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Camp Atterbury, the place where thousands of Afghan evacuees seek refuge, once held Nazi POWs

Camp Atterbury is set to host thousands of evacuees who assisted U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and now face retribution from the Taliban in the coming days.

CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. — When Afghan evacuees fleeing the Taliban arrive on the grounds of Camp Atterbury in the coming days, they will be living inside a facility that once prepared U.S. military personnel for battle, housed Nazi and Italian prisoners of war, and healed soldiers recovering from warfronts across the world.

Camp Atterbury has a long military history dating back to World War II. 

Facilities there, located near Edinburgh in southern Indiana, rose up from what used to be farmland for 500 Hoosiers just nine months after the shock of Pearl Harbor.

By August 1942, thousands of soldiers were being trained in the particulars of warfare, learning specialties like artillery, tank battalions, and more. 

It wasn't just troops bound for the European or Japanese theaters that checked in through Camp Atterbury's front gates, though. 

The United States would see nearly half a million Axis fighters through it's gates to be kept as prisoners of war, in facilities across the country, between 1943 and 1946. 

Camp Atterbury was just one of nine internment camps set up to hold enemy POWs across Indiana. 

Credit: Sgt. John Crosby / Camp Atterbury Public Affairs
Herman Johnson holds a Nazi pin he found in a warehouse during World War II at Camp Atterbury, Ind., while he was a truck driver for the civil service there. Camp Atterbury housed more than 15,000 German and Italian prisoners of war during World War II.

Thousands of soldiers, mostly Italian and German, made their way into the camp from 1943 to 1946. 

Over the course of three years, Camp Atterbury would earn a reputation for hospitality towards those captured enemy fighters. The largely Roman Catholic contingent of Axis prisoners of war were even permitted to built a chapel there, which still stands today. 

Credit: Associated Press
Italian prisoners are here seen checking in as they march through the main gate of Camp Atterbury, Indiana on June 22, 1943, where, the U.S. Army disclosed, there now are 36,688 men – 22,110 Germans, 14,516 Italians and 62 Japanese. (AP Photo)

One of those Italian soldiers, Libbero Puccini, carved the camp's "Camp Atterbury" rock. 

Credit: Herman Johnson / Camp Atterbury Public Affairs
Herman Johnson stands next to the Camp Atterbury Rock in 1944. The rock was carved by an Italian prisoner of war housed at Camp Atterbury. The rock still sits in the same spot today, welcoming Soldiers and civilians to the post and reminding them of the camp's origins. (Photo Courtesy of Herman Johnson)

He fell in love with an American, and eventually became a citizen of the United States.  His son, Lt. Colonel Marcus Puccini, would go on to serve the United States in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a C-130 pilot with the U.S. Air Force Reserve. 

The hospital there, Wakeman Army Hospital, became a place where soldiers fresh from fighting were treated and could try to recover before rejoining society. 

As World War II drew to a close in 1946, Camp Atterbury was discontinued as a military base.  

Credit: Camp Atterbury Public Affairs
Wakeman Army Hospital nursed and prepared soldiers home from the war back to health, and helped reintegrate them into society.

In 1968, it was again discontinued as a military base after providing support throughout the Korean War, though the Indiana National Guard was based there. 

For the next thirty years, throughout the 1970s and 1990s, it largely functioned as a base for the Indiana National Guard and to provide support for conflicts in Vietnam and the Middle East, including Desert Shield and Desert Storm. 

RELATED: Pence visiting Indiana Guard base for Veterans Day event

Following the September 11 attacks, Camp Atterbury once again became a site where reserve and regular troops prepared for overseas combat. 

Throughout the duration of the Afghan War, Camp Atterbury often marked the last stop for thousands of U.S. soldiers who were headed to conflict in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. For family members of servicemen, it was sometimes the place of a final goodbye. 

Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Joe Cashion / 108th Public Affairs Detachment
A U.S. serviceman with the SCNG Agribusiness Development Team departs for Afghanistan from Camp Atterbury.

Today, it serves as the training ground for the Indiana National Guard and other branches of the U.S. military.

Now, for not the first time in it's history, Camp Atterbury is preparing for a new role. 

The site will provide temporary housing for Afghan special immigration applicants, their families and other at-risk individuals.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2021, file photo, provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, families walk towards their flight during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan. A school district in a San Diego suburb that is home to a large refugee population says many of its families who had taken summer trips to Afghanistan to see their relatives have gotten stuck there with the chaos following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. (Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps via AP, File)

Some 5,000 evacuees from Afghanistan will arrive in the United States on special immigrant visas, which they obtained by helping the United States during the decades-long war in Afghanistan. 

Active duty and National Guard service members at Camp Atterbury will provide housing, medical, logistics, and transportation. 

Representative Greg Pence said Camp Atterbury will start building support over the next week to house approximately 5,000 Afghan evacuees fleeing from the Taliban. 

It is not yet clear when the first evacuees will arrive, but authorities expect that it could be as soon as the next few days. 

RELATED: Camp Atterbury to provide temporary housing for Afghan evacuees, expected arrival in days

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