by Priscilla Rall
Military Intelligence Service at Camp Ritchie
When WWII began, it was apparent that the United States did not have plans to train intelligence gatherers, which would be vital for our armed forces. One intelligence organization that was soon formed was the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), and it took over Camp Ritchie from the Maryland National Guard in early 1942. The men recruited for this organization were immigrants to the United States from Europe, mostly Jewish, whose native language was German, Hungarian, or French. They became known as the “Ritchie Boys.”
Henry Marcus was a Ritchie Boy who was born in Vienna in 1915. His father fought in the Austrian Army in WWI and was injured several times. His mother was born in Czechoslovakia.
Henry watched as the Nazis invaded Austria and saw Hitler several times at rallies. After six months in the Austrian Army, he got a passport and a one-way ticket to Baltimore, where his aunt and uncle lived. Fortunately, he met Mr. Rosenstock, a lawyer in Frederick, who helped him travel to Frederick and introduced him to the vibrant Jewish community there. He eventually met Rebecca Sclar and her family, and he and Rebecca were married in 1942. Together, they had one son, Ralph.
Henry joined the Maryland National Guard in 1941 and worked as a cook for Col. Markey. Instead of going with the 29th Division on the Carolina Maneuvers, Col. Markey asked him to go with him to Camp Pickett in Virginia. He was there six months when MIS recruited him and sent him to Camp Ritchie. He recalled the intense instructions on photo interpretation, deciphering, interrogation techniques, the German Order of Battle, and even classes on close combat and silent killing.
Just before D-Day in Normandy, the first group of Ritchie Boys was sent to England. Many of them went to France on D-Day, and one even made a drop with an airborne unit, although he had never jumped before. Si Lewen used a megaphone to broadcast propaganda and convince Germans to surrender. Guy Stern improved the army’s propaganda leaflets that encouraged the enemy soldiers to surrender.
Henry travelled to France in September 1944, where he worked with the Army Air Corps interpreting aerial photos and identifying the locations of German gun emplacements. Later, he was assigned to the 8th Armored Division with the Third Army. He gathered intelligence for the Battle of the Roer River, and later his team directed the entire division across the Rhine River. According to his discharge papers, he worked with the Counter Intelligence Corps in Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Some of the men spent three months in Aachen, and then they were sent to the Hurtegen Forest area. According to the Ritchie Boys, they had clear evidence of a large build-up of enemy troops and went to corp headquarters to report the danger. No one believed them, but that night the Nazis attacked in what is now called the Battle of the Bulge.
Most of the Ritchie Boys escaped, but Germans captured Philip Glaessner. He spent three months in Stalag 9A. The enemy soon located the headquarters of the MIS unit called the IPW (Interrogation of Prisoners of War). In a rage, the Nazis murdered them all. Because many of the Germans were passing themselves off as GIs, the Ritchie Boys were often stopped, and because of their foreign accents, had trouble explaining themselves. One was killed although he gave the correct password. It was assumed he was German because of his accent.
SSgt. Marcus’s most dangerous mission was when he was sent to gather intelligence from the Germans for an upcoming Allied offense. He had to don a German uniform and listen to the Germans in their nearby camp. This is something that the government told him never to disclose, as it is against the Geneva Convention, but after 60 years, he felt it was time to tell his story, which he had never shared before his interview for the Veterans History Project. When asked what he said when in the middle of the enemy encampment, he replied, “Not a damn thing!” The most-difficult part of his mission was returning to the American lines. He was stuck in a large shell hole for two days before he could safely return with his hard-won intelligence.
The OSS (Office of Strategic Services) is better known, eventually becoming the CIA, but few Americans know anything about the MIS and its training center in the Catoctin Mountains. Barney Kandel, Henry’s brother-in-law, told me I should interview Henry, and I am very glad I did. Henry Marcus died in 2006, three months after his interview. The Jewish immigrant Ritchie Boys willingly returned to Europe at the risk of their lives, gathering intelligence vital to the Allied victory. They deserve to be recognized as the heroes they all were.
If you are a Veteran or you know a Veteran who is willing to tell his or her story, you can contact the Frederick County Veterans History Project at email@example.com.
Henry Marcus and his wife, Rebecca.