The Hereford Italian POW Chapel stands in a lonely dirt field south of Hereford, Texas as a relic to our country’s not so elegant past.
The first Italian POWs arrived at the Hereford Military Reservation and Reception Center camp on April 3, 1943 by train. This camp was the second-largest POW camp built in the United States. From 1943 to 1946, it was estimated that 4,000 Italian POWs were confined at the 800-acre camp.
After the fall of Benito Mussolini in 1943, the Italian POWs still would not renounce their allegiance to him. Soon those prisoners held at this camp faced starvation and standing at attention, nude, in the cold, sometimes either in rain or snow for hours on end. Most prisoners eventually resorted to eating rats and rabbits in order just to survive. These prisoners were treated horrifically even though the Third Geneva Convention protocols were in place on how to treat prisoners of war since 1929.
As a memorial to five Italian POWs who died while at the camp, fellow prisoners began building the chapel as a memorial to those men.
Completed in 1945 within about two months, it is a simple structure of around 13-feet square. It contains a small alter with glass windows framing the sides and front. Barbed wire – similar to what surrounded the camp – encloses the chapel a symbolic icon.
Nothing else remains of the camp except the water tower about 100 feet West of the chapel.
The last of the prisoners departed on Feb. 7, 1946. The chapel remains alone and unguarded – except for the barbed wire, as a reminder of how this country treated POWs on American soil during WWII.