Louis V. Marsh DECLASSIFIED
by Fabienne Marsh
November 11, 2022
In May of 2021, I watched with growing interest a “60 Minutes” episode about the “The Ritchie Boys,” who were responsible for recovering more than half of the combat intelligence on the Western Front during World War II.
I had never heard of them.
Given that my father, his brothers, and my French uncle had all served in WWII, I was surprised and somewhat ashamed of my ignorance until I learned that the Ritchie Boys’ identities and their missions were classified TOP SECRET.
In the course of the episode, something gnawed at me, and my mind kept returning to the Ritchie Boys long after “60 Minutes” aired.
When I was very young, I remember opening a rectangular box I’d found in the hall closet. It had a lovely red velvet interior, in which nested what looked like an odd pair of glasses.
I asked my father what purpose the glasses served. He said he’d used them to analyze aerial photographs during the war. He found one such photo, unfolded the stereoscope and showed me how it worked.
My father didn’t talk much about WWII – only that he’d learned German (he already knew French), had some intelligence training, and that he’d captured German soldiers.
I had a few photographs of my father during the war years and, after watching “The Ritchie Boys,” I wondered if one of his aerial photos remained.
Instead I was stunned to find a framed certificate that allowed me to investigate further.
With the help of Leslie Morris, a childhood friend who now specializes in German Jewish studies at the University of Minnesota, I contacted Guy Stern, the 101 year-old Jewish immigrant and Ritchie Boy hero interviewed in the “60 Minutes” segment.
Were my father alive, he would be Guy Stern’s age.
Thank you for your kind words. Unfortunately I did not know your father. You mention he was in class 15, whereas I attended class 9.
Stern mentioned his memoir, Invisible Ink (WSU Press 2020), along with the many inquiries he continues to receive from surprised descendents, which does not surprise Mr. Stern:
“We simply never mentioned our war experience to the other.”
In September of 2021, I received a much-anticipated copy of Beverley Driver Eddy’s Richie Boy Secrets: How a Force of Immigrants and Refugees Helped Win World War II.
Without Eddy’s years of exhaustive research, I would never have been able to fill in the details of my father’s presence at Camp Ritchie.
The book’s information was riveting: 15,000 men and some women were trained in photo interpretation, terrain analysis, counterintelligence, POW interrogation, espionage, signal intelligence (even pigeons), map making, intelligence gathering and close combat. The recruits included immigrants, children of immigrants, refugees, and other recruits with language skills and knowledge of enemy lands and cultures.
Their diversity and talents were staggering. Of the 11,637 students who completed the Camp Ritchie’s standard eight-week course, Eddy writes, “well over half of the men were born in the United States. The second group by far was German (15 percent), followed by Austrians (4.1 percent) and Italians (1.9 percent). As to their religion, Protestant Christians topped the list at 29.7 percent, followed by Roman Catholics (20.1 percent) and Jews (19.7 percent).”
Foreign nationals who trained at the camp included Arabs, Jamaicans, Mexicans, Dutch, Greeks, Norwegians, Russians and Turks.
Two hundred Native Americans were stationed there along with the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), hence Ritchie Girls.
Camp Ritchie, Maryland, Eddy writes, “was an idyllic spot for many of its soldiers, in terms of geography and inclusiveness. It was a true melting pot of America where the mutual goals of defeating the Axis nations superseded everyday prejudice.”
I See My Father’s Name
Ritchie Boy Secrets was the key to decoding my father’s Camp Ritchie Certificate. In Class 15, Louis V. Marsh trained in IPW-GE (Interrogation of German Prisoners of War) and IPW – Other language; PI (Photo Interpretation/Intelligence); and TI (Terrain Intelligence).
He’d also been awarded the Silver Star.
Silver Star Citation
My father always occupied a huge place in our family’s heart, but as a WWII Veteran, he has now earned his place in history.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Second Lieutenant (Coast Artillery Corps) Louis V. Marsh (ASN: 01056160), United States Army, for gallantry in action while serving with the 35th Infantry Division, in action in the vicinity of ****, France, on 16 September 1944. Lieutenant Marsh, a member of the Military Intelligence Team ***, on duty with the *** Infantry Regiment, accompanied his section to the town of ****, France, which at that time had not been liberated. As the party reached the outskirts of the village, French civilians led them to a group of Germans desiring to surrender, then pointed out several enemy strongholds at strategic points along the route of the German retreat. The party deployed through the town despite sniper fire and sporadic machine gun fire and, by zealousness and boldness, succeeded in driving the remaining enemy troops into a central locality, then succeeded in killing or capturing the entire enemy force. Lieutenant Marsh’s gallant actions, initiative and leadership ability resulted in the killing of three, wounding of one, and capture of eighteen enemy troops, and the destruction of one machine gun and capture of an assortment of enemy equipment. (From New York)
*To learn more about the Ritchie Boys checkout this Facebook page dedicated to their service.
Including Veterans in Fiction
Windtree Press asked me to write about how Veterans influence my work. In Juliette, Rising, my father’s workbench serves as a metaphor for loss, with the tools he left behind. I am grateful to my brother, Paul C. Marsh, for recommending his favorite passage.
That night I lay in bed, remembering my father’s garage. His workbench now silent and eerily neat; the saws, the mallets and I-Beam levels. As if standing guard, pliers, screwdrivers and spring clamps hung from the pegboard. In the drawers, boxes were filled with nails and screws, a size for every task. Dozens of patch cords in Ziploc bags. Plugs and cables I did not understand. Issues of polarity, current and compatibility. An entire army of tools awaited the return of its commander.
A palate rested on his easel, the oil paint dry. The final colors he would use: Cobalt Violet, Hooker’s Green, Raw Umber, Cadmium red and Burnt Sienna.
If I don’t sift through our family’s history, who will know the difference? Who will care? What should I save? What should I throw into a bag for Goodwill? Collectors always find their place in history. How else does a Tupperware collection arrive at the Smithsonian?
Fabienne Marsh is the author of four novels and numerous works of non-fiction. Her film credits have appeared on dozens of documentary films and she has taught writing at both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Minnesota. She has served as a writer-consultant for Nickelodeon, HBO, Turner Broadcasting and Public Broadcasting (WNET and WETA). Her lighter works of non-fiction include Dave’sWorld, with co-author Michael Cader about David Letterman, and the coffee-table book, Saturday Night Live: The First Twenty Years, for which Marsh interviewed Candice Bergen, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, and other cast members. You can learn more about her at her website.