Gunther Kerger

 

Written by Hollie West. One in a collection by Allen Bachoroski, Local Historical Writer and author of “Tales Along the Highway of Legends”

 

The following was first written for the Oakland Tribune on May 3, 1964. It is about a prisoner who spent time at the Prisoner of War Camp near Trinidad. Reunions for the U.S. officers, soldiers and clerks is still held annually in Trinidad. When Gunther Keger and his family went back to Trinidad to see the Prisoner of War Camp he got the idea of a reunion.

While he and his wife, Ursula, were wandering around looking for someone he knew from those years, she noticed an old building that turned out to be a museum. After they signed the register, the curator asked them question townsfolk generally ask tourist, and discovered Kerger’s background.

Once he had found out who they were, he asked them to return in an hour. When they returned, the mayor and an official city delegation greeted them. For two days the family was given a royal fete. They ate and drank and met people who were happy to welcome Kerger back “home.” They went to the camp outside the city in a chauffeur driven limousine. “The buildings were no longer there,” he said, “only the foundation.” But he found a tree his brother, Sigfried, had planted 18 years ago. “It had grown tremendously, but it brought back so many memories to see it still there,” he said. The mayor conceived the idea of a reunion there. Reunions have been held annually in Germany, but because of travel expenses nothing had ever been scheduled for Trinidad.

Eight of the 22 ex-POW’s will be accompanied by their wives at the five-day reunion, which will include visits with community residents who befriended them in wartime. Efforts also are being made to contact American Army officers who were stationed at the camp.

Kerger looks a little sad whenever he speaks of the reunion. Even though he might not make the trip, he knows he’ll be remembered. His exploits on his company’s championship soccer team grew into a legend during his stay at the camp. He was goalkeeper. “I had a soft job at the camp-washing dishes and doing odd jobs in the kitchen because I played soccer,” he recalled.

Kerger was the last person to leave the camp when it closed in February, 1946. He had been there since June, 1944. He got there the hard way. After being taken prisoner in May, 1943, in North Africa (he was a paratrooper; under General Rommel), he was transported to Alabama. (“I picked a lot of cotton there,” he said.) He then went to Florida, “My brother was in Colorado, and the government allowed prisoners to transfer to camps where they had close relatives,” he said.

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