CBS Sunday Morning: P.O. Box 1142
P.O. Box 1142 sounds unremarkable, but as Seth Doane found out for CBS Sunday Morning, it has serious historical significance from World War II in the United States. Though now it is a public park and home to soccer fields in Alexandria, Virginia, just 13 miles from Washington, D.C., it was once a secret military site.
Sunday Morning: National Park Service
Brandon Bies, a history buff and National Park Service ranger, has spent the past eight years uncovering the site’s hidden history, which was intentionally covered up.
94-year-old Rudy Pins kept a secret for years as an Army intelligence officer, who once worked at P.O. Box 1142, which was a prisoner of war camp in WWII. It was home to mostly German POWs, but also some Japanese and Italian troops.
CBS Sunday Morning: Rudy Pins Army Intelligence
Rudy said he did not know of the camp before he worked there, and P.O. Box 1142 was its code name. About 3,400 high-ranking POWs were interrogated there between 1942 and 1945. Following the war, buildings were bulldozed and the records were sealed. Secrets were meant to be kept.
Pins, a German-born Jew, was among those who kept the secret. He recalled that Hitler destroyed his family, executing his parents during the Holocaust. He now lives in Hawaii, and has fond memories of his family.
Pins fled Germany in 1934, at the age of 14. He was raised by American foster parents in Ohio, and he is unsure of whether he fully grasped what was happening at the time.
Sunday Morning: WWII Prisoners of War
Pins was familiar with Germany and knew the language, so he was a good recruit for US Army intelligence. He began performing interrogations at age 24. “My job was to get as much useful information as possible,” he recalled. “They were the enemy, and they were treated as the enemy. But you can’t let your emotions get away from you. You have a job to do.”
Bies talked about the dizzying emotional layers that Pins and others must have had to navigate in those circumstances. His quest to learn more began in 2006, by chance. A fellow ranger once referenced secret activities that may have happened there, and a tour guest let the park service know that his neighbor had some information.
That former interrogator refused to say anything until he was given clearance by the Pentagon. After that, Bies got to hear stories that were once top secret, information that was elicited during interrogation about Germany technology, from U-boats to rockets.
CBS Sunday Morning: Declassified Interrogation Notes
Pins said that beating people or waterboarding them would not be effective. The only coercion tactics he used were psychological in nature. POWs who would not talk may have been taken to an ammunition depot to face a soldier dressed as a Russian officer.
Some of the stories from this era have been declassified and can be found at the National Archives, including secrecy agreements and interrogation notes. High-ranking generals, scientists, and even the Japanese ambassador to Germany were questioned at P.O. Box 1142.
Pins said he hoped the information collected there helped to win the war, though he noted that winning the war was like a puzzle: they just assembled the pieces they had to help complete the full picture. Meanwhile, Bies said that talking to actual veterans has been the best way to uncover these once-secret stories.