Route 66 News

The little-known POW graves of Oklahoma

Not many people know this, but about 70 prisoners-of-war are buried just off Route 66 in Fort Reno west of El Reno, Oklahoma.

They are Germans and Italians captured during World War II and brought to the Sooner State until the war was over. Heidi Brandes of the Reuters news service has some of the details in an article that’s worth reading in its entirety:

Germans made up the bulk of the POWs, who were put to work at tasks such as picking cotton and clearing fields. Most had been captured in fighting in North Africa but never made it home when the war was over after dying of pneumonia, appendicitis, accidents and, in one case, murder.

In the Fort Reno cemetery, separated by a low wall from the graves of those who died in the Wild West days, lies Hans Siefert, who suffered fatal wounds from a boiler explosion. […]

The most contentious among the dead is Johannes Kunze, who was murdered by fellow POWs who thought he passed Nazi information to U.S. doctors at a camp in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, said Karen Nix, director of the Fort Reno Visitor Center and Museum, about 40 miles (65 kms) west of Oklahoma City

“The die-hard Nazi prisoners killed him – beat him to death. Those four Nazis were hung, and Kunze was buried here,” Nix said.

Most of the graves are long-forgotten, mixed in with Cavalry graves from the 19th and early 20th century. A few relatives of the POWs manage to make it to the gravesites, and one recently was disinterred and sent back to his homeland in Italy, after years of work with the Italian Consulate.

A few of the POW graves can be seen in this Flickr set. This has a full listing of the Oklahoma POW camps.

I recommend a visit to the Fort Reno. Many of the buildings — including a simple but lovely chapel — are well-preserved and still standing. And the visitors center contains other artifacts and a friendly staff.

(Image of graves at Fort Reno by Donnie Nunley via Flickr)

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