Written by
June 2012
Written by
June 2012


Rescued by the Enemy


Gary Slaughter
Author of the Cottonwood Series

If the U.S. Army hadn’t established a German prisoner of war camp on the outskirts of my hometown, Owosso, Michigan, I probably wouldn’t have written my first novel, Cottonwood Summer. But, because POWs were such a significant part of my boyhood, I just had to tell the story. 

My obsession with POWs began in June of 1944 when two prisoners escaped from Camp Owosso with the assistance of two young Owosso women who worked with the Germans at the canning factory, right in my neighborhood. 

A fictionalized version of this escape, the resultant treason charges, and dramatic trial of the women is a major Cottonwood Summer storyline. In fact, all five Cottonwood novels contain storylines about POWs.

The Rescue

The POW escape and trial dealt a severe blow to our community pride. But, with the passing of time, citizens grew to accept and even appreciate the German POWs from Camp Owosso. The following story is demonstrates why that relationship improved. 

One summer afternoon, I witnessed a remarkable event involving POWs and a family from my old neighborhood. This event is the basis of a major storyline in Cottonwood Summer. 

Our neighbor, Mrs. Worthington (a.k.a. Mrs. Matlock), was a very “substantial” woman. This was especially true when she was expecting or recovering from the birth of one of her ten, super-size babies. After delivering a hefty baby girl, little Patsy, who is still good friend of mine, Mrs. Worthington lay immobile, confined to a small cot in an upstairs bedroom of the Worthington house, located just across the railroad tracks from the canning factory where POWs were employed. 

A passing steam locomotive showered the Worthington house with cinders igniting the roof and threatening the life of the poor mother and baby. 

My best friend, Billy Curtis (a.k.a., Danny Tucker, the star of the Cottonwood series) and I were just on our way home from the city dump where, as usual, we had spent the afternoon, searching for buried treasure. Suddenly, we heard shouts and saw a squad of German POWs, leaping over the canning factory fence and bounding across the railroad tracks toward the flaming house. 

Running behind them, their hapless Military Police guard waved his Tommy gun and pleaded for them to, “Slow down, boys. Wait for me. Slow down.” 

The POWs huddled in front of the house, quickly formulated their plan, broke into a boisterous fight song of sorts, and then dashed into the burning building. They lifted Mrs. Worthington and her baby, cot and all, ran down the steps and out the front door. Coming to a halt, they gently deposited the cot right in the middle of the Garfield Street. Without stopping, the POWs turned and ran back into the burning house to check for the other children and to remove every piece of the family furniture, which they stacked in a neat pile on the street next to Mrs. Worthington. 
And mind you, all this was accomplished before the fire trucks had even arrived. 

Neighbors witnessing this extraordinary incident cheered at the top of their lungs and pounded the backs of the POWs. What a sight for a young, future storyteller to behold!

To provide a happy ending to this story, with the cooperation of the canning factory, the Army gave that same squad of POWs permission to sneak back across the tracks to rebuild the house for the Worthington family. 

Author’s Faux Pas

The story above is accurate in all respects. However, the story as written in Cottonwood Summer contained an inaccuracy that caused Mrs. Worthington to be justifiably upset with me. Even though I had read a number of newspaper articles describing this incredible rescue, I could not ascertain the cause of the fire. 

So I assumed that it had been caused by Mrs. Worthington’s smoking in bed. That’s how I wrote it. As it turns out, when it came to tobacco and alcohol, Mrs. Worthington was a staunch teetotaler. And she let me know that she didn’t appreciate being described differently, even in the form of her fictional role as Mrs. Matlock. 

Ouch! What to do?

In Cottonwood Fall, I used my literary license to correct my mistake by blaming it on a fictional reporter who claimed the fire was started by careless smoking. Mrs. Worthington was very happy with my fix.

To put a final touch on this story, Mrs. Worthington lived in that very same house until 2006 when she passed away, just one-day shy of her 94th birthday.

For more stories about life on the World War II home front, I invite you to read: 

• Cottonwood Summer ‘45
• Cottonwood Spring
• Cottonwood Winter: A Christmas Story
• Cottonwood Fall
• Cottonwood Summer 

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