Eight Notable Ritchie Boys

The Ritchie Boys, brought together by their proficiency in German, Italian or French, were trained in intelligence work by the US Army under whose command they helped defeat the Axis powers in WWII. After their service was completed, like veterans today, they had to find a place for themselves in civilian life. As a group, they did uncommonly well. The list of successful Ritchie Boys is long. You have already heard of some of them in previous posts—William Warfield and General Grombacher. In fact, the hero of Immigrant Soldier, Herman Lang, later earned 6 Emmys for his excellent camera work with CBS.

As the publication of Immigrant Soldier approaches, I’d like to honor eight notable Ritchie Boys from a variety of fields. These men are only a few of the many.

Ralph Baer, inventor—Known as the father of the video game, Baer was born in Germany in 1922 and arrived in America at the age of 16. By 1940, he was working as a radio service technician. After his army service, he furthered his education with the aide of the G.I. Bill. As a television engineer, he began playing around with TV Games. Baer created prototypes and eventually a working model released in 1972 by Magnavox called Odyssey. Later, he partnered with a toy company to make electronic games. The most successful of these—Simonis a toy that challenges coordination and memory and which gave my own children countless hours of fun.

Gardner Botsford, editor and writer—American-born and raised in a privileged Manhattan family, Gardner Botsford was a married man with an infant daughter when he arrived at Camp Ritchie the same summer as Herman, the hero of Immigrant Soldier. I can’t help but wonder—did they meet? Botsford had worked as a reporter for The New Yorker magazine for a short time before the war. During the war, he served as an infantry officer and was instrumental in intelligence efforts to capture a collaborator spy. After the war, he returned to The New Yorker and eventually became a distinguished editor, a job he enjoyed for 40 years.

John Chafee, statesman—Another American-born Ritchie Boy, Chafee followed in the footsteps of his politically active family. He was in his third year at Yale when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and he enlisted in the Marine Corps. One of only a handful of marines who attended Camp Ritchie, Chafee saw action in the Pacific Theater during WWII and in Korea in the 1950s. He entered public life, like many members of his family before him, holding offices both elected and appointed. He was governor of Rhode Island from 1962 to 1969, Secretary of the Navy under President Nixon, and a US senator from 1976 until his death in 1999.

Eugene Fodor, travel writer—Have you ever used a Fodor’s travel guide to plan a trip? Born in 1905 in what is now Slovakia, but was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Eugene Fodor found the travel guides of his day boring. He wrote his first travel guide, On the Continent, in 1936 while living and working as a travel correspondent in London. Fodor, who spoke five languages, was on a business trip in the United States when war broke out, and he remained there, becoming a US citizen in 1942. Fodor did not graduate from a full course at Camp Ritchie, but he did attend classes there, which qualified him as a Ritchie Boy. During the war, he served in the Office of Strategic Services. In 1949, he founded Fodor’s in Paris and created Fodor Modern Guides,which published travel books that included history, cultural insights, and practical information for travelers. Though his business headquarters remained in France, he lived in Connecticut from 1964 until his death in 1991.

John W. Kluge, media mogul and philanthropist—I’m sure you have heard of Metromedia, the Harlem Globetrotters, and the Ice Capades. John Kluge was the man who started it all. Of Scots-Irish, English, and German decent, he was born in Germany in 1914. His father died in WWI and his mother soon married a German-American businessman who moved the family to Detroit in 1922. Kluge worked hard to lose his German accent and to get an education. He graduated from Columbia University in 1937 and almost immediately showed success in business. During the war, Kluge was assigned to Fort Hunt, the top secret facility where high-ranking German prisoners were brought for questioning. After his WWII service, he turned to broadcasting and created a radio station in Silver Springs, Maryland. This was the beginning of a vast radio and television empire that made him at one time the 2nd richest man in America. His charitable work was also prodigious. He donated time and huge sums to United Cerebral Palsy, Columbia University, the restoration of Ellis Island, and the Library of Congress.

Rudolph Schirmer, composer, music publisher, writer—Rudolph Schirmer left a rich legacy of creative works—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and music. He is often credited with bringing classical music to America. Though born in California in 1919, he lived most of his life in New York and showed himself to be a true renaissance man. A graduate of Princeton University, he composed numerous works including an opera, was an influential music publisher, nurtured such greats as Leonard Bernstein, and was a talented poet and writer of novels and travel essays. During WWII, he served as a field interrogator, a job similar to Herman’s.

David Seymour, photographer—Born Dawid Szymin in Warsaw, Poland, Seymour was a precocious linguist even as a child. As a young man he studied in Germany and Paris where, in 1933, he found his passion in photography. Taking photos, he followed the action from the Spanish Civil War to Mexico and finally to New York. There, he continued his career until 1942, when he was drafted by the US Army and sent to Camp Ritchie. After his war service in photo reconnaissance and interpretation, he resumed his career in photography and became the trusted portraitist of many film stars, including Sophia Loren and Ingrid Bergman. He photographed for Life, Look, Paris-Match and on special assignment for UNICEF. He was killed by machine gun fire on the way to photograph a prisoner exchange during the Suez conflict of 1956.

Ernst Wynder M.D., medical researcher—Wynder was the first to study the risk factors of smoking tobacco. Born in Germany in 1922, his family escaped the Nazis and ended up in New Jersey in 1938. During WWII, he joined the US Army, attended classes at Camp Ritchie, and was assigned to a psychological warfare unit where he monitored German newscasts. After the war, as a medical student, he began his work as a researcher, collecting case histories of lung cancer patients. His studies led to the definitive 1950 study linking lung cancer and smoking. During a long career, he devoted himself to the study and prevention of cancer and chronic disease. In 1972, he became the first editor of the magazine, Preventive Medicine.


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