Looking to the past
Camp Ellis was massive. Encompassing 17,760 acres, the facility boasted about 2,200 buildings and was home to as many as 25,000 soldiers and officers at its peak.
Like other communities, Camp Ellis had administration buildings, libraries, bakeries, laundries, schools, gymnasiums, stores, water and sewage systems, two landing strips and a railroad spur.
Perhaps the most impressive facility was the 420-bed camp hospital, one of the largest and best equipped World War II Army hospitals in America. The longest corridor was an amazing 2,939 feet in length – that’s nearly 10 football fields laid end-to-end.
In 1944, the hospital made national headlines when famed brain surgeon Capt. Irving Steigel was flown to the camp to perform a delicate operation on Pfc. Joseph E. Dober. The 27-year-old private suffered a head injury when he accidentally fell from a truck. Dober’s life was saved.
In addition to training GIs, Camp Ellis housed German prisoners of war, beginning about month after the camp’s July 4, 1943 opening when about 1,000 POWS arrived. The camp would eventually house 5,000 POWs. Prisoners were assigned manual labor within the camp. Outside the camp, they worked in canneries, on construction projects and in farm fields. POWs received a daily allowance of a dime and 80 cents a day for maintenance work. Non-commissioned officers could voluntarily work in supervisory capacities while commissioned officers did not work.
Only four POWs died at Camp Ellis. Those Germans were buried in the Dobbins Cemetery, a small family cemetery that lay within the camp. Following the war, the Germans’ remains were removed and re-interred at Fort Sheridan Cemetery near Chicago.