The 552nd Military Police Company's Long Distinguished History
Began at Fort Custer, Michigan

Prisoner Escape

Little attention was given to the camp until three members of Rommel's Africa Corps captured in North Africa made a bid for freedom. They escaped on April 16, 1944, a Sunday. The FBI led the search for the escapees who were presumable making their way toward the Mexican border.

On the morning of April 25, nine days later, a ranch woman near Rocksprings answered a knock at her door and found a strange man who held a canteen in one hand and spoke German. She presumed he wanted water but she had heard of the escapees and slammed the door and locked it. She then called the Border Patrol who arrested the three escapees a short distance from the home.

At one time the prisoners dug an escape tunnel, starting under the floor of their barracks and continuing out under the fence and into a nearby field. They took the dirt out in their pockets and then quietly scattered it over the compound to avoid having the guards find the fresh dirt.

It must have taken months for such a job, but the prisoners had plenty of time. Whether any of them actually escaped is not known, but, so the story goes, some of them simply went out to visit around town for a few hours and then returned to camp by the same underground route. Most of the trouble was instigated by ex-members of the Nazi S.S. or Gestapo. One specific instance occurred after the War Department issued an order in May of 1945 that all German prisoners of war cease to use the German straight arm salute. Six ex-members of the S.S. and Gestapo succeeded in convincing one of the three compounds to remain loyal to Hitler by continuing the salute. Colonel Saxton, who was quite familiar with "belly wrinkling" tactics, ordered that this compound of 1,229 prisoners have all food removed from the kitchens, cold water only, no heat or lights, no recreational facilities, work details and a bread and water diet.

It didn't take long for most of the prisoners to discontinue the salute, In fact, by the end of the week, all but the six instigators – a P. W. spokesman, a spokesman for Compound 2 and the leaders of four companies in the compound – complied with the new regulation.

The camp being comprised of troublemakers accounted for the fact that the guardhouse with a capacity of 50 remained two-thirds full at all times.