WEBER COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – It has been 77 years since May 8, 1945. On that day, Germany surrendered its military forces to the Allies, including the United States. Every year, May 8 is now remembered as Victory in Europe Day. Weber County played a crucial role in the United States’ war efforts in the years leading up to V-E Day.  

If one walks through the Business Depot in Ogden, it feels kind of like taking a step back in time. That’s because 80 years ago, the area was used as a defense depot and prisoner of war camp during WWII.  

In 1941, the U.S. built the Ogden Defense Depot in Weber County in response to the war. “By the middle of the war it was actually the largest army depot in the military,” Sarah Langsdon told ABC4. Langsdon is the head of special collections for Stewart Library at Weber State University. A few years back, Langsdon helped to collect hundreds of pictures and records from the defense depot. She also interviewed people who had personal connections to the depot. These records are now available to the public online.  

Langsdon explained that the government chose Weber County to build the depot for a few reasons. Ogden already had the railroad running through it, it was equal distance to multiple port cities in California, and it would be near Hill Air Force Base and Clearfield Naval Supply Depot. In short, she said the defense depot was built for the U.S. to “have a central location for supplies to be shipped for the war effort.”  

The supplies that came through the depot could be anything from vehicles to artillery. This created thousands of jobs and led to a population boom. “A lot of people converted their chicken coops into bedrooms until the cities could kind of catch up and build enough housing,” Langsdon stated. “That’s why we have Washington Terrace.” Many of the other smaller communities in Weber County were established in this same time period to meet the housing needs of those moving into the area.  

As the population grew, more men were drafted. Women and teens filled in many of the job positions that opened. However, the economy was largely agricultural and even with teens and women joining the workforce, northern Utah still needed additional workers to fill in the gaps.   

“The chamber of commerce in Ogden petitioned the military to put a POW camp in Ogden where they would be allowed to use those POWs as workers,” added Langsdon. The camp began taking shape in 1942. According to Langsdon, the first prisoners of war were from Italy, and soon Germans would also be held at the camp. Eventually, the camp would house 7,000 prisoners in total.   

“There weren’t any problems in the Ogden camp,” Langsdon said. “I think there were two Germans who tried to escape once but they didn’t really get very far. Pretty much anybody who they thought was going to be a problem, they sent to Hill Air Force Base where they were kept under more of a lock and key than they were at the camp.” Langsdon told ABC4 that it’s pretty safe to say that security was fairly relaxed for a prisoner of war camp.   

When Italy surrendered, those prisoners were given even more freedom to leave camp. Langsdon said they could go into town to go to the movies, often went to dances at the Catholic church, and had dinner with Italian American families in Ogden. She further explained, “There was this phenomenon of local women meeting Italian gentlemen and wanting to get married, but the U.S. government wouldn’t recognize their marriage, so they actually had to go back to Italy, get married there, and then come back to the United States.”  

Langsdon said that back at the POW camp, there was a ditch that ran under the fence. She explained that tales say children would use that hole to enter the camp and visit the prisoners. Likewise, she said POWs would use the hole to go visit their neighbors who lived near the camp, often taking them vegetables from the camp garden.  

When one hears these stories, it’s hard not to be surprised to learn about the relationship between locals and the POWs. It’s something that surprised Langsdon as well. “Here we are in wartime, and these (POWs) are what we deem the enemy, and yet here they (Utahns) didn’t see it as that.”  

The prisoner of war camp was closed in 1946. However, the Ogden Defense Depot continued operating into the late 1990s.