When we first moved here, my partner would bring me to Jefferson Barracks park and cemetery. I wasn’t quite used to being in the city.
As you can see, I made do. Anyway, we would talk about the history of the barracks and the cemetery. He was particularly interested in the locations of the POW graves and mentioned that the barracks had at one point housed some prisoners of war. It was one of those things he always meant to look more into.
Jefferson Barracks has been an active US Army installation since July of 1826. It was also one of over 700 prisoner of war camps in the US during World War II and held 400 German prisoners of war. They say that of the 425, 871 POWs that were held in the US, there were roughly 15,000 housed in 30 camps in Missouri alone. Kurt, however, was interested in the grave sites and stories of 7 men in particular. 5 Italian soldiers, 2 German.
It was sort of one of those things he’d always mention- but, never get around to, you know? You drive around, you do your thing, you mention “We should research that.” but then…you just somehow never get around to it. Well, we decided to get around to it, so I started researching- and the first thing I came across was a book by David Fiedler- The Enemy Among Us.
I read a little of the sample selection on Google and made a note on my whiteboard to pick it up, later. I excitedly yammered at Kurt, about you know, how the 5 Italian graves were re-internments from elsewhere. I was absolutely fixated on a story he told about how one soldier had been listed as having committing suicide: but, he was stabbed in the neck. That really amped up the intrigue for me. Kept googling around and found tons of little blurbs and articles but…no location. So, I told Kurt, well, you know, we’ll figure it out as we go. I wasn’t thrilled about this because I can’t stand researching on my phone- but, I had been hammering away at my coursework and needed to get out of the house. I ranted the whole way, speculated the whole way, about what may have happened, why that soldier, unnamed in that section of the book might have ended up dead. I sometimes get stuck on an idea and it’s just more or less this endless loop until I’m satisfied. Guess what? I’m not, yet.
First off, let me tell you this- there is no app that works for this. Finding that grave site in Jefferson Barracks cemetery was interesting, because the map’s built a little wonky. To save you a bit of driving around if you’re not looking to do that:
Section 57 is split up in weird ways- if you walk too far, you’ll come to a tree and the cholera memorial, here:
The sites are not that far back and the only way they stood out…well, I will get to that.
The app we attempted to use put their memorials in the parking lot of the Grave Site Location building. Trust me, it’s not there. We sat in the parking lot and I googled a bit and we came across this entry in Find a Grave for Talete Vivaldi. Having a name helped, we keyed that into the program at the GSL building and found that he was in 57-5, site 332- which meant that the others were close by. However, since now you know what you’re looking for- if you find this monolith, you’re in the right place, you’ve just walked too far from the road. Go back. I only ended up walking that far back because I was following a doe who’d darted out in front of me, hoping to catch a nice shot of her.
As I wandered around the section, though, I nearly tripped over something on the ground. When I looked up from it, in the direction it was pointed:
The date immediately connected. Talete was the guy.
I’d also run across some photos of a funeral in Weingarten, in 1945: but, I couldn’t be sure it was his. Still, there’s some weird draw to them and maybe it’s just some kind of mood parodelia. Anyway- you can find those photos here. Zooming in, it doesn’t seem like it was Talete’s funeral, but I can’t make out the names due to pixalization. There are more photos on that same site, here.
Something felt really off about the site, though. Not only was it split- the two German POW’s, then two Americans, then, the Italians: nothing set it apart from any other graves. I knew they had been moved, but, that odd “not right” feeling stuck around a bit. I sort of wrote it off as just being a sad thing, the same as I felt about people who never got to come back- but, the odd “not right” thing just didn’t settle.
Talete died at Weingarten Prisoner of War camp, down around Saint Genovieve. If you look into this: there are horror stories written off as “wild rumors” and it’s fairly clear that Feidler’s book is no exception: though it does seem to be the most balanced I’ve seen thus far. Generally speaking, citing Geneva Convention standards, they were treated well. Though there are scattered reports of things that went on in the camps, mostly between the prisoners which may have played a factor here. Another factor would come later- at the end of the war, Geneva Convention rules no longer applied. Prisoners’ rations were cut, workloads increased and the German prisoners were made to go through something called re-education.
It’s interesting to me that most of the material we find speaks of the wonderful conditions of those main camps- and I don’t doubt that, but I am highly skeptical of other things. Particularly when I got into some of the interrogation techniques on people who’d not yet been put into a camp. There were rules about not releasing information about the number of prisoners, their nationality, what branch of service they were in, where they came from- or where they were going, until a higher authority had ordered it. Only once they were put into the internment camps could that information be released: therefore, he was not protected by the Geneva Convention. For this reason, intelligence camps also sprung up around the transit camps.
One thing keeps coming up that confuses me, though. By and large- very positive remarks about the behaviors of the soldiers interned in these camps. Except, somehow, over 300 of them died at the hands of small groups of die hard political ideal holders? I’m not sure I buy that. Inconsistencies with newspaper reporting and records, I get a little more. If it bleeds, it leads and painting people to be The Enemy, in the strictest sense would have still been a thing, so the reporting may have been a bit on the sensationalist side, wherever it could be.
This didn’t apply to Talete, I don’t think- he was settled into Weingarten when he died. My head must have come up with some wild theories about how this man got stabbed in the neck- and the secrecy surrounding it: because last night I had the weirdest dreams. Apparently, there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe this had anything to do with being “the enemy” and something a bit more extra-curricular. I’d rather read and research more before I throw that out there- and I do have a few books on the subject on the way. In what can be readily accessed: there are some weird inconsistencies I would like to explore further. In any case, Talete would have died a few months shy of a year after the Italian Service Units began to form. Though the Italians were known to have been very cooperative, doing their assigned work duties: some have said they didn’t because they were Fascists or there was a sense of loyalty to their home country they didn’t want to betray. The thing is, Italy was actively encouraging its soldiers to join the effort at this time and when polled: very few prisoners identified as Fascist. That may be because they felt threatened, so they lied, it may be because they just weren’t.
A lot of this is just my weird pre-research speculation, fueled by odd twinges here and there- but, a cursory look and man, there’s some weird shit here that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Anyway, I am likely going to have my head in the stacks for a while. In the meantime- here are the photos of the actual grave sites.