FORT BENNING, Ga. – A German diplomat lauded Americans on Wednesday for the humane treatment of German soldiers captured during World War II (search) and brought to the United States as prisoners of war (search).
"They were enemy soldiers of an enemy country and even after all the atrocities, you took care of them," Andreas Zimmer (search), Germany's deputy consul general, said at a memorial service for 44 German POWs buried at the Fort Benning cemetery. "We are very thankful to our American friends."
Such ceremonies are held every couple of years.
The POWs at Fort Benning, ranging from private to lieutenant general, were among nearly 500,000 German prisoners shipped to the United States during the war. With many able-bodied Americans fighting the war, the German POWs helped relieve a labor shortage by working on farms and elsewhere. About 860 of them are buried at 43 sites across the United States, according to the German War Graves Commission. Most died from accidents or natural causes.
The memorial service was hosted by Germany's military liaison team at Fort Benning. Besides their permanent headstones, the graves were marked by small urns containing a German flag and gold and yellow flowers.
Zimmer and others noted that now German and U.S. soldiers stand side by side in the war on terror and in efforts to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons,
"The family of free nations faces a new and very dangerous threat by the growth of international terrorism," said Lt. Col. Herbert Sladek, the German liaison officer. "Free nations have to stand up to this challenge, fight for their freedom and defeat their enemies wherever they are."
A wreath was placed on the grave of the highest-ranking POW, Lt. Gen. Willibald Borowietz, who was killed in an auto accident on July 1, 1945. Borowietz was awarded the equivalent of the U.S. Medal of Honor.
Eight U.S. Army Rangers fired a rifle salute and the Fort Benning band played the national anthems of both countries.