WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The World War II Wilmington Home Front Heritage Coalition installed a German POW sign in the lobby area of the USO building Tuesday.
The wooden sign was painted by German prisoners of war interned in Wilmington in the 1940s. At the time it was hung at the Swift and Company fertilizer plant across the Cape Fear River on Highway 421.
Wilmington resident and engineer Jack Kuske obtained the sign in the early 1970s when the fertilizer plant closed. Kuske donated the sign to the coalition in 2009.
"I admired it," said Kuske. "It had been painted on the wall of a mess hall by a German prisoner when they manned the plant. They gave the plaque to me when they cut it out of the wall when the mess hall was torn down. It is an important part of Wilmington history which was a very important location during WWII."
Local historian Wilbur Jones lived near the POW main compound that was located on 10th and Anne Streets.
"I remember growing up and we would go up to the fence and give them paper and pencils and they would give bubble gum and candy," said Jones.
According to Jones, the POW men located there were part of General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps, an elite German Army that was defeated in 1943.
"Wilmington had a manpower shortage as the war wound down and many men went away in combat, so we were able under the Geneva Convention to use them as labors and farmers at the dairy farms," said Jones.
There were about 550 German soldiers captured in Tunisia and located to Wilmington in 1944. None of them tried to escaped and were interned back to Germany in 1946.