News of Ira Powers’ Captivity and Escape

Carolyn Abell of Tifton, Georgia, in conducting research for a book she is writing about war veterans from her county who died in wars (World War I to the present), came across two articles from archived issues of her local newspaper, the Tifton Gazette, about Camp 59 POW Ira Powers.

I am grateful to her for sharing this information for this site.

Ira Powers Is Safe After Being Prisoner

Tifton Gazette, July 5, 1944

“Ira Powers of Tifton, technician fourth grade, who had been reported as a prisoner of war since December 12, 1942, has been reported by the War Department as returned to duty since June 21, 1944.

“The communication from Adjutant General Ulio of the War Department was received July 3 by Sam Powers, of Tifton, brother of Ira Powers. It was the first news of him in several months. The communication stated that Powers would undoubtedly communicate with his brother at an early date concerning his welfare and whereabouts.

“Powers, who was 23 years old when reported missing in northern Africa, had been in service for nearly four years. He was in the first convoy to reach northern Ireland and was among the first of the American forces to arrive in Africa. At the time he was reported missing he was with the tank corps.

“He was born in Adel, but made his home in Tifton for twelve years before entering the service and was connected with the H. V. Kell Company here.

“He is married and his wife lives at Valley Station, Ky. His mother is Mrs. Cora Powers of Adel. His brothers are: Sam Powers, of Tifton; Bob Powers, with the U.S. Navy for about 18 years; Ivey Powers, of Norfolk, Va.; Vester Powers, of Adel. His sisters are: Mrs. Maggie Walley, of Oklahoma; Clyde and Irene Powers, of Adel. His father, Tom Powers, Sr., died at Adel about two weeks before Powers was reported missing in action, and a brother, Tom Powers, Jr., 20, was killed in an accident at Fort Benning several months before Sgt. Powers was reported missing.”

Sgt. Ira Powers Tells of Capture and Escape

Tifton Gazette, September 12, 1944

“(Publication delayed due to submission for censorship)

“Sgt. Ira Powers, of Tifton and Adel, recently spent a short leave here after returning to the States, August 2nd, following 27 months overseas, during which he spent nine months in prison camps before escaping.

“Sgt. Powers entered service January 15, 1941, and trained first at Fort Knox, Ky. He was with the First Armored division and was a tank commander. He sailed May 10, 1942 and landed at Glasgow, Scotland. From there he went to northern Ireland, then back to Scotland, and later to England. He was in England during several air raids, but stated that they were not serious ones.

“November 8, 1942, Powers landed with the allied invasion forces in northern Africa. He was in the first convoy to reach northern Ireland and was among the first of the American forces to arrive in Africa.

“After arriving in Africa, Sgt. Powers said they fought the French for three days and then started fighting the Germans. He was captured by the Germans December 10, 1942, following a 22-day tank battle at Tubria [most likely the battle at Tebourba], in northern Africa. From Turbria [Tebourba], he was carried with 150 other prisoners, English and American, to Tunis, where they were interned in a French cavalry stable. After they had been there for three days, allied planes came over and the stables were damaged and the doors torn down. None of the prisoners were injured.

“Powers said the Germans had intended to remove them by ship to Europe and thence to Germany, but every time they tried to get a ship out the allies would bomb it. Finally they put 70 of the prisoners, Powers included, on an ME-23 six-engined German plane and started for Germany. Bad weather forced them down on Sicily and the prisoners were taken in charge by the Italians.

“Powers said they spent 38 days in a prison camp in Sicily and during that time four of the British and one of the Americans died. He said they were cold, sick, and had no doctor. During the 38 days Powers said he lost 22 pounds. The Americans did not lose their sense of humor, however. The Italians issued the prisoners what they called “socks” for their feet, but which were only square pieces of cloth. One of the boys complained, ‘They’re the wrong size.’

“From Sicily the prisoners were moved to a camp in northern Italy, operated by the Italians, where 1500 American, English, and American [sic] prisoners were interned. Powers said he never turns the Red Cross down now because had it not been for the parcels issued to prisoners from the American Red Cross, he would not be alive today.

“The camp in northern Italy was surrounded by a stone wall. As there was no chance for escaping over the wall, Powers and several others spent two months digging a tunnel under the wall with small sticks and pieces of iron pipe. When the tunnel was almost completed, the Italians discovered it and for 11 days Powers and the others [were] placed in a veritable sweat box. Their hands were wired together and they had only one glass of water and one piece of bread per day.

“For nine months, Powers received only one letter, and that was from a sister. His wife, relatives and friends had written regularly, but he did not receive the letters and a number of packages [that] were sent to him. Besides the boxes, the Red Cross furnished the prisoners with several musical instruments and the monotony of prison life was broken by music furnished by a band organized among the prisoners.

“When the Italians gave up on September 9, 1943, the prisoners were told that there were the gates; if they tried to escape the Italians would not stop them and they would not try to keep them prisoner as they were out of the war. That night about ten o’clock, the 1500 prisoners made a break for freedom.

“Sgt. Powers said he contacted the allies in about the center of Italy. He was carried by truck to Foggia and by plane to Algeria, in northern Africa. He arrived in Boston, Mass. by boat on August 2nd this year. He said he was so happy to get back that he got down and kissed the American soil. Since returning to the States, he has gained 15 pounds and says he feels about 16 years old. He appears to be in remarkably good condition, considering his experiences.

“Sgt. Powers left here for Miami, Fla. for a 21-day rest leave. Afterwards, he is to report to Fort Knox, Ky., where he will act as instructor in the armored forces school. He has requested a 30-day furlough after reporting to Fort Knox and expects to return to Tifton then.

“Sgt Powers has two stars on his service ribbons for participation in two major battles. His service bars include one for pre-Pearl Harbor service, one for good conduct, and one for duty in the European theatre. He is 27 years old and was born July 30, 1917, in Cook county, a son of Mr. and Mrs. Tom Powers. He moved from there to Tifton and made his home here for several years, being employed by H. V. Kell company. Before entering service he was a machinist with the DuPont Company at Charlestown, Ind. He married Miss Virginia Whitener of Valley Station, Ky., December 24, 1941.

“His mother is Mrs. Tom Powers, or Adel. His brothers are Sam and Ivy Powers, of Tifton; Vester Powers, of Adel; and Robert Powers, first class petty officer, with the Navy at Norfolk, Va. His sisters are Mrs. Clyde Watson, of Maine; Mrs. Madge Wiley, of Seattle, Wash.; and Miss Irene Powers, of Maine. His father and one brother are dead.”