Just east of Springfield, the soldiers face uphill in two ranks -- a small platoon. They are woefully outnumbered by their enemies, who nearly encircle them.
But neither side will ever advance.
The soldiers' positions are grave markers at Camp Butler National Cemetery, on the edge of Riverton. The outflanked platoon consists of 34 stones that mark the final resting places of Axis soldiers of World War II. Surrounding them are the graves of U.S. servicemen who fell in the Civil War and in conflicts since.
The 34 were prisoners of war. When they died, captives of the United States during history's most destructive war, they were our bitter enemies. How is it that they lie at Camp Butler, in hallowed ground where unknown American veterans sleep?
A short answer comes from the law. Springfield resident Walter Ade, who was born in Germany and served as a .30-caliber machine-gunner in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, says that federal law requires an honorable burial for prisoners of war whose remains cannot be repatriated. The secretary of veterans affairs, under federal guidelines, has the authority to decide who is eligible for burial in national military cemeteries. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 also require that the enemy dead be "honourably interred" and that records of the location and markings of their graves be maintained.
These veterans of foreign armies -- most of them German -- are remembered each year by Springfield residents such as Ade who never knew them and have no connections with their families. Born overseas or with strong recent family ties in countries that were once America's enemies in war, Ade and the other Springfieldians have a special perspective on conflict -- and forgiveness.
Ade's father was a soldier in the Wehrmacht and, like many soldiers of the Third Reich, paid a heavy personal price for Adolf Hitler's war. "My father was a prisoner of war for 10-and-a-half years in Siberia," Ade says.
Hans Jakschik, administrative director of the St. John's Hospital laboratory, has a similar perspective on the conflict that ended nearly 60 years ago. As a little boy in Germany, in 1945, he and his mother fled from the advancing Red Army. His father, an army corporal, had been killed in the vicinity of Stalingrad about three years earlier. Jakschik says he has no idea where his father is buried. The Wehrmacht did send his mother a death certificate and a few of his father's personal possessions. "He had a mirror in his pocket that my mother gave him... a metal mirror, you know, and the bullet went right through that mirror," Jakschik says.
Remembering is important: It's about honor and respect, Jakschik says. "We need to document that person's death and have it available somewhere for the family."
Camp Butler was a resting place for heroes long before prisoners of war began arriving in the 1940s.
The first World War II POW held in the U.S. was Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, commander of one of the midget submarines that had attempted to penetrate Pearl Harbor just before the air attack on Dec. 7, 1941. He was captured when his sub was beached. Sakamaki was sent first to Tennessee, then was moved to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, which eventually held 20,000 German and Japanese prisoners. One of the prisoners interred here was held at Camp McCoy during the war.
The surrenders of German and Italian armies in North Africa brought another 150,000 prisoners to U.S. soil, and by war's end, 425,000 Axis prisoners were being held here. Texas had the largest number of prison camps; Illinois had three.
Mabel Workman, a program-support assistant for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a staff member at Camp Butler, says that her mother lived near a POW camp in Mississippi and later told her daughter about speaking with some prisoners who were permitted to be out in the community. "In later years," Workman recalls, "she thought about that."
The prisoners buried at Camp Butler retain something vital that many American soldiers buried there have lost. The cemetery holds 166 American servicemen whose identities are unknown, but the name of each foreign soldier has been cut into his tombstone. But the stories behind the names have been lost. It is as though they sprang directly from a military bureaucracy instead of coming from the Rhineland, or Tuscany, or Kangwon. Camp Butler was not a World War II prison camp, and the POWs who rest there now died in prison compounds elsewhere in the U.S. When old or temporary military cemeteries were closed, they were reinterred at Camp Butler. No personal information about them is on file in Springfield.
Springfield businessman Jeff Engel, president of the Springfield chapter of the Deutsch-Amerikanischer National Kongress, believes many of the prisoners succumbed to epidemics in the prison camps. Riverton resident Carol Norton, another member of the German-American cultural group, says it was likely influenza that claimed these victims. Both Engel and Norton have family ties to Germany.
Thirteen of the POWs died between July and December of 1945. Janette Boedigheimer, who works for the Sangamon County Coroner, combed her office's records, but was unable to find any references to the foreign soldiers of Camp Butler. Inquiries of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Italian consulate, and the German government's Bundesarchiv have yielded no information. Still, a few clues to the military service of two of the dead, Fritz Richard and Bok Do Lee, remain.
Fritz Richard is listed as "Fritz Richard Feldwebel" on the official list of Camp Butler POW interments. Feldwebel is a military rank. "That's like a field first sergeant," explains Walter Ade. Richard died in the prison camp at Fort Robinson, Neb., in December 1945.
