The Morrison Milling Co.
Although most of the POWs who were put to work outside the camp found themselves working for local farmers, doing things such as picking cotton, some worked for local corporations. One notable example of POWs being used by a local business, which also serves as an example of the importance of POW labor to the local community, was the use of POW labor by the Morrison Milling Company. The Morrison Milling Company (MMC) is a Denton food production company that primarily produced “wheat flour, wheat millfeeds, corn meal, corn millfeeds, and commercial mixed feeds,” in the 1940s. The MMC relied on a labor-intensive operation that was up and running for 24 hours a day, six days a week. However, like many American companies, the MMC found itself short staffed during the war.
As a solution to the war-induced labor shortage, the MMC turned to Camp Howze. In May of 1945, the MMC sent a letter to nearby Camp Howze, declaring themselves an “essential industry” and asking if there were any soldiers at Howze with spare time on their hands who could work at the mill. The leadership at Camp Howze declined to send soldiers, but instead offered to send POWs. The MMC accepted this proposal and many POWs were sent to fill shifts.
This arrangement lasted happily for much of 1945 (despite Germany having surrendered in May of 1945, POWs were not immediately sent home and some were not released until over a year after the war’s end). In July of 1945 Camp Howze informed the MMC that, in the opinion of camp leadership, the mill’s POW laborers could be put to better use elsewhere and that Howze’s contract with the MMC would not be renewed when it expired in September. The MMC, which had become reliant on the cheap and plentiful POW labor, did not take this message well. After sending multiple letters to Camp Howze protesting the end of the arrangement, the MMC decided to file a complaint with the US Employment Service (USES). The USES reviewed the complaint and found that Camp Howze was correct in its assessment that the POWs were more needed elsewhere.
Far from being put to rest, the conflict between the MMC and Camp Howze only widened in scope by the end of the year. By December of 1945 the MMC was claiming that the same POWs whom they had so desperately wanted to retain as workers had in fact committed “acts of misconduct approaching sabotage” while they were under the MMC’s employ. The MMC insisted that the POWs’ misconduct had cost them a substantial amount of money, and convinced the First State Bank of Denton to withhold the payment that Camp Howze was owed for leasing out the POWs. Unable to negotiate an agreement, the MMC informed Camp Howze in July of 1946 that they were prepared to enter into litigation to resolve the dispute.
Records of how the conflict was eventually settled have proved elusive. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, the conflict between the Morrison Milling Company and Camp Howze represents the importance of POW labor to the North Texas economy during World War II. POWs filled many positions that had been made vacant by young American men going off to war. Still, there weren’t always enough POWs to go around. The leadership at Camp Howze had to make decisions about where POWs could be most useful in the local economy. Inevitably, not everyone was happy with the decisions that were made.