POW-carved gift taxies into permanent home
Don Stutzman, who lives in Hesston with his wife, Elnor, visited Peabody Museum on Thursday to present a model of a German World War II fighter plane to the museum. It was carved by a German prisoner of war held in a camp at Peabody from 1943 to 1946.
When Don and his brother, Doug Stutzman, were growing up on a farm at 110th and Pawnee Rds. in rural Peabody, their widowed grandfather, David Winger, and father, Clifford, hired German POWs to work on their farm.
The two boys learned to know the men and became attached to two workers in particular, Walter Wanner and George Ernst. Wanner became a lifelong friend.
Wanner spoke English and was an artist and musician. During his three years at Peabody, he carved two German fighter planes from apple crates. He wrote Don and Doug’s names on the planes and gave the planes to them. Don was 8 years old.
“We played with them all the time and were really rough on them,” Don said.
The planes were modeled after twin-engine World War II combat aircraft. Yellow stripes on the aft fuselages identified them as JG11s, part of a fighter wing of the German air force that defended against Allied bombing raids.
It will be displayed with other items related to the POW camp.
Stutzman said up to seven POWs worked on the farm five days a week.
His father picked them up in a truck with high sideboards. At first, each prisoner was accompanied by a rifle-toting guard, but by the time the POWs were released back to Germany, they didn’t have personal guards.
People who utilized the POWs had to follow certain rules including not letting them into their houses, but that changed as the prisoners proved to be good, hardworking men, Stutzman said.
“Our workers ate with us,” he said.
The trust went so far as to allow the workers to return one night after dark and capture pigeons in a hay barn. They took the birds back to town to be made into pigeon stew.
After Wanner returned to Germany, the Stutzman family kept in touch with him. They exchanged visits with him and his wife.
“He loved us, and we loved him,” Stutzman said.
In 1989, the Stutzmans received a large portrait painted by Wanner of Don’s grandfather. Wanner died in the 1990s.
Stutzman said he would never forget Wanner.
“I have a yellow sweater in my closet that Wanner gave me,” he said. “I would love to see him again.”
Last modified Feb. 6, 2019