Not all the Ritchie Boys were Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Many were second generation German, Italian, Russian, or Polish, even Japanese. Others where highly ranked language students pulled from advanced college classes. The common thread was fluency in a language spoken by the enemy. A self-described troglodyte, Burton Hastings is one of these American-born Ritchie Boys. His troglodyte status meant I had to use telephone and snail mail to communicate with him. When I called and introduced myself, Burton, who is ninety years old, was eager to share his memories with me. He had been attached to Third Army headquarters, and I was excited to learn he remembered my uncle. In fact, he had been Herman’s driver on an excursion to an air base in liberated France.

Like many Ritchie Boys, Burton Hastings is Jewish. He remembers helping to organize a High Holy Days service for Jewish soldiers while they were still in France. I asked him how he came to have such an Anglo sounding name, and he shared the following story. Both his parents were originally from Austria-Hungary, the empire ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty from 1867 to 1918. “Though they both came to America in 1913, they met for the first time in New York,” Burton said. “They spoke mainly Polish and some German, but at home we spoke English.” Burton’s father was given the name “Ben Zion” (son of Zion) on the advice of the village rabbi, “so the angel of death couldn’t find him among Jews who are all Sons of Zion.” The family name in those days was actually Hasten. Interestingly, there was no problem with their name at Ellis Island, and Burton’s father arrived in New York with his name intact. Later, in order to start a business, Ben Zion Hasten applied for a bank loan, and the loan officer muddled the name on the loan application. Thus Burton’s father became Benjamin Hastings.
Burton was born in Brooklyn, NY, and studied German in high school and at City College of New York. Drafted in the middle of his senior year, he was first assigned to the medical section of the 2nd Cavalry. When his language background was noticed, Burton was sent to the intensive language school at Princeton and then to Camp Ritchie. He graduated with the 16th class in April 1944 and soon found himself assigned to an interrogation team—IPW #80. “I replaced a man who had gotten sick, so I only met the team a couple of weeks before we shipped out,” he told me. “Your uncle was the lieutenant for the team and Captain Jann was in charge.”
Unlike Herman whose memory was sketchy about travel back to Europe, Burton remembered many details of the Atlantic crossing on the WWI troop ship, the SS Aquitania. He told me of their circuitous route, the daily 6:00 a.m. artillery practice on deck, and how the ship’s garbage was simply thrown overboard. With several thousand soldiers being shipped to their overseas assignments, there was a lot of garbage! Burton explained that meals for the men were served in shifts, 24 hours a day, allowing two meals a day per man, the shifts back-to-back, and the mess never without a line of GIs waiting for food. Bunks and hammocks three deep filled every available space on the ship.
Living in these crowded conditions, the soldiers must have been happy to finally arrive in Scotland. But, after a short wait in England, they would be on the move again to the beaches of Normandy. Burton, along with IPW team #80, arrived in France a few weeks after D-day and was attached to General Patton’s Third Army Headquarters. Like Ernest Wachtel, he spent most of the war as a screener of prisoners. He said he did not go behind the lines but stayed at headquarters dealing with the masses of incoming prisoners, sorting them and getting basic information. Burton remembers clearly the week he spent with Herman. This episode does not appear in Immigrant Soldier, so it will be no spoiler for me to recount it here.
Sometime in the later months of the war, probably around March 1945, the US Army and Air Force decided it would be a good idea to offer an exchange program between the two services. Officers could witness first-hand the activities and routines of the other service. Herman, who had always wanted to be in the air corps, volunteered for the exchange. By this time, the Third Army was already somewhere near Frankfurt, and the air base where Herman needed to go was back in France, outside Verdun. He could requisition a jeep, but officers were not allowed to drive themselves, so he asked Burton to come along as his driver. The excursion would offer a change of scene and he was happy to agree.
When they arrived at the air base, Herman settled into the officers’ quarters and signed up for five missions over Germany. He had heard five missions would entitle him to wear air force wings on his uniform. The sorties involved dropping printed propaganda leaflets on enemy villages and towns. The message spread by these falling papers was to surrender without a fight, saving both German and American lives. Herman was allowed to stand in the bomb bay and push out the paper-filled non-exploding bombs.
Meanwhile, Burton was housed with the enlisted men. He was awoken every night by the nightmares of the man in the bunk below his who was a veteran of 25 bombing missions and the only survivor of a plane that had been shot down. Burton did go up on one training flight, but mainly he remembers relaxing and visiting with the air force men in the barracks.
On the way back to Germany, Herman complained that as “only an observer “ it turned out he was not entitled to those coveted wings. The disappointment was softened by an overnight in Brussels and a good steak dinner, but in the morning they found the tires had been stolen from their jeep. Parked nearby was the vehicle of an American Army chaplain. Burton laughed when he told me, “I figured a chaplain wouldn’t need the tires as much as we did, so I jacked up his jeep and transferred the tires to ours. I got us back to Frankfurt in good time.”
Burton Hastings has been a depenable source of information for me and a delightful man to get to know. His memory is clear, and he provided interesting details which were added to Immigrant Soldier. He also remembers all the members of IPW team #80. If anyone knows more about these men, I would love to hear from you. They are as follows:
•Cpt.  Jann
•Lt. Herman Lang
•Staff Sgt. John Mendheim
•Master Sgt. Ernie Wallach
•T-2 Burton Hastings
•T-5 Henry Butler called “Doodle Bug”
Note: At some point, Herman was transferred to IPW #62 where Ernest Wachtel was on his team. How and when this occured is not clear in the record or in anyone’s memory, and I do not try to address it in Immigrant Soldier. 


4 responses to “Born in the USA – A Ritchie Boy”

  1. Alan Lauer

    I have just read your story about Burton Hastings. I have an envelope from 2nd Lt. Ernest Wallach
    ( 0-2015941 ) G-2 Sec, IPW 80, Hq 3rd Army, APO 403, mailed 14 June 1945. It was sent to a
    Rabbi Dr. H.(Hans ) Kronheim in Jamestown, NY. I believe they were brother-in-laws. I did not know what IPW 80 was, thank you for the info and a great story.

    1. Katie Slattery

      Glad you found the article about this wonderful Ritchie Boy. Your envelope from Ernest Wallach is a treasure. Have you contacted Camp Ritchie where they are planning a museum to the Ritchie Boys?

  2. cat jackson

    I just saw the 60 Minute program of The Richie Boys. How could I find out information on a possible member of the Richie Boys? Frank La Scala who served in Europe from 1942-1944 till 1952-l954. Our family never discussed his duties in Europe but I know that he helped displaced people find places to live after the war was over.

    1. Katie Slattery

      Hi Cat, Sorry for the delay in my response. Have you heard of Dan Gross. He has a web-site that lists all the Ritchie Boys.
      You can also contact him directly if you would like more information.
      There is also a Ritchie Boy Facebook page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *