In the Spring of 2016, Valparaiso University’s Material Culture class studied artifacts from our collection, giving detailed historical context to some of our most unique and insightful artifacts. Thanks to Dr. Buggeln, Valparaiso University, the PoCo Muse collections volunteers, and the students for all the work and dedication put into this project.
The following research was compiled by Amelia Schroeder:
The POW Experience:
The Impact of the Red Cross’ Intervention
WWII’s pull to fight for freedom was felt all across the country in both big cities and small towns. In 1941, Valparaiso, Indiana had about 12,500 residents. Many of the fathers, brothers, and sons in the town answered the call to serve in the war. Frank Slagle was one of those brave young men whose lives would be changed not only because of his participation in the war but because of his eventual capture and internment. Frank was inducted into the army as a light machine gunner and begun his training at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana on October 24, 1941, only a few months before the Pearl Harbor attack. The American troops from his group joined up with soldiers from the British army to create a large fighting force that was deployed to North Africa. On February 17, 1943 Frank was captured by German troops and kept as a prisoner of war until April 13, 1945. During detainment, a soldier’s humanity is stripped from him. Frank was forced to labor on enemy camps, working even when sick, and he wasn’t given the proper clothing, food or medical treatment; frostbite, hepatitis, and malnutrition were common ailments among POWS.
A pivotal moment in Frank’s WWII experience is preserved in an American Red Cross Bag that he received upon liberation from the enemy camp. The bag, also known as a ditty bag or hygiene apron, had a simple design with straight lines and little embellishment, a testament to the era in which it was made. While this bag may seem simple, it meant everything to recently liberated prisoners of war, like Frank. This bag gave soldiers back a sense of dignity after everything had been taken from them. Frank’s ditty bag held simple things like toothpaste, shaving cream, and razors, representing a return to normalcy after being captured for so long.
A deeply meaningful object like this focuses one’s attention and grounds him or her in the midst of life; this can be said of Frank Slagle’s Red Cross bag. The bag reminded him of the moment of liberation, freedom from oppression and the tentative hope he would have felt looking at that bag and knowing that he would be going home.