It’s stories like the Italian POWs at Atterbury, our newest You Are There, that make me appreciate my family’s roots in Indiana. Because both sides of my family lived in the general area of Atterbury, I grew up with stories about the camp.
My mom’s mother moved here at 19 after she married my grandfather in her native Nashville, Tennessee. It was 1946, not long after my grandpa returned from fighting in the Japanese theater of the War. He was born in South Dakota, but when the dustbowl hit they moved to Indiana. Originally they settled in Indianapolis, but then moved to Nineveh for a short time while Grandpa built the house in Whiteland where my mom grew up.
The Nineveh house backed onto Camp Atterbury. It was the mid-1950s, and my grandparents had four young children. The stories I heard about my mom’s older siblings’ exploits made Atterbury sound like an enchanted forest or like Neverland. My uncles and aunt would climb the trees in Atterbury to hide from frantic grandmother looking for them. Imps. I also have a vision of them that I’ve created entirely myself much like the scene from Sound of Music in which Captain Von Trapp is driving Baroness Schraeder to his home and the children hang out of trees like monkeys while wearing their clothes made from curtains.
They went sliding on a pond in the camp after Winter was underway. And once, my oldest uncle snuck out of the house in the morning and went fishing. My grandmother woke to a fish he’d caught that he wanted to have for breakfast.
These are the stories I grew up hearing about. But when You Are There 1943: Italian POWs at Atterbury was set to open, my dad’s father said he remembered the POWs. He grew up in Johnson County along with a slew of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents within the same couple of miles. At 13, he remembered seeing the POWs come in to pick tomatoes in the field across from his house. As many boys his age surely were, he was most interested in the American guards with their rifles. To this day, it’s the American guards that he remembers most.