N.C. MUSEUM OF HISTORY WILBUR D. JONES, JR. / JOHN D. “JACK” MCCARLEY III
Left to right: A German POW, E. Kamler, painted this watercolor of Camp Butner while being held there in 1945. After returning home after
the war, Bernhard Thiel, a POW who worked on the McEachern-McCarley Echo Farms in Wilmington, stayed in touch with the McCarleys.
Some Wilmington POWs worked at Echo Farms, the dairy farm pictured here, circa 1930. German POWs, shown here, were interred at the
camp in Winston-Salem that opened October 24, 1944, and was deactivated February 26, 1946. Below: The map indicates the locations of
the three POW camps in WIlmington.
The third camp, located at Bluethenthal
Field, or what today is Wilmington International
Airport, was on the outskirts of town and held
“The camp at Bluethenthal Army Air Field
was a small satellite site where POWs worked
in the laundry, mess hall, in lawn mainte-nance,
and in other labor roles,” Jones says.
In his book, “A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs
of a Wartime Boomtown,” Jones interviews
some local Wilmington residents, includ-ing
Peggy Moore Perdew, who recalls the
Germans “had free run of the air base raking
leaves and doing chores — pretty funny to
see them ambling around, no one seemed to
The prisoners eased the labor shortage
by harvesting crops and working at fertilizer
plants, pulpwood mills, and dairies. Some
were afraid of the foreign soldiers, and the
anti-Nazi propaganda reinforced these fears
in both adults and children.
Jones also interviews Margaret Sampson,
a child during the war and a student at
Williston Primary and Industrial School. She
remembers the fear and recalls how she
was taught by teachers to climb a tree in
case of a prison break. Though her teachers
were apprehensive about the Germans, the
schoolchildren were curious about the new
residents across the street from their school.
“We’d dash across the street and give them
candy and gum and talk to them. A lot of the
times we couldn’t understand them, but the
gestures were friendly,” Sampson tells Jones.
Katherine Byars, another Wilmington native,
also remembers the prisoners as amiable.
“They would wave back at us, you know.
They were friendly and probably would have
liked to have gotten out and met people and
had some friends in this country,” Byars says.
Throughout their stay in Wilmington,
some of the prisoners actually enjoyed life
in the camps. They spent their free time
watching American movies, listening to
radio broadcasts and gardening. Several ran
a canteen. Many of the local farms and mills
that hired them would have closed without
the labor of the prisoners. They worked in
Castle Hayne and other surrounding areas.
One location was the Leeuwenburg Farms
on what is now north Market Street. The
owner, Otto Leeuwenburg, hired about 50
men and remembered them fondly. By law
(Geneva Convention, 1929) POWs could only
work on farms or other locations if they were
paid a regular wage.
“I remember their faces as if it were yes-terday.
They were Germans but not Nazis,”
Leeuwenburg said. The prisoners were paid
minimum wage for their jobs, and they were
treated well by guards. In fact, most of the
POWs behaved in such artless fashions that
near the end of the war they were allowed to
go to their jobs alone, without supervision