August 10, 2021

Van Hollen, Senate Colleagues Honor the Service of World War II Ritchie Boys

Bipartisan resolution approved by the full Senate recognizes bravery and contributions of 19,000 troops who served in vital language and intelligence roles in every theater of World War II

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) lauded unanimous passage by the Senate Monday evening of their resolution (S. Res. 349) that honors the contributions and service of the Ritchie Boys during World War II. A U.S. Army unit named for Camp Ritchie in Maryland where they trained, Ritchie Boys included individuals of many faiths who were both American- and foreign-born, originating in as many as 70 countries. These men possessed language and skills that prepared them to be specialists, counterintelligence operatives, photo interpreters and psychological warfare experts. Ritchie Boys were assigned to every unit of the U.S. Army, as well as the Marines, along with the OSS and the Counter Intelligence Corps during World War II. Their contributions were essential to the Allied war effort; a declassified report records that the Ritchie Boys gathered nearly 60% of the actionable intelligence in Europe.

“We owe the Richie Boys a debt of gratitude for their bravery and service. These soldiers’ military intelligence skills were a critical asset to the Allied forces and saved countless lives. We must ensure that the courage and sacrifice of the Richie Boys is recognized and never forgotten,” said Senator Van Hollen.

Approximately 2,800 Ritchie Boys were refugees who fled Nazi persecution in Germany and Austria and came to the United States (as ‘enemy aliens’) prior to our entry into World War II. These individuals, including Senator Wyden’s father Peter Wyden, had the strongest motivation to return and fight for their newly adopted country. After the war, Ritchie Boys continued to serve as interpreters and interrogators during the Nuremberg Trials. Of the approximately 19,000 Ritchie Boys who served during the war, about 200 are still living, ranging 95 – 107 years old. “Ritchie Boys were heroes who used their innate skills to gather information from all sources and save the lives of American and Allied troops. Our praise for their bravery and valor may have been delayed because so much of their effort had been previously classified, but our thanks cannot be overstated,” said Senator Cardin, “As fewer and fewer Ritchie Boy veterans remain, it is more important than ever that we honor their memory and courageous service to their country. All of them deserve to have their nation recognize how they used their talents to fight for freedom when it faced its greatest threat.”

“The Ritchie Boys served the United States with bravery and courage, saving the lives of many Americans and Allied Forces,” Senator Crapo said. “Idaho’s Frank Church served in this heroic group, and Idaho is home to one surviving Ritchie Boy veteran, William Hulet. These fearless, highly-specialized men deserve our respect and honor for the work they did to save lives and preserve our freedom.”

“The Ritchie boys were instrumental in the Allied Forces’ victory in World War II,” said Senator Risch. “Recently declassified documents have shed light on their efforts, which helped save the lives of countless American troops. These brave intelligence operatives pledged to defend our freedoms when they were most at risk, and they deserve our recognition.”

“My father, Peter Wyden, fled Nazi Germany to find refuge in America, and he felt a deeply personal obligation to serve his new home and fight to save his old one as a part of the U.S. Army’s Ritchie Boys. Until recently, I didn’t even know the extent of my father’s service. The Ritchie Boys didn’t just create propaganda to drop over Nazi-occupied territories, among other critical responsibilities. Newly declassified reports revealed they were integral in gathering counterintelligence that helped secure victory for the Allies in WWII. I’m extremely proud to join this resolution recognizing the contributions of the Ritchie Boys, many of whom, like my father, were refugees united by a sense of honor and service,” Senator Wyden said.

Ritchie Boys were sent as individual specialists in small elite teams to join combat units in the North African, Mediterranean, European and Pacific theaters starting in 1942 and to military camps and Prisoner of War camps and interrogation centers (such as Fort Hunt, VA) in the U.S. Members of the unit displayed bravery that was awarded with over 65 Silver Star medals and numerous Bronze Star medals as well as at least five Legion of Honor and many Croix de Guerre medals. About 140 Ritchie Boys lost their lives during the war. 

The full text of S. Res. 349 honoring the Ritchie Boys can be found at this link.