Finding The Ritchie Boys

Somewhere in the middle of a day of taping Herman’s memories in 1991, he mentioned his special training. “They sent me to the Army Intelligence Center,” he told me. “That was in Camp Ritchie, Maryland. And I took the course and graduated from the Army Intelligence Corps. We were trained in interrogation, espionage, and counter-espionage.”

That was the only time he named Camp Ritchie. He also mentioned other places he was assigned: Camp Roberts, Fort Lewis, Needles in the Mojave Desert, and Camp Benning, Georgia. When I first heard the name of the Camp Ritchie training center, I had no idea where it would lead me. It was simply a name on a list of places where Herman was stationed.

When I finished the first part of the manuscript, I knew writing about the army years would be a struggle. How would I, born during World War II and raised in the 1950s when women served in the army mainly as nurses and secretaries, be able to bring the feeling of truth to Herman’s military life, especially during wartime? Neither my father nor my husband had been in the military. Of course, there were great movies and TV specials—films like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers—which brought visual images I could translate into description. There was also a new development in my own life. My son, always fascinated by things historical and military, joined a World War I reenactment group in high school. Later he would enlist in the US Marines, and in 2003, at the age of 19, he was among the first forces heading to Bagdad. Suddenly, I had another reason to want to know what it was like to be part of an invading army.

I expanded my reading to include memoires, nonfiction works, and novels about World War II, trying to gain a feeling for what it was like to be on the battlefield. Two of the best of these were Citizen Soldier, by Stephen Ambrose and Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII’s Forgotten Heroes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton. I was lucky to discover several books that dealt directly with the Third Army in Europe, and these were invaluable. One was titled G-2 Intelligence for Patton by Brig. Gen. Oscar Koch (the same Oscar Koch who was head of the intelligence section at Patton’s headquarters).

One afternoon in 2002, poking through a book stall at a reenactment event where my teenage son participated with the World War I Marine contingent, I found a worn, dog-eared copy of the book, Lucky Forward, The History of General George Patton’s Third U.S. Army. Written by Herman’s commanding officer, Colonel Robert Allen, this little book was a treasure for me because of its detailed description of life in the Third Army and especially because the author included Herman in a list of “crack men” working at Lucky Forward, Patton’s mobile headquarters.

Now I had a list of names, Herman’s peers, some who might actually remember my uncle. I tried to contact the G-2 Intelligence men from Allen’s list, aware that they would, most of them, be well into their 80s. I could only hope to find some who were still alive and lucid. It was a discouraging exercise. I received one response—a letter from the widow of a gentleman who had been the only name Herman remembered from the list. Ninety-two years old herself, she wrote me several times, sharing as much as she knew, but she also added, “It is a pity you waited so long to contact these interesting men . . . your task would have been easier.”

Okay. It wouldn’t be easy. I would have to become a real researcher and historian. I planned a trip to the East Coast that would include research time at the National Archives in Maryland and the Military History Library in Pennsylvania. My next step was to intensify my search of the internet. By this time, late 2005, the web was well established as a preliminary resource. (Young people reading this may not know it wasn’t always this way.) I looked up people and places Herman had mentioned, as well as general information about the 1930s and ‘40s. When I searched Camp Ritchie, I hit the jackpot—I discovered the Ritchie Boys.

It was the first time I had heard this nickname for the men trained at Camp Ritchie, most of them, as it turned out, Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. The Ritchie Boys was also the title of a German produced documentary film short-listed that year for the Oscars and the reason for the website, When I told Herman about the nickname and the documentary, he was excited and honored. By this time, my uncle was in a nursing home, his mind and body fragile, but he understood that the work he had done during the war was finally being appreciated. In the early winter of 2006, he passed away, having read the first chapters of my book and giving them his stamp of approval.

The Ritchie Boy web-site and the documentary offered a treasure of information about the camp and the training. Listening to the stories of the men featured in the documentary was helpful, but best of all, there was a web-site forum (since closed) where I posted questions and asked for contact with anyone who had been at Camp Ritchie in the summer of 1944 or in the Third Army under Patton. Thus I met several men who answered my plea and contacted me. Three men in particular, men who I first met through the Ritchie Boy forum, generously shared their time and memories—Ernest Wachtel, Guy Stern, and the late GG Grombacher. These were the first of many Ritchie Boys who shared their personal experiences, answering questions via e-mail and talking to me in person or on the phone. Getting to know these elderly gentlemen has been a bonus I treasure.

I began to see the book I was writing as a tribute to all the Ritchie Boys. I hope to share some of their individual stories with my readers in future posts. If you want to know more about these men, click above on “The Ritchie Boys.”  At the bottom there is also a link to the interesting Ritchie Boys Facebook page.

I’d love to get a Ritchie Boy “fan club” started.  Let me know if you have interest in a Ritchie Boy forum through this web-site and I will get it started. These men, those still alive now in their 80s and 90s, are some of the unsung heroes of World War II.


2 responses to “Finding The Ritchie Boys”

  1. Ray Swartz

    I am writing a biography of my father, who was a Ritchie Boy in IPW#60. I have a lot of information about him. He died in 2010. I would like to be in your fan club. Does it exist?

    1. Katie Slattery

      Thanks for contacting me. Great that your biography of your father will add to the information about the Ritchie Boys. Unfortunately,I don’t have a dedicated fan club.

      You can subscribe to my blog (see the form on my blog page), though many of my newer posts are about travel. I recently published a travel memoir, Wherever the Road Leads, so my focus is currently on that.

Leave a Reply

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