"The morning fog had prevented us from recognizing where we were, though we smelt the salt water of the sea. At noontime after having had several roll calls, the sun pierced through the fog and lifted the veil around us. We found ourselves on a small island, a rock in the sea." - Former Prisoner of War Wolf Dieter Zander.
Few Rhode Islanders remember the German Prisoner of War (POW) camps in RI. Fewer people realize that as they drive into Fort Getty, the stone gate posts were built by the German POWs encamped there in 1945. Ellen Brownell, a local Jamestown resident recalled, "We had prisoners at Fort Getty. I remember being out with my doll carriage going down Hamilton Avenue and a truck going by with prisoners, hollering and waving to me."
In 1945, the U.S. Army approved numerous "re-education schools" throughout the U.S. for German POWs. Five 60-day training sessions graduated 528 German POWs from the school at Fort Getty. The classes included English language, American and German history, and stressed democracy as a way of life. The prisoners were taught by academics from first-rate universities and were carefully screened, promising to help Americans in Germany after repatriation. POWs were anxious to be part of the program since they anticipated a quicker return to Germany and their families. Christian McBurney states "POWs were not allowed to stroll around town unescorted. However, they could use the beach near the school and a few residents remember seeing some of them on work details." Alcina Blair recalled two prisoners--who had gotten lost-- appeared on the front porch of her family's house on Windsor Street. "My mother and father were concerned and called the chief of police who came and got them. They were not escaping. They were lost." Only one POW, Gerhard Hetzfuss, escaped from Ft. Getty. He and his American girlfriend wanted to remain in the U.S.
In 1900, Fort Getty began as a Endicott Period Coastal Fort. By 1905, three gun batteries were completed: "Battery Tousard" with 12-inch M1900 guns on disappearing carriages, "Battery House" with 6-inch M1900 guns on pedestal mounts, and "Battery House Whiting" with 3-inch M1903 guns on pedestal mounts.
In 1948, the fort was abandoned. In 1995, it was sold to the town of Jamestown for $5,500. The purchase was narrowly passed by town residents: 159 to 114.