In early 1945, nearly all the remaining German prisoners of war at Camp Clarinda were transferred to a similar facility in Algona.
Replacing them were Japanese POWs -- a development that had immediate repercussions for agricultural producers in Page and Fremont counties.
The previous year, German prisoners had helped plant, cultivate and harvest crops, and performed related tasks as well. Their labor had been crucial for area farmers who sought to meet goals established by the U.S. government for the production of commodities deemed vital to America’s strategic objectives in World War II.
Now, although some German POWs housed at branch camps in Shenandoah and Tabor would be available for work, the number was not believed to be sufficient to meet the anticipated need.
New prisoners were arriving at Camp Clarinda, but, initially, there was resistance to utilizing them.
“Part of the reason they were reluctant to use Japanese labor the way they had used German labor was [that] the Japanese were characterized as poor workers and lazy,” said Chad Timm during a program he presented Tuesday, Dec. 3, at the Lied Public Library in Clarinda.
He said such an attitude was “an assumption, a stereotype. It was not based on any real evidence.”
As the 1945 planting season approached, it soon became apparent that more agricultural workers would be required if area farmers were to be successful in reaching the goals set for them.
Military authorities and producers finally realized that “Japanese POWs were going to have to work outside the camp,” said Timm, an associate professor of education at Simpson College in Indianola.
According to the Geneva Convention, which the United States had signed, prisoners of war had to be paid for any work they did. German prisoners at Camp Clarinda had earned 10 cents a day for work inside the facility, or 80 cents a day for work outside of the compound.
When they were employed for agricultural labor, the German POWs were paid what was called the “prevailing wage” at the time -- up to 60 cents an hour in the Page County area.
The hourly wage did not go to the POW, however. The difference between that amount and the prisoner’s 80-cent daily compensation went to the U.S. government.
For the use of Japanese laborers, the commander at Camp Clarinda, Lt. Col. George Ball, at first proposed that the POWs be paid, not at an hourly rate, but “for the amount of work they did,” Timm said. “Ball didn’t believe the Japanese would work well, so he said, ‘I’m not going to pay them 80 cents a day to stand around and do nothing.’”
In April 1945, the first group of Japanese POWs were assigned to shuck corn on the Elmer Hodson farm in Tarkio Township.
According to contemporary reports, they started their work at such a rapid pace that observers thought they would soon become exhausted. That didn’t happen, and after an eight-hour shift, the POWs had shucked an estimated 700 bushels of corn, averaging 53 bushel per man.
Under Ball’s “per unit” system for payment, it had been assumed that each man would earn 50 or 60 cents for the day. But their output had actually allowed each of them to earn more than a dollar apiece -- more than individual German prisoners had been paid for a day’s work.
The impressive performance by the Japanese on the Hodson farm helped convince other area producers that the POWs were indeed good workers, and they were utilized on more projects.
But there was another result following the Hodson experience. Timm said one official was quoted at the time as stating: “We had to make some changes after that” in regard to compensation.
The Japanese were found to have excellent skills related to horticultural work, and dozens were placed at nurseries in Shenandoah
Many of the POWs, Timm said, “came from farming communities in Japan where they grew rice. They were used to hard work and agricultural labor.”
One group of men, assigned to plant apple trees, tied strips of burlap around their legs and spent eight hours on their knees putting the saplings in the ground in neat rows. The foreman at the job site said the Japanese completed more tasks, and did higher-quality work, than the German POWs who had performed similar jobs earlier.
For the utilization of Japanese laborers at the Earl May nurseries, the company paid the U.S. government $98,492, Timm said
There were 1,055 Japanese prisoners placed in Camp Clarinda during 1945. It was one of only two facilities in the country in which POWs from Japan were confined during the war. The other location was Camp McCoy in Wisconsin.
Timm said that fewer than 10,000 Japanese combatants and support troops were taken captive in the war, compared to almost 400,000 Germans.
“Japanese soldiers, for the most part, were committed to fighting to the death as opposed to surrendering,” he said. Such capitulation was considered to be a dishonor, a violation of spiritual beliefs and patriotic duty.
This meant that the men who arrived at Camp Clarinda were to consider themselves disgraced -- to be viewed in Japan as being officially dead. As a result, they declined all offers by the Red Cross to contact their families and tell parents or spouses of their current status.
When Japan surrendered in August 1945, extra security measures were implemented in the prison compound in case the POWs might attempt to take their own lives.
“But that did not occur,” Timm said.
At the camp, communication between military authorities and the POWs was facilitated by interpreters who had served with the 422nd Combat Infantry Regiment -- composed of Americans of Japanese descent. It was one of the most distinguished U.S. Army units of the war.
Recognizing the dietary preferences of the prisoners, camp authorities arranged to have a large supply of carp on hand when the first Japanese arrived. In succeeding weeks, for reasons of economy, another kind of fish -- mullet -- was substituted as the main fare. As the prisoner population increased, plans were made to obtain quantities of squid and, when available, shark meat.
The Japanese prisoners prepared nearly all of their own food. The primary staple, rice, was featured daily.
After the war ended, procedures were announced for the repatriation of the POWs at Camp Clarinda. Many expressed no desire to return to Japan, but “this was a requirement,” Timm said.
On Oct. 7, 1945, at a railroad siding just west of the main gate at the camp, all of the prisoners boarded train cars and departed. They were taken to California to processing sites prior to going on to Japan.
The presence of the Japanese POWs at Camp Clarinda had special significance, Timm said.
“We have certain assumptions about the enemy, about what they’re like, about what they can and can’t do,” he said. “And then when we meet them, and when they have an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do, our assumptions about them are proven to be completely untrue. As a teacher of young people, I find that incredibly hopeful. When we meet people who are different from [what] we are, and we give them a chance to show us who they are, we can learn from them.”
Timm’s appearance received financial support from Humanities Iowa. In August he presented a program at the library about German POWs at Camp Clarinda and elsewhere in Iowa.