Man recalls story of receiving painting from WWII prisoner
Most wouldn’t expect a World War II German prisoner to give his prison guard a beautiful piece of artwork.
But Harry “Bud” Young received one, from a man he had never met.
Young, who grew up in Pine Flats and now resides at St. Andrew’s Village in White Township, was drafted into the Navy in 1944, where he served as a right guard.
“I was drafted,” Young said. “I wanted to go in the Army and they put me in the Navy.” He described his time in his eight-week-long boot camp, where he was made a right guard almost immediately, he said, because he was the tallest person.
“They sent me to Camp Perry, Virginia, which is just outside of Williamsburg.”
At the camp, he said, he was assigned to work in a warehouse that housed foul-weather gear for the armed forces and uniforms for the other departments on base, such as the fire department and all other personnel.
“I started doing that job and we didn’t really live as the rest of the sailors did,” he said. “We were maybe 10 miles away from them, still on the base, but that’s a big base.”
One day, his duties at the camp changed.
“They said, ‘we’re going to have German prisoners come in, they were captured in North Africa, and you will be responsible for the guarding of them while on work details,’” he said, “which meant that they would work and would get a small amount of pay, a few cents an hour, but enough to pay for their cosmetics, smokes.”
Young described the schedule of the prisoners and guards, how the Army would be on watch at night to make sure no one escaped.
In addition, he said, the military had at the base a prison camp for U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel who had done “bad things,” who were court-martialed.
The prisoners spent their days cracking big stones into small ones, cutting down trees and splitting them into logs to make wood to fire the boilers in the camp.
“We had five or six prisoners to watch doing that all the time,” Young said. “They had different shifts.”
One day, Young recalled, he received a strange gift-in-passing from one of the German prisoners.
“When the word came that they were going to end the war, as they were leaving, a German prisoner came up to me and said, ‘I want to give you this.’ I didn’t know what it was, it was all rolled up. It was like a canvas of some kind.”
It was a picture of a United State battleship flying an American flag.
Today, the bed-sheet painting is on display in the Indiana County Historical Society, as well as all of Young’s Navy whites and blues. He also donated his father’s uniforms from World War I and different things that his father had used during the war.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Young’s story: He hadn’t developed any sort of relationship with the prisoner who gave him the piece.
“It was just one of those things,” he said. “He was going out and he just handed it to me. And I wish now, and I’ve wished every day since, that I had asked him his name.”
Young believes that the painting could have been given to him by one of several famous German painters.
“Ever since then I know that there are several famous artists of the German nationality.”
Young remembers his time at Camp Perry in just a few faded, black and white photos he’s saved through the years.
Though faded, the photos tell the tales of prisoners working at the camps, sailors on ships and even a baby deer that was kept and raised in his section of the camp.
Young’s donations didn’t stop with his contributions to the historical society, though.
In 2011, Young provided Indiana Regional Medical Center the ability to renovate the surgery waiting area in the hospital through a donation in honor of his late wife, Elsie. Elsie was recognized by the hospital as being a longtime volunteer.
According to an IRMC “House Call” publication dated from summer 2011, “this gift was able to attractively renovate the surgery waiting area and to also purchase additional wheelchairs” for patients.
In addition, one of Young’s original paintings is displayed in the waiting room, also in memory of his wife. Many of his paintings now make his room at St. Andrew’s Village “home.”
Young annually contributes in the form of the “Harry ‘Bud’ Young Scholarship Fund,” which helps support an Indiana University of Pennsylvania student studying the safety sciences. IUP also holds a scholarship fund in Elsie’s name for nursing students.