NPCA-Sponsored Events Focus Attention on the “Ritchie Boys” and Their Legacy of Heroism from WWII
In June, NPCA sponsored a two-day commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of Camp Ritchie Military Intelligence Training Camp (MITC) in Cascade, Maryland, during WWII, the legacy of the “Ritchie Boys” who trained there, and the role of the National Park Service (NPS) in protecting and interpreting sites in America’s military history. More than 140 people participated in last month’s event, including 34 Ritchie Boys and their families, families of deceased Ritchie Boys, and representatives of the military intelligence community. A day-long symposium was held on June 18 at the U.S. Navy Memorial, followed by a field trip the next day to Fort Ritchie in Maryland. Other sponsors were NPS, the International Spy Museum, the OSS Society, the U.S. Navy Memorial, the Holocaust Memorial Center of Michigan, and Friends of Camp Ritchie.
A Brief Background
On June 19, 1942, the U.S. Army activated Camp Ritchie MITC as a secret installation with the specific mission of creating skilled, multi-lingual intelligence officers. In order to accomplish this goal in the short time available, the Army recruited personnel who already possessed the necessary language skills. As a result, many European immigrants who had fled Hitler’s assault and joined the American armed forces were sent to Camp Ritchie. More than 19,000 servicemen received training at Camp Ritchie from 1942 to 1945. The intelligence officers that emerged were instrumental in a decisive allied victory.
Today, the Ritchie Boys who became Interrogator of Prisoner of War (IPW) Officers are held up as the “gold standard” for interrogation. Their knowledge of the enemy’s language, culture, and mindset allowed them to gain invaluable intelligence–without the use of force.
Speakers at the symposium included National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis; Colonel Steven Kleinman of the Air Force Reserve, a recognized expert in the fields of human intelligence, strategic interrogation, special operations, and special survival training; and two panels of Ritchie Boys who shared their experiences at Camp Ritchie and in World War II.
On the field trip, Ritchie Boys revisited their training grounds from 70 years ago on a guided tour. Afterwards Nina Feld, the daughter of a Ritchie Boy from Germany, gave a presentation on her father’s experiences.
Fort Hunt Park
A number of Camp Ritchie graduates were assigned to PO Box 1142, a top-secret military intelligence installation located on NPS land on the George Washington Memorial Parkway near Mount Vernon in Virginia. High-value German prisoners of war were interrogated there, including U-boat commanders and Reinhard Gehlen, the head of German intelligence on the Eastern Front. After the war, the buildings and all on-site records of PO Box 1142 were destroyed, and the soldiers were instructed never to divulge what they did there. More than 50 years later when the National Archives declassified the records, the National Park Service discovered the story of what happened there during the war. NPS is to be commended for performing this research.
Today the land is Fort Hunt Park, which is used primarily as a picnicking and recreational area by local residents.
NPCA is working to encourage NPS to memorialize and interpret the stories of Fort Hunt’s World War II history through a visitor contact station and other outreach, while continuing to welcome recreational visitors. We would welcome your support in this undertaking. For more information, please contact Pam Goddard, NPCA’s Chesapeake and Virginia Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.454.3365.
-Chris Marker, NPCA’s Senior Program Coordinator, Mid-Atlantic Regional Office
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