I arrived at the Detroit airport on a hot and humid afternoon in July 2011, but I wasn’t there to sightsee or to wander the asphalt streets of a city in the throes of financial decline and economic desperation. I was on my way to meet Ritchie Boys. I would be part of a reunion to celebrate the opening of a special exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Center near Detroit, Michigan.

Earlier in the spring, one of the Ritchie Boys I knew through the German documentary website had contacted me to let me know about the event. I was able to get an invitation to the gathering and would represent my uncle. I gathered together my resources, prepared an album about my uncle to share with the men I hoped to meet, bought airline tickets, and packed my bags. Bob, an important man in my personal life, agreed to travel with me. He is extremely gregarious, loves to listen to the stories of older men and women, and is a supporter of all my writing and research efforts. We were met by a car at the Detroit airport, driven across the city in the darkening dusk, and settled into the designated hotel in Farmington Hills.

The next morning, after a late breakfast, we returned to the lobby. Quite a few guests including a number of older men, probably Ritchie Boys, grouped around the room, happily sharing stories. More elderly men, some with their wives or their grown children, were just arriving. We joined a group seated on sofas in the center of the lobby and a flurry of introductions followed. Directly across the coffee table from me sat the man who had told me about the event. I had never met him in person, but we had corresponded via e-mail and talked on the telephone. Best of all, Ernest had actually served on the same interrogation team as my uncle Herman.

When Ernest learned who I was, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You know, I didn’t like your uncle.”

He had told me this before, during a phone conversation. “I know,” I said, “I don’t mind. You’re entitled to your opinion.” And so we made peace—he by stating plainly his feelings and me by acknowledging them. His dislike of my uncle did not change my desire to get to know him and delve into his perspective. Ernest, a man who is forthright, sometimes abrasive, and interesting as a result, is the only man I have ever known to dislike Herman, but also the only one I had found so far that had worked with Herman during World War II. His memories would help me to write a fully contoured portrait of my hero.

Later in the afternoon, people wandered back to their rooms to dress for dinner. We would be taken by bus to the Patriot Pub on nearby Selfridge Air National Guard Base for the Ritchie reunion dinner. At 6 pm we all gathered again in the hotel lobby.  A TV crew had arrived.  With cameras on their shoulders, led by a microphone wielding interviewer, they were preparing to shoot a segment for the evening news.[ It was an exciting beginning for the evening. Later, watching the segment, Bob and I saw ourselves for a brief few seconds on camera behind the newsman and Ernest. Feisty, animated, and verbal, Ernest was a perfect choice to feature on the segment.
Sunday was devoted to a luncheon at the Holocaust Memorial Center, a private showing of the exhibit, followed by the grand opening ceremonies and later a special commemorative dinner for the Ritchie Boys and their families. A small private lounge area was set up where we could relax, share scrapbooks and pictures, and talk with the other invited guests.

I passed around my scrapbook about Herman, which included a copy of a group photo taken in 1944 of two IPW (Interrogators of Prisoners of War) teams. There in the front row, squatted on their haunches, were the officers and sergeants of the two groups, Herman and Ernest shoulder to shoulder. Many of the other men in the picture were unidentified and the reunion enabled me to add a few more names to the faces. In fact, the same photo, still needing the identification of additional men, is posted on the Ritchie Boy page of this website. I’d love to hear from anyone who might be able to add a name to my list of Ritchie Boys in the photo.

The exhibit, titled Secret Heroes, was well done, including photos, wonderfully written explanations, and artifacts like an old typewriter used to prepare reports and examples of leaflets created to drop behind the lines in German territory. But the best part of the event was meeting the elderly men and hearing their memories of the war, of their childhoods in Germany and Austria, and about the varied paths that led them to the United States and the American army.

Here is a link to the news video taken that day at the Ritchie Boy reunion.  You will see Bob and me briefly in the very beginning (behind Ernest shaking hands with a gentleman in a light blue sports-coat).    http://www.today.com/id/26184891/vp/44188170#44188170


Leave a Reply

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