Author Roger Lanse explores the forgotten history
of southern New Mexico's POW camps in a new book.
One late summer morning Roger Lanse
was driving from his
Arenas Valley home to a tile job south of Lordsburg.
The then-owner of a company specializing in contracted ceramic tile work, Lanse
heard a series of urgent news reports on the radio.
Someone was saying that two airliners had crashed into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center, that another plane had crashed in the Pentagon outside Washington, DC, and a fourth had plowed into a field somewhere in Pennsylvania.
"I was thinking it was a joke at first," Lanse
confesses in a recent interview at his
"As I was going to my tile job," Lanse
continues, "I went by the old Camp Lordsburg, which I had never seen before.
"I was always interested in World War II," says Lanse
, a slender 72-year-old whose sculpted features are framed by a trim white beard and short gray hair.
"Many crops that would have been lost were delivered to market through POW labor," says Lanse
, who himself grew up on a farm.
provides more than a dozen archival and present-day photos of various camp locations in his
book, a product of many months of dogged investigation.
Also included are some historic documents gleaned from long-forgotten files.
"I spent a lot of gas money," sighs Lanse
, recalling numerous research trips to libraries, museums, government agencies and the homes of elderly individuals with first-hand stories to share of the POW camps.
The latter included former guards and other employees, plus a few POWs themselves.
The state-run Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum
in Las Cruces provided access to archived interviews it had conducted related to POW labor and agriculture.
Other bits and pieces of information surfaced across the Internet, included Red Cross reports written in French and translated by Lanse
that recounted visits to New Mexico camps.
But "no one," the intrepid historian discovered, "had put all of this [material] in one place."
So why did Roger Lanse
appoint himself to do so?
seems an unlikely candidate for such a complicated and time-consuming mission.
Born and raised in California's San Joaquin Valley, Lanse
was barely six years old when the war ended.
parents, who raised grapes on a vineyard between Selma and Parlier, were not in the armed forces during the war, although his
mother volunteered as a civilian "airplane spotter" and helped young Roger learn to identify the various aircraft passing overhead.
has few other memories related directly to the conflict: "I remember the rationing... cheese arriving in our mailbox in little wooden crates... war stamps and bonds."
Lanse relocated eventually to New Mexico, where he worked as a tile contractor.
When the physical toll of that career became too much - "It got harder and harder to pick up those heavy boxes" - he
taught for two years at a Christian high school.
He then moved into professional journalism last January as a staff reporter for the Silver City Daily Press.
After conducting extensive research, he
manuscript during off-hours in an eight-month push that began last year.
"I've always been proud of the manner in which our country and our allies came together in World War II to repel those who would invade and subjugate us," Lanse
writes in the preface to his
new book, which shares tidbits of the author's own experiences along with the factual results of his
"There were several reasons for setting up camps here," explains Lanse
, noting that while 45 states accommodated POWs, along with the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, most facilities were in the southern tier of the Lower 48.
"There was some resentment here about how well the POWs were treated," according to Lanse
"But you have to realize that these guys (held in New Mexico POW camps) were imprisoned," Lanse
emphasizes, adding that the captured soldiers were always monitored by armed guards and under lock and key.