Toward the end of 1944 and through 1945, MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, served as a detention center for German prisoners-of-war (POWs).
My great-grandfather, Theodore Larcom [1885-1949], got a job at MacDill Air Force Base during this time. As the story goes, he worked there as a carpenter and took care of a group of the POWs. This was two years after his wife (my great-grandmother), Pearl [1890-1943], had died. Theodore moved his family from St. Petersburg, Florida, to 201 S. Hanlon Street in Port Tampa City. My granddaddy, Edward Joseph Larcom [1927-2013], was 18 years old, and my grand aunt, Mary Lou Larcom [1928-2003] was 16 years old.
While Theodore worked at MacDill AFB, he befriended one of the POWs named Adolf Schmidt.
Adolf must have thought a lot about my great-grandfather. As the story goes, Theodore taught the POWs some carpentry skills. And during Adolf’s time at MacDill AFB, he built this beautiful box. It was given to Theodore to give to his daughter (my grand aunt Mary Lou Larcom). Adolf told Theodore that every little girl should have a box with a mirror of her own.
As you can see this wooden box has an exquisite detail of inlay wood in a diamond pattern on the top. It has brass hinges and a locking mechanism built in; however, we no longer have the key. It has a small, round mirror inside surrounded with an inscription:
“Jun 1, 1945 – Zur er inne rung die pw – Fritz Teo Leo, Alois, Adolf”
A translation of this inscription is the following:
“June 1, 1945 – In Memory of (or in honor of) the Prisoners of War – Fritz, Teo, Leo, Alois & Adolf”
After Adolf left MacDill AFB, he was sent to finish out his time in England. While he was there, he wrote to Theodore, who he called “Uncle Theo”. Here’s a transcript of one letter:
Camberley, the 7.12.46
Dear Uncle Theo!
The first letter, I send to you is not from Germany, but from England. That was a very hard blow for me, because they always told us, we go to Germany. But now I am here and I must wait, till they send us home. I am very stretched, when it will be. I guess, it will not before two years. I always think, it would be better, I was still in the U.S. It was a very bad time, what I have pass through. I was two month in Belgium, what was the badest thing, I ever saw. When we arrive there, the english soldiers took us all cigarettes, tobacco, soap, razorblades and undershirts away. I was very glad, when they have done that to us. But I always thought, I don’t care what you doing with me, the important thing for me is, that I come home. But I guess it wasn’t so important. Believe me, Uncle Theo, I like the Englishmen very much. The badest thing in Belgium was, that we didn’t get anything to smoke. Here in England we get 18 cigarettes a week. It is not so much, but it is better than nothing. The food is not bad, but it isn’t so good. I work in a bread store together with english soldiers. They are not so bad as the other in England, excuse me, I mean Belgium. A very bad thing is, that I haven’t get any letters of my parents till now. I am very anxious of that. But I am a P.W. and can’t say nothing and must still wait.
Now to you. I will hope, that you will be all right, when this letter arrive you. How do you like the beer? Are you always still working there, when I leave you? Please, don’t smile, when you read this letter and find out any mistakes. I believe, I will not speak quite right english in my life. I will hope, that you will write me again. I would be very glad, when I hold your answer in my hands. When you will write to me, send it to:
Ogfr. Adolf Schmidt
B 665 935
G.P.W.W. Company 1016
Old Dean Common
Meanwhile, I send you my best regards and remain,
This year, 2015, it will have been 70 years since my great-grandfather and Adolf became friends. After reading Adolf’s letter, you can see how difficult it was being a prisoner-of-war. However, it makes me so proud that my great-grandfather showed Adolf kindness.
Theodore Larcom died a few years after, in 1949. I am not sure if Adolf is still alive, but if so he would be in his 90’s. I can only hope he made it home to his family and lived a long, happy, and free life.