Taunton World War II POW Camp Tried to Become Home of the United Nations
The SouthCoast played a major role in World War II with a bit of history you may have never known about.
During the second world war, Taunton was the site of a prisoner of war camp. Because of that camp, Taunton actually officially applied to have the United Nations headquarters at the prison camp site.
In 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered into World War II. An embarkation center in Boston chose Taunton to be its station, meaning 1.5 million soldiers went through Camp Myles Standish before being shipped out to Europe.
"If you were to walk through there today, you'd see nothing to remind you of the prison camp," said Dr. William Hanna, professor of history at Bridgewater State University. All that remains, he said, is a grotto honoring the Virgin Mary that was built by Italian internees.
The camp's original role of training our soldiers changed and it became Camp Myles Standish Prison Camp for Italian and German captives.
"On the 1,620 acres – 1620 for Myles Standish– you'd find 35 miles of roads, 10 miles of rail lines, 1,500 buildings and a 16,000-seat amphitheater," Hanna said.
The reason Taunton has such a large Italian community today, Hanna said, can be traced to the Italian POWs. After the war, many local girls followed the soldiers back to Italy and married them there before returning to Taunton to start families.
The German prisoners were a different situation. During the war, Italy surrendered and became one of our allies, unlike Germany. Hanna described in detail what a former German POW told him.
"I asked him how he was treated? He was only 17 years old when the paratrooper was captured," Hanna said. "He told me, for the most part he was treated very well, but near the end of his stay, he said graphic photographs came back from the liberation of the concentration camps, which showed some of the six million Jews who had been massacred by the Nazis. We put them up to let the POWs know what Germany had done."
"One guard said to the young German, 'Don't think just because the war is over, that it's over for you, because you're going to be sent back to Europe and you're going to labor, rebuilding the cities Hitler destroyed,'" Hanna said.
The entire story is told in vivid detail at the Old Colony History Museum in Taunton, whose mission it is to keep history alive.
What about Taunton and the United Nations?
"When the government was done with Camp Myles Standish, Taunton had to come up with a use for it, and if you can believe it, the city actually applied to have the United Nations headquarters centered on that spot," Hanna said.
Of course, the United Nations was eventually located in New York City, America's premiere city.
"Locals couldn't understand why they eventually picked Manhattan. It seemed to us that the fix was in," mused Hanna.