NPCA-Sponsored Events Focus Attention on the “Ritchie Boys” and Their Legacy of Heroism from WWII

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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 pgoddard@npca.org or 202.454.3365.

Learn more about the Ritchie Boys in recent articles in the Washington Post and Public Opinion Online; and read about the mysterious story behind PO Box 1142 in National Parks magazine.

-Chris Marker, NPCA’s Senior Program Coordinator, Mid-Atlantic Regional Office

If you liked this story, you might also like:

Preserving the Manhattan Project: Cynthia Kelly and the Atomic Heritage Foundation (May 9, 2012)

“Win-Win” Partnership for Wounded Warriors Benefits Veterans and the Park Service (February 24, 2012)

Remembering the Little-Known Battle at One of the Best-Preserved Civil War Parks (March 7, 2012)

 

About the Author

Editor of Online Communications Jennifer Errick
  • http://3PPS Ms. Truschel

    This story needs to be told and preserved.

  • Carla Haim

    I am disappointed to learn of NPCA’s affiliation with this type of event. One good reason: one of my relations was the German physicist Walther Gerlach, who was heavily involved in the research of Uranium during the Nazi regime and was one of those who were detained and interrogated at that time. Also, I do not see a relevant or wholesome connection between the preservation of beautiful parks and military affairs. However, I will continue to be involved as an online supporter of NPCA’s pro-environment initiatives.

  • Chris Marker

    Ms. Haim,

    Thank you for writing to us. We appreciate your continued support of NPCA.

    I understand your perspective, and, it’s not an uncommon one, essentially that the national park system is primarily about places like Yellowstone and Shenandoah.

    However, in addition to preserving our country’s natural resources and iconic landscapes, the National Park Service has a long and storied tradition of preserving and interpreting our nation’s history and our cultural heritage, including places significant in our military history.

    There are dozens of National Park sites, such as Antietam National Battlefield, Minidoka Internment National Monument, and the USS Arizona Memorial that tell the stories of the sacrifices made by those who have served in the armed forces and of the destructive power of war.

    These places tell our history, including some of the most painful and even shameful stories.

    They are a part of our heritage, and interpreting and understanding them is crucial to understanding who we are as a nation.

    Interestingly, many battlefield sites now provide critical habitat for plants and animals, and are being managed for those values, as well as for the stories from our history.

    The role of the National Park Service as stewards of our cultural heritage is one that NPCA supports, which is why we were part of the Ritchie Boy Commemoration. Not only did this event help to tell the little known story of the Ritchie Boys, who have been hailed as the “gold standard” for interrogation and are known for their humane techniques, but it gave us the opportunity to raise support for our efforts to memorialize and interpret the unique history of Fort Hunt Park, where many Ritchie Boys were assigned after they left Camp Ritchie.

    Today Fort Hunt is a popular picnicking ground, and aspects of its rich history are not well-interpreted. We are working with the NPS to change that.

    I hope this perspective helps you understand why NPCA sponsored this event.

    Thank you for writing, and for your support of our national parks!