Bill Stokes

Bill Stokes

A former Barron resident will visit the Barron Public Library to speak about his World War II-era novel, “Margaret’s War,” at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 17, 2019.

Set in a small Wisconsin town, “Margaret’s War” follows the story of Billy and his friend Cy as they attempt to help Margaret deal with the POW presence after she learns her fiancé has been declared missing in action. The book also tackles the issue of racism, the roles of women, and God’s role in war and how soldiers manage upon returning home.

“Margaret’s War” highlights the little known fact that thousands of POWs were held in the United States during WWII. It’s estimated at the end of the war 40,000 prisoners were housed in Wisconsin.

Barron was one of the communities that housed German POWs during the war. Stokes modeled his book on his experiences growing up near the camps.

According to a press kit from the author, the novel tells “the story of a young woman’s broken heart, trampled soul and fragile sanity as German POWs are unexpectedly brought to her small Midwest town to help with the crop harvest.

“Set near the end of World War II, when home-front America suddenly came face-to-face with the enemy that had been killing their sons and lovers on foreign soil for years, (the novel) deals with the disempowerment of women, soldiers as dupes, raw racism, the human depravity born of war’s absurdities, and how 15-year-old Billy, his older reprobate friend and mentor Cy, and Margaret fight to bend the War to their own ends, eventually seeking the help of Eleanor Roosevelt in a scheme that threatens their very existence.

“The novel tells the largely ignored American POW story as it played out in thousands of camps in 47 states, generating countless emotional encounters with Gold Star mothers, grieving young widows and distraught family members.”

According to Louise Robbins, professor and director emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies, Stokes’ “characters fairly jump off the page” and “historical details have been meticulously researched and beautifully woven into the fast-paced and nuanced story.”

The book, adds Robbins in a press release, “challenges the reader to think about how communities are changed by outside events and new and different people.”

POW camp at Barron housed hundreds

The News-Shield highlighted the German POW camps in its coverage of Veterans Day nearly five years ago.

The tent camps were part of an Army campaign to set up German prisoner-of-war outposts throughout Wisconsin. Captured German soldiers were put to work in factories or (as was the case in Barron County), harvesting crops and helping to can vegetables at several area locations.

According to a book published in 2002 by Eau Claire researcher Betty Cowley, Barron’s POW camp locations included a compound on land now occupied by Jennie-O Turkey Store. Later, prisoners were moved north to the area now occupied by the Barron County Highway Department. Populations varied from as few as 200 to as many as 422 in the second and final year of 1945

A rich career in writing

Stokes was born in Barron in 1931 and began his writing career in the early 1960s. He has written for the Stevens Point Daily, Wisconsin State Journal, the Milwaukee Journal and Chicago Tribune. In 1972, his reporting won him the Ernie Pyle Memorial Award. The author of several books, Stokes lives in Mazomanie, Wis.

In an email sent to the library in March, Stokes said he “would love to (visit Barron) for many reasons, but the main one being that Barron is the model for the setting of the novel which takes place when the German POW’s were in camps in Barron to help with the pea harvest.

“I talked to many area people in doing the research and even found a former POW who served in Barron,” Stokes added.

This free event begins at 6 p.m. at the Barron Public Library, 10 North Third St. For more information call 715-537-3881 or email barronpl@barronpl.org.