In the November 2019 Smithsonian Magazine is a fine essay The Untold Story of the Secret Mission to Seize Nazi Map Data, about HOUGHTEAM headed by U.S. Army Maj. Floyd W. Hough. It explores the exploits of Major Hough and his team and I immediately thought of the parallels between him, Maj. Duane Marvey and Marvy’s Mothers in Gravity’s Rainbow. While Pynchon styled Major Marvey in an adversarial light against the hero Slothrop, I wonder what Major Hough would have thought of a rogue American Lieutenant wandering the zone in the hours after the Germans were pushed back, would this real life commando have the same reactions?
Hough’s orders, then, were to follow the front, and ride the first tank into Berlin.
HOUGHTEAM, as the unit was known, was made up of 19 carefully selected individuals. Four were highly educated civilians: an engineer, a geographer who had worked as a map curator at the University of Chicago, a linguist who spoke five languages, and the dapper son of an prominent Kentucky family who’d grown up mostly in Europe as the son of a brigadier general posted to various capitals as a military attaché. There were also ten enlisted men. One was a Japanese interpreter on loan from the Office of Strategic Services, the spy agency precursor to the CIA. Others had been through the secret Military Intelligence Training Center at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. Among the Ritchie Boys, as they were known, were European immigrants who had fled to the United States to escape Nazi persecution. At Camp Ritchie they received training in interrogation and other psychological operations. Their job was to question European civilians about the movement of enemy troops, translate captured documents and interrogate prisoners of war. For the refugees among them, it was a chance to leverage their language skills and cultural familiarity to defeat the enemy that had uprooted their lives.
If you are a fan of Gravity’s Rainbow, please read the article here: The Untold Story of the Secret Mission to Seize Nazi Map Data and then let me know if you think the parallels hold up.