LONDON -- Baron Rudiger von Wechmar, now West Germany's ambassador to Britain, got his big career break behind barbed wire in the wilds of Colorado.
'All of us took something home,' said the diplomat and former Afrika Korps officer, a war prisoner in the United States for three years. 'If it hadn't been for Ralph O. Nafziger's (journalism) correspondence course I would never have never have joined up with the press.'
The course was good for a degree from the University of Minnesota and important post-war press assignments, including Bonn bureau manager for United Press. He later joined the West German foreign ministry, and rose quickly to become ambassador to Italy and his nation's representative to the United Nations.
The aristocratic and handsome Wechmar is 60 but looks younger. He works in his shirtsleeves, despite the palatial trappings of his large office.
He recalls other skills -- more specific and peculiar -- he picked up during his prison years at Camp Trinidad, Colo.
He learned how to snap a rattlesnake's spine with his bare hands. 'The Indians taught us the trick.' He learned how to harvest broom corn, potatoes, sugar beets. He learned how to ride western saddle and to distinguish between proper 'King's English' and good old American jabber.
'My memories are pleasant ones of that time,' he said in impeccable English, with only rare hesitations searching for the right word. 'If you can forget the fence that surrounded us.'
American POWs held in war-torn Germany may have suffered more, he says, for obvious reasons.
'Germany in the last years from 1943 was itself a war zone,' he said. 'First from the bombers and then from the invading armies. There were great problems in food and other supplies.'
Wechmar returned to Colorado on a sentimental journey in 1979. The old camp town had formed a reception committee for him. But besides the memories, all he found were a few scattered blocks of cement, fragments of huts in which he spent his safest years of the war.
Here is a list of the major German prisoner of war camps in the United States in the final years of World War II. There were also more than 1,000 small camps. The camp names, most of them military bases, are as of 1944. Some have since closed or changed names.
Alabama: Camp Rucker Camp Sibert Fort McClellan Camp Aliceville Camp Opelika
Arizona: Camp Pima Camp Florence Camp Papago Park
Arkansas: Camp Jos. T.