The Ritchie Boys: Heroes of WWII

Unless you had seen this story on CBS 60 Minutes when it was first aired, or more recently, you may have never heard of the “Ritchie Boys.” But as you will see here, what these then young men did for the war effort on behalf of our country in WWII was nothing short of true heroism and was intrinsically important to the success of Allied war efforts against the powerful German Army and Air Forces.

The four men you will see here are all in their late 90s as of the time of the filming of this story. Each of them remains mentally sharp, and all have a deep and abiding sense of pride for what they did as U.S. Army soldiers during WWII. They are all Jewish men who had, in various ways, escaped Germany and immigrated to the United States. They all lost family members in the concentration camps, and each of them were deeply moved to do whatever they could to stop the horrors of Nazism.

Photo: YouTube/60 Minutes

Some of them had experienced the beginnings of the Nazi efforts against the Jews before they were able to get out of Germany. One of them, as a sixteen-year-old, would be the only member of his family that was allowed, in a kind of “Sophie’s Choice” scenario, to leave Germany, while the rest of his family had to remain and were eventually taken to the concentration camps, where they were among the six million Jews that were murdered by the hellish hate and racism of the Nazi regime. For most of us, that number is a statistic, albeit a mind-numbing statistic, but for these men who lost family members in those camps, it is a matter of intimate, ever-present pain and loss.

Photo: YouTube/60 Minutes

Though this story is rooted in the horrors that the Nazis brought upon Europe and upon the Jews, it is also a story of great moral, intellectual, and physical courage. You will see that each of these four ancient warriors in this story went on to live long and productive lives, some in university teaching and many in other fields.

I was struck by the moral character of each of these men. Their memories of those times are clear and sharp, filled with all of the complex emotions that go along with those memories. And despite the horrors of the Holocaust, the war, their combat experiences, and the losses they all experienced, they remain cheerful, witty, and full of a definite sense of the Joie de vivre. One of them seems to be very dour, but listen to his short, precise answers to the questions he is asked, and you will hear a sly, sardonic sense of humor emphasized by a hint of a smile.

Photo: YouTube/60 Minutes

The Ritchie Boys got their name because of the Army Camp that they were all sent to for counter-espionage and combat training: Camp Ritchie in Cascade, Maryland. They were mostly Jews and others who had the requisite language skills and intelligence to become very effective interrogators and spies on the battlefields across Germany. You will hear their stories and what they did from their own personal points of view.

Photo: YouTube/60 Minutes

It is said here that the Ritchie Boys’ intelligence-gathering skills were positively effective in over 60 percent of the American and Allied battlefield victories against the Germans. Their counter-espionage efforts in effectively interrogating German POWs of every rank and importance, and in various individual, behind-the-lines, spying missions, were absolutely essential to the Allied victory over Germany in WWII.

The Ritchie Boys landed with the first waves on D-Day, and, over the following days, they marched and did their counterintelligence magic all the way to Berlin in May of 1945. One of them will tell about going to one of the Death Camps three days after it was liberated. He was walking with another battle-hardened American Army soldier, who was not a Jew. He began to cry and stepped back so the other soldier wouldn’t see his tears, but the other soldier suddenly turned around, and he saw that that soldier’s face was streaming with tears as well.

Photo: YouTube/60 Minutes

This story is not one of the most well-known accounts of heroism from WWII. The counter-espionage element of the Ritchie Boys’ work was part of the reason for that. It was kind of like the Navajo Code Talkers being sworn to secrecy about what they did and their codes for the rest of their lives. These men, like the Navajo Code Talkers, honored that silence as well. They didn’t even have reunions with each other until the late 90s, and, as you can imagine, they love getting together with their old friends. Many of the Ritchie Boys would stay in the Military Intelligence Service, others would go on to the OSS, the precursor to the CIA.

The Veterans Site is happy to share this story and to express our respect, honor, and pride to the Ritchie Boys who are still with us and to those who died in WWII protecting this country against the Nazi threats to life and liberty. We will never forget! Hoorah!

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