This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Showing up for duty shortly after midnight on July 8, 1945, Pvt. Clarence V. Bertucci climbed to the top of a guard tower near the camp commander's office at the Salina prisoner-of-war camp in Sevier County. He threaded a cartridge belt into a mounted .30-caliber M1917 Browning machine gun, aimed it toward tents housing some 250 sleeping German prisoners, and methodically fired nearly 250 rounds of ammunition within 15 seconds.
Firing from left to right and back again, Bertucci shot up 30 tents, killed nine prisoners of war and wounded 19 others.
Bertucci was unrepentant about his murderous actions, which flew in the face of the 1929 Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war. Occurring two months after VE Day had marked Germany's formal surrender on May 8 and the end of Hitler's war, Bertucci's "Midnight Massacre" would be remembered as "the worst massacre at a POW camp in U.S. history."
To help alleviate Great Britain's insurmountable POW housing problems, from 1942 through 1945 approximately 425,000 Axis prisoners of war (including more than 370,000 Germans and 50,000 Italians) were shipped to 500 POW camps located in all but four U.S. states. "Segregated camps" were designated for uncompromising Nazi POWs.
Incarcerated in Utah, ideal because of its remoteness, some 15,000 prisoners were distributed among a dozen camps of varying occupancy and isolation. Several thousand were interned at Defense Depot Ogden while 1,000 more were incarcerated at Tooele Ordnance Depot. With "PW" emblazoned on their outer clothing, most worked in agriculture, mills and sundry industries to make up for the lost labor force that was fighting overseas.
Built at the site of a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp at the eastern end of the town's Main Street, Camp Salina held 250 Germans rumored to be from the military Wehrmacht, the Waffen-SS, or "veterans of Rommel's Afrika Korps."
Brought in to help with the harvest, they were willing to work and be friendly to the locals, said historian Pat Bagley, a cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune.
"Beyond the occasional hard-core Nazis who carved swastikas into peaches, the Germans were mostly well-behaved," he wrote in the Nov. 27, 2005, edition of The Tribune.
A small, temporary unit occupied from 1944 to 1945, the camp contained 43 wooden-floor tents, several buildings, an officers' quarters and three guard towers along its perimeter.
On July 7, the prisoners spent a full day working in Salina's beet fields, returned to the compound for dinner, and later retired to their tents. They were waiting to be shipped home.
Born in 1921 in New Orleans, Bertucci was a sixth-grade dropout who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940, served an eight-month tour of duty in England with an artillery unit, reportedly had a "discipline problem" and apparently survived "two courts-martial."
He also exhibited a "pathological hatred for Germans," saying he felt "cheated" by not having seen combat, and that someday he would get his "turn."
Prior to the attack, Bertucci drank beer at a Salina bar and stopped for coffee at a café. He chatted up a waitress, told her something exciting was about to happen, and in the cool night breeze walked back to the camp. No one would have suspected anything was different than any other day.
But it was. Amid the horrifying screams from the tents, Bertucci yelled for more ammunition. Dehumanizing the victims, he never saw their eyes. And taken down by soldiers and placed into custody, he seemingly didn't care.
"The wounded were taken to the Salina hospital where it's remembered that blood flowed out of the front door," Bagley wrote. "One prisoner, nearly cut in half, would survive six hours."
The victims, between 24 and 28 years old, were dressed in khaki U.S. military uniforms. Taps was played and with no post-war German flag to drape over their caskets, they were buried in the Fort Douglas Cemetery.
Once recovered, the wounded soldiers returned to Germany.
Bertucci was declared insane.
Eileen Hallet Stone, author of "Hidden History of Utah" and "Historic Tales of Utah," a new compilation of her Living History columns in The Salt Lake Tribune, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Notes: See Scott Porter's documentary, "Splinters of a Nation," and visit Salina's new CCC and POW museum opening Nov. 12 at noon.