One of the little known events in Utah history had a phenomenal impact on the immediate aftermath of World War II, especially as it related to treatment of hundreds of thousands of Prisoners of War (POWs) housed throughout the American countryside in the late 1940s. As many as 425,000 German prisoners stayed in 700 POW camps throughout 46 states in the years after WWII.
Referred to as the “Midnight Massacre” or the “Salina, Utah, Massacre,” this tragic event is remember as being the worst massacre at a POW camp in United States history.
An American Soldier, Private Clarence V. Berucci from New Orleans who never saw “action” during World War II and was stationed stateside at the Salina Prisoner of War (POW) Camp as a guard. In general, the German POWs at Salina were very cooperative and worked diligently at their job of thinning beats in the agricultural fields; many of the POWs even formed friendships with the families of the local farmers.
However, at 12:30 a.m. on July 8 1945 (two months after the German surrender and the end of the war in Europe) and after a night of drinking at a local bar, Private Clarence V. Bertucci climbed into the guard tower nearest the camp commander’s office and opened fire on the tents of the sleeping camp below. Thirty seconds after pulling the trigger the ammunition belt was exhausted. In the end 9 POWs were killed and 19 others were wounded in the attack. These 9 POWs are now buried in the Fort Douglas military cemetery in Salt Lake City.
Asked why he had gunned down the prisoners, Bertucci expressed a hatred of Nazis and he showed no remorse at a later hearing. Seven weeks after the shooting, the Army found Bertucci to have premeditated the murders and therefore court-martialed him; the Army also found him to be “mentally unbalanced” and did not pursue criminal prosecution. Bertucci spent the next couple decades of his life in various military mental institutions and he eventually died in 1969 at the age of 48.
The author, Mike Rose, has done a phenomenal job of researching the history of this event and does an excellent job at placing the events into the context of history. Rose compares the Salina events to other POW massacre events and convincingly shows that the Salina Massacre was truly subject to a cover-up to protect American military interests.
The author, Mike Rose, has done a phenomenal job of researching this topic and was even able to find little known information about Berucci after his life in the Army and after his years of confinement in military institutions. Memories of local Salina residents as well as former German members of the POW camp are also included in the historical account.
In sum, the book is a fantastically researched bit of Utah history and well worth the read.
The book: Salina Utah Massacre by Mike Rose. Book website.
- Salina Utah Massacre, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014
- Salt Lake Tribune July 9 1945
- Salt Lake Tribune July 13, 1945
- Salt Lake Tribune September 6, 1976
- Utah Historical Quarterly 1971 – VOL XXXIX – no 1 – German and Italian Prisoners of War
- Utah Historical Quarterly 1984 – VOL LII – no 4 – German Immigrant Experience in Utah