Hereford Military Reservation and Reception Center occupied 800 acres of land in Castro and Deaf Smith counties 3½ miles southeast of Hereford. The second-largest of the United States POW camps built during World War II, it housed approximately 5,000 Italian prisoners and about 750 United States military personnel. Although it was designated a temporary camp, the reservation was constructed as a maximum-security facility. The War Department announced authorization on June 30, 1942, and actual construction began late in July. Civilian contractors and local laborers were used as much as possible, but a labor shortage made it necessary to hire some workers from outside the area. The total cost of construction, which was supervised by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, was estimated at $2 million.
The first internees arrived in April 1943. All were Italians, with the exception of one group of Germans who were routed to the camp by mistake and quickly transferred after a full-scale riot erupted between compounds. The Italians proved themselves to be amiable, hardworking, and trustworthy. The maximum-security policy was soon replaced by a policy of maximum utilization, and enlisted men were hired out to work on local farms at a rate of ten cents an hour. The officers, however, were incarcerated in separate compounds and not required to work. The mutual regard that developed between the prisoners and their captors was shown at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Umbarger. There, seven Italian officers and two enlisted men made wood carvings, painted murals, and installed stained-glass windows, donating their labors in the spirit of Christian brotherhood. Parishioners reciprocated by providing them with bountiful meals; each night the Italians smuggled the surplus back into the officers' compound, which was under a retaliatory starvation order from April through December 1945. From October through December of that year a number of prisoners who were skilled artists, craftsmen, and glassworkers constructed a chapel in honor of their five comrades who died in the camp. They were buried on each side of the chapel. After the war their bodies were exhumed and returned to Italy.
Rapid repatriation began with the end of the war, and in January 1946 the last 3,999 prisoners boarded special troop trains for their return to Italy. The camp was placed on the surplus list on February 1, 1946. Subsequently, all that remained was a sixty-five-foot water tower, minus the tank, and the remains of the small concrete chapel. The chapel sat abandoned and vulnerable to vandalism until the mid-1980s, when the Castro County Historical Commission launched efforts to restore it. In 1987 the commission secured an easement to and from the chapel, and on April 30, 1988, a ceremony was held in honor of the beginning of restoration of the thirteen-foot-square structure. A group of Italians, including sixteen former POWs, attended and donated money and original sketches and photographs for the restoration project. The restored chapel was dedicated on June 18, 1989, and received a state historical marker on May 8, 1993. See also PRISONERS OF WAR.