The Midnight Massacre: A WWII Rampage at a POW Camp…In Utah

The Midnight Massacre: A WWII Rampage at a POW Camp…In Utah

Matthew - January 8, 2017

We’re all familiar with the vast network of concentration camps and Prisoner of War camps the Nazis operated during World War II. Unthinkable suffering and tragedy befell millions of men, women, and children in camps all over Europe. Soviet work camps, known as gulags, also imprisoned countless unfortunate souls who were sent to the far reaches of Siberia to toil away under harsh circumstances.

It might surprise you to learn that there was also a large collection of Prisoner of War camps scattered throughout the United States that primarily housed German soldiers. In fact, over 400,000 German soldiers lived in 700 POW camps in the U.S. during World War II. These camps stretched from California to Maine.

The Midnight Massacre: A WWII Rampage at a POW Camp…In Utah
MS History Now

German POWs were forced to work in the U.S., but the consensus among these prisoners was that the camps in America were “firm but fair.” Prisoners worked in fields and in factories, toiling away and hoping and praying for the war to end. Many German soldiers settled down in the United States after the war ended in 1945 and created a new life in America.

Unfortunately, there is one large historical black mark on the legacy of Prisoner of War camps in the United States, an isolated incident that claimed the lives of 9 German POWs. The tragedy occurred on July 8, 1945, at a camp in Salina, Utah. The war in Europe had ended two months earlier in May, and the roughly 250 Germans being held in Salina were working the fields for the upcoming summer harvest. The Nazi soldiers lived in tents on the edge of Salina and were waiting to be sent home to Germany.

The Midnight Massacre: A WWII Rampage at a POW Camp…In Utah

Guard duty at a POW camp was not seen as a desirable job among U.S. soldiers. One historian concluded that men who were assigned such duties were typical “of low mentality, non-intellectual, who could neither understand nor see the reason for the Geneva Convention. Many drank and went AWOL. They read comic books rather than listen to news. They liked to think of themselves as heroes, their one desire being ‘to shoot a Kraut.'”

Army Private First Class Clarence Bertucci had not seen combat action during World War II, but he had a deep-seated hatred toward Germans. His overseas military experience during the war consisted of an 8-month stint in England. Bertucci was born in New Orleans in 1921 and was a sixth-grade dropout. He enlisted in the Army in 1940.

Bertucci had been court-martialed on two separate occasions during his time in the Army, and he was known to have a discipline problem. Bertucci admitted to people that he had felt “cheated” out of his chance to kill Germans during the war and that he said, “someday I will get my Germans; I will get my turn.”

The Midnight Massacre: A WWII Rampage at a POW Camp…In Utah
Salt Lake Tribune

On the evening of July 7, the 23-year-old Bertucci went out for a night on the town in Salina. He spent the evening drinking in a local bar, and, before returning to the POW camp, the soldier stopped by a cafe in town to talk with a young waitress. Before he headed to the camp, Bertucci told the waitress that “something exciting” was going to happen that night. The young soldier headed back to camp to report for guard duty.

Just after midnight, Bertucci scaled the guard tower. Mounted on the tower was a .30 caliber machine gun. Bertucci’s anger toward Germans and his bitterness at having missed out on combat came to a boiling point. Without any warning, he opened fire on the tents where the Germans were sleeping with the mounted machine gun. Bertucci cut back and forth across the tents, ripping them, and the bodies inside, to shreds.

A commanding officer yelled to Bertucci to stop his assault, and the soldier replied, “Send up more ammo! I’m not done yet!” Bertucci had fired 250 rounds into the tents. When the smoke cleared, 9 German soldiers were dead and 20 were injured. One man was nearly cut in half from the hail of bullets. The dead ranged in age from 24 to 48-years-old. Hospital workers recall that blood flowed out the front door of the building due to number of injured.

The Midnight Massacre: A WWII Rampage at a POW Camp…In Utah

The act shocked the townspeople of Salina and Bertucci’s fellow military members. The dead German soldiers were buried in the Fort Douglas Cemetery, and were given Protestant services by Chaplain Frank E. Edwards. A choir made up of German prisoners from the Ogden, Utah POW camp performed at the funeral, and German POWs from the Salina camp were allowed to travel to Salt Lake City to bid their fellow soldiers farewell.

Clarence Bertucci showed no remorse for the rampage. He simply said his reason for the shooting was that he didn’t care for Germans. Bertucci was declared to be insane and was sent away to a mental hospital in New York. Not much is known about what happened to Bertucci after he was sent away. The only thing that is certain is that he died in 1969 at the age of 48, and he is buried in his native New Orleans. Bertucci was only one of three Americans prosecuted for killing enemy POWs during World War II.

In November 2016, the camp where Clarence Bertucci viciously murdered 9 German POWs opened as a museum. Visitors can now tour the grounds where a vengeful American soldier took out his anger on unsuspecting Prisoners of War.

While Bertucci’s violent rampage was shocking, sometimes German POWs in America took matters into their own hands as well. On at least two occasions at Camp Concordia in Kansas, German prisoners took matters into their own hands and organized a so-called “honor court.” These self-appointed courts tried, convicted, and executed German prisoners at the camp.

Camp Tonkawa in Oklahoma saw a similar incident in November 1943. A German POW named Johannes Kunze was brutally beaten to death by fellow German prisoners. The prisoners discovered that Kunze was passing along information about his fellow POWs to American captors at the camp. A court was convened, and Kunze was found guilty of treason by his countrymen.