During World War II, Utah was home to approximately 15,000 Italian and German prisoners of war that were distributed across a number of camps. Camp Salina was a small, temporary branch camp to accommodate overflow prisoners in Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City. From 1944 to 1945 it was home to about 250 Germans, most of whom were from Erwin Rommel’s Afrika korps.
After 1944, with the rapid advance of Allied forces in Western Europe after D-Day the need for more space to house the influx of Axis P.O.W.s grew drastically.
The US government crated a program to use German and Italian POW’s for agricultural labor. Therefore,the government sent out prisoners to agricultural areas to work in the fields. Such was the case in Salina, where the prisoners helped to harvest produce, such as sugar beets, on the surrounding farms.
US Soldiers unfit for front line service, such as those with behavioral problems, were typically assigned to guard duty on the camp.
Private Clarence V. Bertucci from New Orleans was one of those soldiers. While Bertucci had been overseas in England with an artillery unit, he had not seen front line action.
On the night of July 7, 1945, Bertucci was out drinking heavily.He stopped at a cafe on Main Street to have some coffee and told a waitress, “something exciting is going to happen tonight”, before reporting for guard duty back at the camp.
Shortly after midnight, July 8, 1945, Bertucci went to his midnight post, manning one of the watch towers that overlooked the camp. Once there, he loaded a 250 round belt of .30 caliber ammunition into a M1919 Browning machine gun and proceeded to fire into the tents housing the sleeping prisoners.
The attack lasted about 15 seconds , killing eight and mortally wounding a ninth, who died a few days later in the hospital, Bertucci also wounded twenty other German P.O.Ws. One of the prisoners was “nearly cut in half” by the machine gun fire. After arresting Private Bertucci, the military investigation judged him mentally incompetent and thus remitted him to a mental institution. He remained institutionalized until his death in 1969.
A July 23, 1945, article from Time stated,
“Ninth Service Command officers admitted that Bertucci’s record already showed two courts-martial, one in England. His own calm explanation seemed a little too simple: he had hated Germans, so he had killed Germans”
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Inter Mountain Histories
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