The Red Caboose Page
Camp Eau Claire at Altoona
By Betty Cowley
hirley Hoff was late for work. Her excuse was the unexpected walk through the fairgrounds
to avoid a long deep trench that this morning cut across Enterprise Street and into the park.
Her father, owner of Hoff Produce, Poultry and Eggs, explained that the city of Eau Claire
was running a water main into the 4-H Fairgrounds to accommodate some workers scheduled to
Progress on the water ditch offered a distraction for a few days. Then after a couple weeks
without activity, Shirley was very surprised by the changes across the street from the factory. As
she left her egg candling job heading for home she passed several military trucks parked in the
center of the grounds, a large tent standing next to the concession building, and another tent over
the animal washing station and a fence already half enclosing the area.
Camp Eau Claire was here in Altoona. The remaining fencing was in place before nightfall.
Two guard towers went up the next day. From mid June to mid September, 1945 Shirley
enjoyed her daily walk to and from work. With 178 young men stationed at the camp she often
walked across the street on lunch break or stopped there on her way home to flirt with the
guards. She even knew one, Sgt. Edward Ludwikoski, who graduated from Eau Claire High a
couple of years earlier.
From Ludwikoski and the others she learned that Camp Eau Claire was one of the smallest of 38
such camps across the state. The 143 prisoners held in Altoona were German soldiers captured
in the Battle of Tunisia. Guarded and supervised by 35 GIs including Commander Capt. Jack
Hodges, these men worked for Lange Canning Company either in the cannery on Oxford Avenue
or on farms harvesting the crops contracted to the company.
Originally planned for Mt. Simon, Camp Eau Claire was moved to the Altoona fairgrounds after
an outcry of protests from Simon area neighbors. While some local residents were fearful of
these captured Nazis most were unaware of who they were. Other folks walked or drove to the
fairgrounds in the evening to watch these men bounce balls off their heads in an unfamiliar
soccer game or listen to their harmonious music or visit across the fence with the POWs seeking
information about German relatives or communities. Each morning most prisoners were trucked
to the canning factory, area pea viners or farms for duty. The few remaining tended to the
cooking, laundry and other camp chores. All returned for their evening meal and relaxation
before lights out. Removed long enough for the annual County Junior Fair to be held, the POWs
quickly returned for the corn pack. During their stay in Altoona these prisoners put in almost
17,000 hours of labor and earned about $9,000 for the U.S. Treasury.
While a lone POW was arrested wandering down town Eau Claire one evening, no other problem
was reported. After the war some prisoners even maintained correspondence with area farmers
they worked for that year. The eleven autographs Shirley collected from her favorite guards and
Capt. Hodges are reminders of her very interesting summer of 1945.
Background information on Betty Cowley.
Born and raised in Portage, WI, Betty Cowley is a UW - Eau Claire Alumnus, having graduated