodate a constant stream of T-33 jet trainers under the direction of a mobile tower.  Accompanying the mobile unit will be BAFB ambulance and crash crews.”  The BAFB and its auxiliary fields were decommissioned in May 1961 and deeded to TAMU and City of Hearne.

Today, Hearne Municipal Airport has an FAA-approved, 4,000-foot improved lighted runway with over-runs of 1,000 feet on its north and 2,200 feet on its south.  The original 33-inch thick concrete- and steel-reinforced base of the initial 7200 ft runway makes it a perfect emergency alternative for landing runway if needed since it can handle the weight of large aircraft.   Just such an emergency arose and the Hearne Airport was ready to serve again.  We thank Everett Gibson for sharing this story.

“During the Spring of 1990’s the Commemorative Air Force’s B-17 Flying Fortress made an unscheduled stop at the World War 2[1] Hearne airport.  “Texas Raiders” was on a mission from Ellington Airport, Houston, TX to Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, TX when unexpected bad weather forced the aircraft to land at the Hearne Airport.  The aircraft encountered the edge of a weather system moving across Texas.  The crew of the bomber decided the proper thing to do was to get the aircraft on the ground and let the storm pass over.  We noted our location and saw the Hearne Airport available as a safe location to be for the storm to pass over.   We made a pass over the small airport and noted it appeared safe for the four-engine bomber to land on the runway.  We landed and taxied to a safe area.   The storm continued to build darker and moved over the airport with wind and rain during a 10-minute period.   After the rain, we noted what a quiet and peaceful location we had chosen to stop at.  The Texas Blue Bonnets and Indian Paint Brushes were everywhere around the airport.  The attached photograph shows the beauty of “Texas Raiders” along with the wild flowers at the Hearne airport during a brief interlude of time.  Thank you, Hearne, for providing our airplane and crew a safe haven to stop at.”  

Story submitted by Everett Gibson

Some 30 years after its brief visit, the “Texas Raiders” B-17 flew the skies one last time.  The aircraft was destroyed on November 12, 2022, in a mid-air collision with a P-63 Kingcobra at an air show at Dallas Executive Airport, Texas.  All five occupants and the P-63 pilot were killed.

We are saddened by the loss of life.  We like to remember this Flying Fortress as resting in the wildflower fields of Hearne Municipal Airport forever.

“Coupon of the Day”

Scrip is a form of currency that was often used by the US Army in the past. It was essentially a substitute for regular currency, and was used primarily in situations where traditional forms of payment were not available or feasible.

Obviously, giving German prisoners US dollars would not be a good idea. So, the War Department issued each enlisted man or NCO $3.00 in Camp scrip in 1-cent and 5-cent coupons allotments each month. Since the Geneva Convention required equal treatment between U.S. and enemy soldiers, each prisoner compound included common buildings to house their infirmary, canteen/post exchange and administrative offices. This provided the “company store” where prisoners purchased items from their post-exchange that you might find in a hotel gift shop today. Various brands of personal hygiene items, writing supplies, tobacco, candies, etc. were routinely stocked. Prisoners could even buy postcards with pictures of the Camp activities to send home.

A favorite item of the POW canteen was a pint beer. Unfortunately for them, the War Department limited each prisoner to only one pint per day. As any resourceful man will tell you when it comes to beer, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” Groups would pool their coupons to allow one in the group a sufficient number of pints to get an occasional good buzz.

Although NCOs were not required to work except to supervise, enlisted prisoners might be ordered to work doing general house-keeping or maintenance chores around the camp for $.80 (80-cents) per day. Some worked in their own barber shops, kitchens, infirmaries, post office or clerical offices to earn a few “cents.” Others might join crews to work chopping or picking crops for neighboring farms. A few even worked in one of the downtown cafes.

Earned tallies would be recorded by Camp bookkeepers and the equivalent scrip coupons issued to each prisoner accordingly. The more coupons earned, the more services and goodies they could purchase.

Read more about Camp Hearne’s POW canteen, post-exchange and utilization of labor in Michael Waters book, Lone Star Stalag: German Prisoners of War at Camp Hearne.

“Postcards from Across the Pond”

The Geneva Conventions of 1929 allowed prisoners to send and receive personal correspondence, including packages. Of course, all in-coming and out-going mail was examined and censored according to War Department instructions. The postage was free, but correspondence was restricted to War Department-issued POW stationery. Other rules related to the type of ink and number of letters and/or postcards that could be sent by each prisoner varied throughout the war due to backlogs and inability to efficiently process the high volume of correspondence. By 1944, each enlisted or NCO prisoner was allowed two letters and four postcards per month.1

Former POW Heino Erichsen remembers the news was always late and the censoring from both sides of the pond left some recipients with little more that a date and greeting.2

To facilitate notification of a prisoner’s internment assignment, he was issued a “Card of Capture” within a week of his arrival to each new Camp location. This dispatch allowed the prisoner to give the Camp’s name and address to his family and to specify the state of his health.

The International Red Cross Committee served as intermediary between warring nations, delivering correspondence and packages. They were also responsible for the internment camps’ inspections to insure compliance to the Geneva Conventions.

Card of Capture, Front & Back

__________________________________________________________1 Waters, Michael R. with Mark Long & et.al. Lone Star Stalog: German Prisoners of War at Camp Hearne, 1st ed. College Station, TX: TAMU Press, 2004, p62.

2 ibid.

“Ditty Bag”

Upon arrival at the prisoner’s base camp, he was issued a “ditty bag.” This was in response to the Geneva Conventions of 1929 that required treatment of prisoners to be equal to that of our own soldiers.1

The contents included basic hygiene items:
• Tooth brush
• Tooth powder/paste
• Shaving cream
• Razor and blades
• Hair brush/comb
• Shampoo
• Bar soap

Former US Army Military Police Escort, Mr. Warlow, was stationed at Camp Hearne when the first prisoners arrived. He remembered the first group deboarding the train as wearing the same battlefield uniforms in which they were captured, dirty and bloodied. The stench was overwhelming.

Prisoner-of-war, Mr. Karl Blumenthal, remembered being very afraid of what the future held in the US camps as enemy POWs. They were surprised that they were issued new clothing, a ditty bag, a bunk bed with clean sheets, and most rememberable, HOT WATER in the showers.2

Life was not going to be too bad at Camp Hearne.

1Geneva Convention of 1929, Section II. Prisoners-of-war Camps, Chapter 1, Article 10: “Prisoners of war shall be lodged in buildings or in barracks affording all possible guarantees of hygiene and healthfulness.”
2Geneva Convention of 1929, Section II. Prisoners-of-war Camps, Chapter 3, Article 13: “…prisoners shall be furnished a sufficient quantity of water for the care of their own bodily cleanliness.”