The Faustball Tunnel
Review by Willard Manus
THE FAUSTBALL TUNNEL by John Hammond Moore (Bluejacket Books) recounts a little known story about WW II. Numerous books and articles have been written about American POWs who were incarcerated in German camps, but few authors have paid attention to the reverse situation: German POWs locked up in American camps.
Moore is the exception. A historian, he was turned on to the subject when he discovered, while doing research on Thomas Jefferson in Virginia, that during WW II "about three hundred German prisoners of war were quartered in a small camp near White Hall, a tiny crossroads community nestled in the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For some twenty-four months they picked apples and peaches, cut pulpwood and performed a variety of chores for local farmers hard-pressed to find wartime labor."
Later, while digging into records at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Moore was astounded to learn that nearly half a million POWs housed in five hundred camps worked and lived in the
USA, 1942-46. Moore's research prompted him to write THE FAUSTBALL TUNNEL, which provides an overview of the German POW experience in America, but mostly focuses on a specific episode--"the great escape" pulled off by the inmates of a camp in Arizona, who dug a 176-foot tunnel under a "faustball" (volley ball) field and tried to make it to the Mexican border.
Normally in stories about WW II POWs, the Americans are shown as brave and resourceful, the Germans bumbling and incompetent. The Arizona caper turned things on their head. It was the Americans who came off as dunces, the Germans heroes. Twenty-five of them managed to build a tunnel right under the gaze of their jailers, put together false papers (identifying them as Dutch sailors), and make a successful escape.
That most of them were eventually caught doesn't matter. Not only did they break out of the camp, they survived for six weeks on the outside, during which time they dressed like cowboys, went bowling, courted American girls and learned how to drink bourbon.
THE FAUSTBALL TUNNEL tells a fascinating and richly human tale. Moore's research is impeccable and he has even managed to find and interview some of the survivors of the great escape, both American and German. Their largely humorous reminiscences make for entertaining reading.