Bok Do Lee is described as "a Korean soldier" in the Camp Butler records. Korea, however, was not a sovereign nation during the war; it had been seized by imperial Japan in 1910 and renamed Chosen. Many Koreans consequently fought under the flag of the Rising Sun. Bok Do Lee died at Camp McCoy in May 1945.
Workman says the German embassy once requested a list of names, but "my understanding is, they apparently were unable to locate the families." Three or four years ago, she recalls, a tour bus stopped at Camp Butler, and its German passengers seemed to know about the soldiers of the Wehrmacht who were buried there.
Memorial Day is the only time when flags may be put on the graves at Camp Butler. The cemetery supplies them. They'll be placed there this Saturday, and Boy Scouts earning merit badges are among those who actually place the flags by the grave markers.
The prisoners of war are honored, too. Springfield's DANK organization decorates the German graves with flags of the Federal Republic of Germany. Carol Norton makes them in the same size as the U. S. flags set out on American soldiers' graves. For the Italians and Bok Do Lee, there are flowers.
The prisoners, however, are also remembered on other days. Germans remember their dead on Totensonntag, which is observed in the fall, on the Sunday before the start of the Advent season. On that day, a memorial service is held in Germany and "everybody's grave is decorated, but especially the soldiers," says Edith Baumhardt, a DANK member.
In recent years Norton has led the bilingual graveside services, which include the singing of the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee." The Totensonntag observance was established by agreement among German churches just after World War I. A newer official memorial day for German veterans, Volkstrauertag, is held on Nov. 14, and DANK may include it in future Springfield observances.
Long before the battles of World War II, Camp Butler was a place for both captors and captives.
Established in 1861 as an enlistment point and training camp for the Union Army, Camp Butler was named for William Butler, who was state treasurer at the time. Butler had picked the site at the request of Gov. Richard Yates, who was unfamiliar with the countryside around Springfield but had been asked by the War Department to locate an army camp near the state capital. Eventually nearly 200,000 soldiers passed through Camp Butler.
In February 1862, a portion of the camp became a prison for about 2,000 Confederates who surrendered after battles at Forts Donelson and Henry, in Tennessee. Between then and May 1865, there were escape attempts, and many of the Confederate prisoners died of disease. Some of the Confederate prisoners became "galvanized Yankees," released from captivity on that condition that they enter the Union Army for service on the western frontier, away from Civil War theaters in the East and South.
The military prison was closed after the South surrendered in April 1865. That same year, a fire in the hospital and office building destroyed many of the Camp Butler records. About 1,000 Confederate soldiers are buried at Camp Butler, according to various sources.
Camp Butler was closed as an army post in 1866. Its military burial grounds became Camp Butler National Cemetery, and the acreage has been expanded several times since. There rest the remains of cavalrymen who rode with Grierson through Mississippi and infantrymen who marched with Sherman through Georgia. Their neighbors for eternity are men from regiments mustered in such places as Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee.
Once, they were enemies, too.
The remains of 34 prisoners from World War II are buried at Camp Butler National Cemetery.
Here are their names and when they died.
Paul Baa (Aug. 17, 1945)
Mathias Bachlechner (May 17, 1945)
Heinrich Berghorn (Oct. 28, 1945)
Heinrich Berlinghof (Feb. 28, 1945)
Karl Bruech (Oct. 19, 1944)
Emil Burmeister (Jan. 29, 1945)
Willy Drajewsky (Sept. 17, 1945)
Augustin Faisst (July 13, 1945)
Fritz Richard Feldwebel (Dec. 2, 1945)
Gottfried Fuchs (Nov. 2, 1944)
Heinrich Giere (Feb. 7, 1945)
Fabio Giorgani (Feb. 26, 1945)
Willabald Guetter (Aug. 3, 1945)
Paul Jendryztko (Sept. 27, 1944)
Adolf Kandlbinder (Dec. 2, 1945)
Andreas Kellner (Nov. 27, 1944)
Walter Kraenke (Dec. 29. 1944)
Max Kraus (Dec. 11, 1945)
Bok Do Lee (May 26, 1947)
Adolf Marquard (March 14, 1945)
Umberto Marrollo (May 31, 1944)
Erhard Pfadenhauer (Sept. 1, 1945)
Emil Preuss (March 29, 1945)
Karl Reppert (Sept. 24, 1944)
Wolfgang Robasik (Aug. 19, 1944)
Bernhard Ruhland (Nov. 6, 1945)
Herman Schoene (Nov. 5, 1945)
Rudolf Schramm (Oct. 25, 1944)
Max Stoll (Aug. 28, 1945)
Franz Thallinger (Nov. 15, 1944)
Francesco Tota (Feb. 28, 1944)
Giovanni Trani (April 19, 1944)
Max Wagner (July 27, 1945)
Paul Witt (June 23, 1946)
Source: Camp Butler National Cemetery