OWOSSO — Author Gary Slaughter’s eighth novel, “WWII POWs in America and Abroad,” is a departure from his previous works, offering a look at prisoners of war in Owosso — and Michigan — during the second world war.
Slaughter’s book looks at how prisoners of war were treated, not only in the U.S., but in other countries, and is filled with statistics and personal anecdotes from Owosso residents who witnessed first-hand the POWs who lived and worked at Camp Owosso, located several miles west of town near the intersection of M-21 and Carland Road. About 400 German prisoners were held at Camp Owosso, which was located where the Owosso Speedway now sits.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the publishing schedule is in flux, Slaughter said, but his latest book should be available later in 2021.
According to Slaughter, many German POWs — captured in North Africa, Italy and in Europe — seemed pleased to be assigned work on farms and with local businesses.
Many area veterans, who returned home after being wounded in combat, however, resented the POWs’ relatively easy work assignments. Area residents, Slaughter said, at first didn’t know how to react to the “polite and kind” young men who were working in their midst, a far cry from propaganda that depicted the Germans as fervent Nazis seeking world domination.
For the most part, the Germans housed at Camp Owosso worked hard at their assignments and were eventually accepted as something of a curiosity, Slaughter claims in his book.
The camp was not without its own drama and intrigue. Slaughter recounts in detail an incident in which two local teenage girls helped a pair POWs to escape from a canning factory in Owosso.
On July 20, 1944, Kitty Marie Case and Shirley Ann Druce helped Gottfried Hobel and Eric Classen to escape. In a waiting car, the girls waited for the POWs to walk out, drove away and stopped in Westown for a few bottles of wine, before traveling to Colby Lake in Woodhull Township.
All four were captured by the next morning by Shiawassee County Sheriff Ray Gellatly. The POWs were returned to the camp and “mildly disciplined,” according to Slaughter.
The girls were “scolded by the sheriff and released,” Slaughter writes.
Owosso citizens were “outraged,” according to Slaughter, along with many across the U.S. and troops serving overseas. The tale made headlines across the country, and even “Stars and Stripes.”
The girls were charged by federal prosecutors with treason. A federal judge in Bay City later reduced the charges to conspiracy. They were both convicted and Case served 15 months in prison; Druce one year and a day.
Druce moved to California when her sentence was completed. She never told her children about the incident, and they only found out after she passed away.
Slaughter’s book is a look at a different time in America and the world — and different attitudes.
Slaughter’s prior novels, the “Cottonwood” series, were set in a slightly fictionized Owosso during WWII and followed the capers of Jase and Danny, two local boys. His autobiographical work “Sea Stories” reflects upon his time as a Navy officer from 1956-67. He also wrote a book about his transformation into a novelist.
For more information about the books and the author, click on garyslaughter.com.