Daddy Went to Spy School!

Every few months I google my name to see if anything new has appeared—my maiden name, not my current name. I try the many variations I have discovered, and this week, I got a new hit. On the second page of my Google search a website appeared: V-Z Surnames–The Ritchie Boys.

Apparently during World War II there was a camp in northern Maryland used to train Intelligence personnel, and my dad’s name was on the roster. Dad was trained as a spy? That was news to me because I always thought that my father was part of a medical unit. I even have the photographs of Dad with a plethora of nurses appearing to be having a jolly good time.

Then I recalled a mysterious line in his discharge papers which said, “8 weeks aerial photo interp” alongside “8 weeks surgical.” I sent a letter of inquiry to someone affiliated with the webpage.

I immediately heard back from the son of the primary researcher, who stated that “I would say he had foreign language knowledge that they wanted to use. Most of them were translators, interrogators, spies, etc…”

Follow-up emails confirmed what I already knew since I had a very unique name: Dad was a Ritchie Boy. What surprised me, and I disagree based upon a conversation that my brother had with my father many years ago, was that Dad was an infantry cadet in the Russian Army in 1938. That would have been after he graduated from high school in June of that year. My father had said that he refused to enter the Soviet Army because he was an American citizen, so I am curious why that would be in his file.

The Ritchie Boys Researcher, Daniel Gross, told me that in his opinion, Dad’s medical skills may have been of greater value than his Russian language skills or his ability to interpret aerial photographs.

Many of the Ritchie Boys were German Jews, whose German-language skills were particularly useful as interrogators. Mr. Gross stated that “In cases where a Ritchie Boy is assigned to a team and/or attached to a unit (Division, Army, etc), I can usually find some additional information on the soldier but in the case of your father, I wasn’t able to get additional service information from these records.”

So there is another mystery about Dad that will never get resolved. Since he returned to work on a medical ship, I asked if he would still be considered a Ritchie Boy. Here’s what Mr. Gross said, “One of the (many) unresolved points is the definition of a Ritchie Boy (whether it should be narrow, e.g. only graduates of the basic 8-week course or broader to include non-graduates of the 8-week course, plus graduates of shorter courses, etc).

In any case, it has been verified that my father went to Intelligence School, and I have a slip of paper to prove it.

To learn more about these men, go to “The Ritchie Boys.”






About kjw616

I am a genealogy detective. I have already written one book about my Irish family's journey from 19th century Ireland to the United States- a family history sprinkled with personal anecdotes. My second book was intended to be a similar story about my Russian ancestors. Instead, it turned into a tale of just my father's immediate family. It is the tale of what happens when 6 children from New Jersey are moved to the Soviet Union by their Russian-born parents during the Great Depression. It details who lives, who dies, and who is able to return to NJ during a time when leaving the USSR was not an easy endeavor, particularly during World War II and the Cold War. It is my hope that those interested in history during this time period will find this story fascinating as well as those fellow amateur family historians who will learn some of the tools such as, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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2 Responses to Daddy Went to Spy School!

  1. Pingback: Nobody Was Surprised – Mommysmeanderings

  2. Pingback: Where Were They on D-Day? | Do Svidanya Dad: Trapped in Russia

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