Nazism, in the United States, is not commonly associated with the word “patriotism” other than in the context of loyalty to a debased credo. It may be surprising to learn, therefore, that during WWII the U.S. Army had an active duty unit comprised of pro-Nazi sympathizers, stationed at Camp Hale, Colo. According to Thomas E. Ricks, Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, the theory behind forming this pro-Nazi group was that putting them all together was “much better than kicking them out into society and losing track of them.” It was also far more lenient than punishing them.
One such member of this unlikely unit was Harvard alumnus Dale H. Maple ’41, Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude. Accepted to Harvard with a full scholarship in 1937, Maple was a good-looking, intelligent, tall, blonde teenager from San Diego High School in San Diego, Calif. where he graduated first out of 585 students. While at Harvard, he concentrated in Declarative Phylogeny and joined a number of student organizations including PBHA, Glee Club, the German club, ROTC, and the Boylston Chemical Club, for which he served as treasurer. However, after voicing pro-Nazi beliefs and acting hostile to all forms of democratic government, Maple was promptly kicked out of many of these organizations. He also displayed a martial streak that compelled him to join ROTC and later enlist in the U.S. Army as a private. On Nov. 15, 1940 he was quoted in The Crimson as saying “even a bad dictatorship is better than a good democracy.”
On campus, Maple was a model of academic achievement, breezing through his classes. There were, however, a slew of signs suggesting that he was no model American. The German club discharged him for insisting on singing Nazi songs. Following his expulsion from the club, he was also kicked out of ROTC for “not being fit material for an officer.” The Colorado Heritage Newspaper reported that he attended only one party while at Harvard, a costume gathering where he showed up as Adolf Hitler.
While Maple spoke 23 languages, he always had a particular fascination with everything German. During his senior year Maple focused his studies on the German language, culture, and literature. He also bragged to all who would listen about fabricated trips to Germany. Then, only a few months after graduation, on Dec. 7, 1941, Maple telephoned the German Embassy in Washington to alert them that if the U.S. and Germany went to war and the German diplomatic staff in the U.S. returned to the Reich, he wanted to join their entourage. He did not receive an encouraging reply.
Despite all this, in 1942, Maple enlisted in the U.S. Army, where, according to Ricks, he was placed in the 620th Engineer General Service Company, which despite its impressive title was actually a holding unit for about 200 GIs of suspect loyalty. Although Maple was himself an American citizen by birth, many of the others serving in the 620th were German-born. Members of the 620th unit were kept unarmed and given mostly busy work such as making tents, digging ditches, and sawing wood, according to the Colorado Heritage. Camp Hale also happened to be home to a detachment of about 200 German prisoners of war on a work program.
Although fraternization between soldiers and prisoners was forbidden at Camp Hale, the men of the 620th quickly discovered a common bond with the German prisoners. Maple was no exception to this illicit bonding and once, while allegedly on a three-day leave, snuck into the POW compound where he found he fit in nicely, even wearing a borrowed uniform.
Many men of the 620th, despite enlisting voluntarily, were constantly looking for ways to undermine the American war effort, through espionage and guerrilla warfare. The administration at Camp Hale during this period was remarkably inept, which allowed the prisoners to amass a number of contraband items, including extra Army uniforms. By the winter of 1944 the friendship between the soldiers and prisoners had metastasized to a point where they conspired overtly to sabotage the war effort and help some of the Germans escape. Ever-ambitious, Maple took charge of the plan.
According to Time Magazine it was decided that Maple would report for sick leave, then he and two prisoners would sneak away by bus on Feb. 12, 1944 to Salida, Colo., a city 60 miles to the south. In Salida they purchased a .22 caliber revolver and a 1934 sedan. After driving south for a few days their sedan broke down near the Mexican border. They had hoped that in Mexico they would be able to find help getting to Germany via some sort of “underground railroad.” At 4:30 p.m., on Feb. 18, 1944, Mexican customs inspector Medardo Martinez came across the odd-looking trio in US military uniforms trying to cross the border and arrested them.
Maple was charged with aiding the enemy and desertion—both capital offences. After a three-week court case, he was found guilty on all counts. At age 24, Maple was sentenced to death, but this punishment was later reviewed by President Roosevelt and changed to life imprisonment. Maple was a model prisoner; teaching, leading a church choir, and writing for the prison magazine, and his sentence was shortened.
Roosevelt was acting on the recommendation of the Army’s judge advocate general, who wrote, “On the face of the record there appears to be little or nothing to suggest mitigation. But the accused is only 24 years of age, and is inexperienced ... I feel that the ends of justice will better be served by sparing his life so that he may live to see the destruction of tyranny, the triumph of the ideals against which he sought to align himself, and the final victory of the freedom he so grossly abused.” After his release in 1951, he disappeared from the public record and led a quiet life until he died of natural causes 50 years later.