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This Iowa Town Is Much More Than a Campaign Stop

(CBS)
From CBS News National Correspondent Dean Reynolds, who's covering the Obama campaign:

ALGONA, IOWA -- The pink flyer was posted on a wall at an Obama event in the Algona, Iowa high school. A notice from the local Methodist church reminding anyone with interest of the unusual nativity scene on display every Christmas at the Kossuth County Fairgrounds.

This is the kind of thing you discover when you cover presidential campaigns. Little slices of Americana that are there long before the candidate blows through town and persist long after the buses and the pundits have left.

But it's worth noting because the nativity scene here in Algona includes figures crafted by German prisoners of war who were encamped at the Algona prisoner of war facility which was located where an airport is today.

The year was 1944. The Normandy invasion begun at D-day, June 6, was a success. Nazi Germany's Wehrmacht had been driven off the coast of france and had been defeated in North Africa.

Germans were taken prisoner by the hundreds of thousands as the Allies won the Battle of the Bulge that winter, drove through Italy and pushed toward the German fatherland.

About 3,200 of those captured soldiers were shipped all the way across the Atlantic and halfway across America to the outskirts of the tiny town of Algona, where they were held until after the war.

According to the website about the camp… the nativity scene was begun in the fall of 1944 by the homesick Germans, who paid for the necessary supplies with their own money. It is said that they worked many long hours to produce the designs, which are made of concrete on a wire frame and finished with hand carving in plaster.

The scene includes the infant Jesus, Joseph, Mary and shepherds on either side along with the "wise men" approaching with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is described as about half-life-size, intricately detailed and "highly realistic."

It sounds almost quaint today, what with the talk of torture, waterboarding, rendition and Guantanamo. Read what former German prisoner Richard Jaeger wrote of his time in Algona:

"You Americans have treated us German prisoners of war always right in order of the convention of Geneva. At any rate; as long as the war was going on it was told we had the same (food) as American soldiers, and I confirm. It was very good. After the war it wasn't as good anymore, but surely better than in Germany at that time."

In his speeches to audiences here, Barack Obama mentions that his grandfather fought in World War II in Gen. George Patton's army. Who knows? Some of the men his grandfather fought may have wound up for a time at Algona.

The prison museum is open 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. it's closed in January, February and March.

I had no chance to visit this throwback to another time, perhaps even another america. the bus awaited and the candidate was on the move.