For decades after World War II, no one outside of the intelligence community even knew that there had been a secret interrogation program taking place at Virginia’s Fort Hunt. But thanks to a chance encounter with a park ranger, a monument now marks the spot where America once secretly detained high-ranking German soldiers.
Fort Hunt had been in use by the military since the Spanish-American War, but during WWII, it became home to an intelligence location known only as “P.O. Box 1142.” Starting in 1942, German POWs would be brought to the P.O. Box to be interrogated for both war secrets and their scientific knowledge. Among some of the Nazis that passed through the dark facility were Wernher von Braun and Reinhard Gehlen. The Red Cross was not notified when prisoners were taken to the facility, nor were they told when they were moved or how they were being treated, running in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions long before Guantanamo Bay became the symbol of America’s shady detention facilities.
P.O. Box 1142 was finally shut down in 1946, and Fort Hunt eventually became a public park. The memory of the detention center and what went on there lived on only in the minds of those who served at the location. The secrets would have have remained buried for much longer had those same veterans not started speaking out. In the 2000s, a tour guide at Fort Hunt Park heard of a living P.O. Box 1142 veteran, and after speaking with him, began talking to others who worked at the site. When the truth came to light, those who had worked there, mostly in their 80s and 90s at this point, were careful to point out that while they conducted secret interrogations, they did not torture their charges, relying only on humane techniques.
Many of the actual records of what went on at P.O. Box 1142 were destroyed, but now a stone monument stands in Fort Hunt Park that is dedicated to the secret interrogation center. It is one of the few monuments devoted to a top secret facility.
Know Before You Go
Fort Hunt Park is an exit directly from the GW Parkway, about six miles directly south of Alexandria. The park is open dusk to dawn; there is no entry fee. The memorial is next to the enormous flag pole in front of the Battery Mount Vernon ruins and near Pavilion A.