A planned restoration of two old barracks from a World War II prisoner-of-war camp in the Papago Park area has spurred another effort to preserve a significant artifact from the military installation.
A local Elks club that for more than 40 years has kept the only known remaining facsimile of the U.S. Army’s official camp map is ensuring copies will be saved.
The Elks Lodge at Oak and 64th streets in Scottsdale was a U.S. military officers club when the camp was in operation from 1943 to 1946, at times housing as many as 2,000 German soldiers and sailors.
The 3-by-5-foot map detailing all of the camp’s buildings and other facilities — including a veterans hospital — was still there when the Elks moved into the building in 1962.
Club members began thinking about the safety of their POW camp memento after the Tempe Historical Preservation Foundation recently announced plans to renovate the two well-worn wooden barracks to make them part of a historical exhibit.
"This (Elks Lodge) is an old building and if something ever happens to it, we don’t want the map to be lost," said Bill Doherty, longtime Elks member.
In a ceremony Friday, lodge leaders will give copies of the map to the Scottsdale Historical Society, the Arizona State Historical Society, the Arizona Military Museum, the Papago Trackers military history club and the Tempe foundation.
The POW camp once covered an area the size of several large city blocks between McDowell and Thomas roads, roughly from 60th Street to the Crosscut Canal. Almost half of it was in what is now part of south Scottsdale. The remainder was in what is now part of Phoenix’s Papago Park. It made international headlines in December 1944 when 25 prisoners escaped by tunneling under the camp and emerging along the canal banks. All escapees were captured or surrendered in about six weeks.
The Elks’ effort is especially meaningful at a time when the country is losing many of its remaining World War II veterans, said Joe Abodeely, president of the group that runs the Arizona Military Museum at the Papago Park Arizona National Guard base.
"We need to do everything we can to keep (the Valley’s) military history alive," he said.