On the walls inside the hall, images painted by German prisoners of war, held at what was then Fort McClellan during World War II, give a glimpse into a part of Anniston’s history not often seen.
The murals — a mix of street scenes and intimate portraits of everyday life — are done in the form of Italian fresco paintings, said Klaus Duncan, organizer of the annual ceremony held in honor of the 29 German and Italian soldiers who died while being held in prisoner of war camps across the south.
Headstones at the McClellan cemetery mark the graves of the men who died while being held at U.S. Army camps during the war. About 3,000 of those prisoners of war were kept at such a camp on Fort McClellan.
Duncan explained the event is a time to pay respect to a part of Calhoun County’s history, but it also has a special meaning to him.
A retired educator living in Jacksonville, Duncan’s father was a German soldier during World War II.
“He was killed in Normandy, and we never found him. Hopefully,there is someone in France that is taking care of his grave,” Duncan said.
The Germans kept at Fort McClellan were members of Erwin Rommel’s Africa Corps, Duncan said, and were among the most elite and highly-educated in their ranks.
“Very gifted people. Doctors, lawyers, journalists and artists,” Duncan said.
During the ceremony, retired U.S. Army Col. Peter Eschrig will give the welcome, and Italian representative Col. Clemente D’Amato, German representative Lt. Col. Stefan Deppe and German Consulate representative Michael Hugh Johnson will speak. Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart is also scheduled to speak at the ceremony.
A student from the Donoho School will perform a piece at the ceremony called “I Had a Comrade” on the bugle. The song is often played at German military funerals, and will be played Sunday at ceremonies across Germany during the country’s national holiday, Volkstrauertag, or People’s Mourning Day.
At a reception following the ceremony, local historian Joan McKinney will discuss research she’s done into the soldiers buried at McClellan.
Artifacts saved from the prisoners will also be on display at the reception. Over the years people have donated things the prisoners gave them or their family members, Duncan said.
One woman received toy houses made by the German soldiers. Those will be on display, Duncan said, as will a wooden box made by another German POW that tells the story of his capture in Africa, flight to New York and eventually his time at Fort McClellan. Letters from the POW’s to their family back home will also be displayed.
The military ceremony begins at noon Sunday at the cemetery, located on Shipley Drive off of Alabama 21, across from the Lenlock Walmart. The reception will follow at the Monteith Amphitheatre in McClellan.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.