POW Branch Camp at Bushnell Hospital

Prisoners of war
Some German prisoners of war, like these men, were glad to be out of the war.

Bushnell Hospital was chosen as one of several Utah locations that would host branch camps for prisoners of war (POWs) who were considered low risk. Under the Geneva Conventions, non-commissioned POWs could be put to work in jobs that didn’t support the war industry, and America saw the benefit of this in the face of a labor shortage as so many men went to war and women took their positions in war-related industries. The first group who came to Bushnell were Italians, but they were soon moved elsewhere and replaced by German prisoners of war. Their camp was just east of the hospital in the foothills. They mainly worked on the hospital grounds and in the kitchens, though some also cleaned the wards.

Map of major POW camps in the US in 1944
POW camps were located throughout the United States. This map shows the major camp locations, but there were smaller branch camps scattered throughout Utah and the US.

Though fraternization was forbidden and few of the POWs spoke English, many POWs tried to flirt with the women working at Bushnell. The Italians were especially notorious for this. Friendships sometimes developed between patients and POWs. Though some patients showed hostility toward the POWs, most of the veterans understood that their former enemies had just been soldiers like themselves.

Many of the POWs enjoyed their time at Bushnell. None were hard-line Nazis, and many were glad to be out of the fighting, though they worried about their families back in the war zone. Though they were prisoners, they were allowed to hike in the mountains and listen to music. The POWs tried to hunt the deer that wandered near their camp, but they never caught anything except a porcupine. They weren’t supposed to have alcohol but made their own wine from some abandoned grape vines they came across. They could also attend church under guard and sometimes got to see the shows put on for the patients at Bushnell.

The most notorious POW experience in Utah—and perhaps in America—had its aftermath at Bushnell. In July 1945 (two months after the surrender of Germany), a guard at the Salina, Utah, POW camp opened fire on sleeping prisoners, killing nine Germans and injuring twenty others. The injured men were treated at Bushnell before being returned to Germany, and the guard was held there until being declared insane and institutionalized.

Sources for this Page

Ralph A. Busco and Douglas D. Alder, “German and Italian Prisoners of War in Utah and Idaho,” Utah Historical Quarterly 39, no. 1 (1971): 55-72.
Frederick M. Huchel, A History of Box Elder County (Box Elder County, UT: Utah State Historical Society and Box Elder County Commission, 1999), https://collections.lib.utah.edu/details?id=423122.
Allan Kent Powell, Splinters of a Nation, (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990).
Paul Hupfner interview, Allan Kent Powell Research Collection Series I: Germans in Utah, Folder 20, Item 24, Utah State Archives.