Monday, January 19, 2015

The Holding Point and POWs

by Erin Doane, curator

During WWII the United States Army established the Holding and Reconsignment Point in Horseheads.  It was used to collect and store military supplies and equipment like tanks and weapons that were shipped overseas for the war effort.  Horseheads was one of ten sites around the United States that served the army in this capacity during the war and was chosen because of the area’s extensive railroad network. The facility was built in 1942 at the cost of $8,228,000.  The nearly-700-acre plot had 1.5 million feet of open or ground storage, spacious warehouses, and 37 miles of railroad tracks.  The Holding Point was staffed by thirty officers and men from the Army Transportation Corps as well as nearly 500 civilian men and women.
Aerial view of the Holding Point in Horseheads
With so many men serving in the military and the increased demand for workers in factories that had ramped up production for the war effort, the area was suffering from a labor shortage. One source of additional workers was prisoners-of-war.  In August 1944, around 200 German POWs went to work at the Holding Point.  The enemy soldiers had been captured in the Normandy battles and sent to the former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in Van Etten.  In 1933, Cornell University made arrangements with the US government to build a CCC camp in the Arnot Forest.  The camp operated from November 1933 through May 1937 and again from October 1939 to October 1941.  In the early summer of 1944, the Army began converting the CCC camp into a POW camp.  In August, the first German POWs arrived.  They were transported to the Holding Point daily to work and then returned each night to the camp.  They were there for only two weeks before being sent to the Sodus Point area to work in privately owned farms and orchards.

Civilian Conservation Camp, Arnot Forest, Van Etten, 1934
The 146th Italian Service Unit arrived to work at the Holding Point on August 23, 1944.  Italian Service Units were made up of captured Italian soldiers who volunteered to serve with the US military.  Many of the 50,000 Italian prisoners captured in North Africa joined the units when they were shipped to the United States.  The prisoners were carefully screened for Nazi and Fascist leanings before being accepted into the units.  They wore regular US Army uniforms with a green patch that read “Italy.”  Around 400 men from two Italian Service Units, the 146th and the 134th, were stationed at the Holding Point.  They lived in tents on wooden platforms set up in the northeast section of the facility.  Each tent had six army cots, rails for hanging clothing, a coal or wood stove, and electric lights.  There was a mess tent and an army field kitchen.  Prisoners were paid 80 cents a day for their work repairing trucks and loading war materials for shipment. 

Tanks, trucks, and other equipment at the Holding Point
Members of the Service Units were granted “Limited Liberty” which meant that they could not go out alone but groups with an MP as guard could leave the facility to go shopping or attend church.  They could not visit private homes but they could receive visitors at the Holding Point.  On August 27, a group of the Italian prisoners was taken on a bus tour of Watkins Glen, Cornell, Enfield, and Elmira.  They visited St. Anthony’s Hall at the end of their tour.  Upon hearing about the trip, locals became angry at the “coddling” of the enemy prisoners and said they being treated “better than our boys.”


Model church made by an Italian prisoner and
given to an Elmira boy as a confirmation gift

After the war, the Holding Point was sold to Webster Industries for $1,260,000.  It became an important industrial site and now is the location of the Horseheads Industrial Center.

6 comments:

  1. Very interesting.......another great story from our past...Elmira has so many historical treasures....always love reading and learning new things about our area!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I did not know anything about this subject. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great article, fascinating...many thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great article, fascinating...many thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I attended 4th grade there the first half of the school year 1953 while the Ridge Road Elementary was being built.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Gary I was there for a couple years before Ridge Road School. What I remember most is the Army used to parachute a couple hundred airborne into the Holding Point and land near the school.. We could see them landing.
    Also the Horseheads Fire Department would have a pancake dinner at the Holding Point every year. A couple trains engineers knew that always happened ever year and would stop for about 20 minutes and eat there. George Sullivan was a huge fan of trains. He always wore bib overalls and engineer cap. Great times.

    ReplyDelete