Guy Stern celebrated his 100th birthday in January 2022. In 2017, he received the highest French distinction of merit for military and civil service: the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
Stern is a decorated German-American member of what we now know as the Ritchie Boys. He represents one of approximately 15,000 men and women who trained at Camp Ritchie, located in Maryland, from 1942 to 1946. After completing his training, he served on a military intelligence interrogation team during WWII. After the war he went to Columbia University and became a scholar of primarily German and comparative literature. He is currently director of the Zekelman Holocaust Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Stern wrote the foreword by Beverley D. Eddy “Ritchie Boy Secrets: How a Force of Immigrants and Refugees Helped Win World War II.” He is proud of his membership in this elite group and suspects that readers will be intrigued by Eddy’s thorough and meticulous account of the camp’s many divisions, specialized training, and contributions to the states war effort. United in World War II.
Training for Secret Missions
Nestled in a mountainous region with two man-made lakes, Camp Ritchie was an idyllic setting that felt more like a vacation spot than a rigid training camp. But the demands placed on residents taking the 8-week course often meant navigating thick woods as they attempted to read maps in German, Italian or Japanese. The basic course required a complete mastery of the organization of the German army, including knowledge of all branches, ranks, weapons, vehicles and uniforms. A similar course was offered on the organization of the Italian army.
Camp Ritchie students read terrain and air intelligence from aerial photographs to understand what was on the ground or camouflaged there. They became proficient in Morse code. They trained in mapping and hand-to-hand combat. They were to find out everything they might encounter in the European theater, including the names of commanders.
Major Rex Applegate was recruited by Colonel William “Wild Bill” Donovan at Camp Ritchie’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS) training camp for intelligence officers, and brought his own brand of hand-to-hand combat, knife and pistol fighting. cooking. At camp, it was known as “the school for spies and assassins”. Great, the Applegate courses weren’t for the faint of heart.
In 1943, nearly 900 soldiers left Camp Ritchie and headed to Camp Sharpe in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Camp Ritchie had become overcrowded. Infantry training was in full swing at Camp Sharpe.
“Whether as writers, broadcasters, hog callers, radio men, printers or drivers, Camp Sharpe graduates have worked interactively – and effectively – in all aspects of psychological warfare in the European theater .”
The Camp Ritchie Theater
Camp Ritchie was home to a number of actors, musicians, theater managers and producers who prepared elaborate visual displays, such as a mock German village with buildings and costumed actors.
For some residents, it was sometimes hard to believe they were in an American camp because so many languages were spoken there. Whether they come from Europe or America, recruits are called upon for their linguistic prowess. Reading and understanding documents in foreign languages was a highly sought-after skill. Those with particularly strong skills could be used as interrogators or persuasive radio personalities trained to encourage the enemy to surrender.
As Eddy writes, “Evidently Ritchie’s interrogators were not only well trained for their task, but also demonstrated complete mastery of prisoner psychology in their dealings with the enemy.”
While the camp was primarily staffed by men, there was also a contingent of female recruits: the Camp Ritchie WAC (Women’s Army Corps). Native American, Japanese-American and black soldiers were represented. All did their part to advance the United States’ efforts to win the war.
Eddy interweaves his narrative with occasional personal profiles. Readers will learn the specific story of an individual: what he did before arriving at Camp Ritchie, how he distinguished himself there, and what happened to him after the war.
Many stories have a happy and happy ending. Others don’t, as many end up leaving camp after class and heading into battle, espionage, or acting as interrogators. Many do not survive.
There are few, if any, from the ranks of Camp Ritchie residents you wouldn’t call a hero. All served in their own niche of expertise. Many suffered personal humiliation, like the Japanese-American soldiers who fought valiantly in Europe but were not allowed to be officers, especially after Pearl Harbor. Their stigma was of being Japanese even though they were born in the United States.
Eddy also shares stories of humanitarian acts outside the battlefield. As an example, Swiss-born Captain Ritchie Boy Ferdinand Sperl is credited with obtaining the Luftwaffe intelligence documents. But his greatest fame was his role in orchestrating the safe release of thoroughbreds, many of them Lipizzaner horses from a Nazi stud farm in Czechoslovakia, into American hands. The Russians were approaching and it was feared that if captured the horses would be killed for their meat. Sperl coordinated his efforts with a German colonel, also a horse lover.
Eddy’s is a scholarly work, not the first to be written, about the unique population of Camp Ritchie during World War II. It’s a slice of history that’s not only fascinating, but a testament to a time when extraordinary actions were taken by extraordinary people. She tells it well.
‘Ritchie Boy Secrets: How a Force of Immigrants and Refugees Helped Win World War II’
By Beverley D. Eddy
Stackpole Books, September 7, 2021
Hardcover: 436 pages