Earl Prebezac- Remembrances of CHIM from Camp Ritchie

Remembrances of Chim from Camp Ritchie

By Earl Prebezac (May 2008) [enprebs5@comcast.net]

Chim and I attended Military Intelligence Training center in Camp Ritchie, Md. together in 1943. Anything I have read about Chim passes over this phase of his life.

Chim and I were partners (buddies) in all field exercises in our training. I also worked with him in the photo lab there. I even have a single 35 mm print which he took of me.

Now I’m nearly 85 years old…..not much time left, and I am willing to share my experiences from that time. Prof Ambrose says these little scraps of data truly help develop the big picture.

Chim was 11 years older …he was kind of paternalistic towards me.

I must say, I was so deeply moved by Chim’s death and the incredible irony that he was involved with an impetuous, anxious news- person who practically led him to his death (yes, I remember the piece in TIME Magazine so very well.)

The connection? Chim was about 11 years older than I, much more experienced, wiser and certainly more intelligent, whereas I was so very young (18) and eager….always eager, impetuous, anxious, naive. He always held me back during field exercises …admonishing me to take care, be wary, cautious, slow down. He warned me not to take chances… always. He was actually saying, “kid, you’ll live a hell of a lot longer if you’ll not be so impetuous – let some one else take the chances.”

After reading the report of his death, I thought to myself, “Gads, old Chim got himself tied up with another eager-beaver!”

I was born to immigrant parents Bronco Pavlovich, a Serb and his wife Milka Kalish Pavlovich a Czech and Slovak in 1924; St. Louis, MO. The couple divorced 1931; subsequently my mother remarried George Prebezac, an immigrant Croat. George officially adopted me several months AFTER I was in the Army. I took his name.

These details are necessary so that you folks can reconcile the last names on the certificate from Camp Ritchie. Furthermore, I do believe it is necessary for you to understand me in order to understand my relationship with Dave. Not only Me but the times, the Army, and CAMP RITCHIE.

Did Dave ever tell you anything about Camp Ritchie? It’s reason for being? Why he and I happened to be there? These are important.

I don’t want to belabor the I-Me thing but …….e.g., Dave was a mature, intelligent, worldly, well educated, multi-lingual, intellectual and a skilled photographer. HE DID NOT LIKE THE ARMY.

He got tied up with me, an 18 year-old who dropped out of HIGH school at age 15: immature, uneducated, provincial, and semiliterate; I didn’t know what the word INTELLECTUAL meant…nor could I spell it. I could, however, speak and understand a few SLAVIC languages.

I volunteered for the Cavalry before 18 year-olds were being drafted. I LIKED THE ARMY, and I was disappointed when I was transferred from the 101st Cavalry Regiment at Ft. Devans, Mass to This School in Md. (I loathed school).

How were two disparate personalities such as Dave and I selected and thrown together for this Military Adventure? By Punch Cards…a forerunner of the modern day computer.

The U.S. Army was looking for people with special language skills, education and experiences which matched the needs of MILITARY INTELLIGENCE. They ran punch-cards with army personnel data …. looking for any soldier who might have indicated any of these skills, on his enlistment t/ early MIl interviews.

As for me, I was disgruntled by my removal from the Cavalry..a place where I was to find adventure and combat. Also I was an obnoxious teen-ager, with little respect for establishment things; a smart-aleck , and as one psychologist diagnosed: “A HIGH ALIENATION QUOTIENT”! This means that I missed out on a lot at Camp Ritchie- totally ignorant of what went on around me.

I have given much thought to the “Camp Ritchie” episode in my life…my experience with Dave. The memory is frail. Separating fact from fiction is a challenge.

We called him “Dave”. The “Chim” bit came up in the latter part of our time at Camp Ritchie. And I do remember specifically when the name business came up and I can hear him now say, “Call Me Chim.”

Well, Gads, we didn’t, (I didn’t know) he was an eminent photographer. And you’ve got to understand the ARMY in those days. So many young men simply made up stuff about their backgrounds. Young egos were always on display…at work. Yet, most of us had never been more than 60 miles away from our homes in our lifetimes.

Furthermore, merely being at Military establishment identified with Military Intelligence was overwhelming ..awesome in a more recent expression.

At first, much of what we saw and heard at Ritchie was bizarre. …especially to the young enlisted men. Perhaps not so to the officers who were better educated and informed.

In the schools and classrooms officers and enlisted men were integrated. Our quarters and mess halls were separated, of course. It would not be unusual for me or Dave to be sitting alongside a grad of West point or VMI during any of our classroom work.

We had seven day weeks…the eighth, ninth were days off.

The Commanding officer of the camp, Col Banfill made plain that training and learning for our intelligence duties was paramount to all. Even Military Discipline was allowed to be relaxed in the interest of our mission. However, still, we were soldiers.

On the 2 days off some of the guys went to Baltimore, or Washington D.C… depending on what one could afford. I went to D.C. – visited a cousin living in Anandale. He was a high school teacher and a Grad of G.W. He taught at Fairfax and Washington and Lee HS… I do believe…..????

I do know that Dave went to D.C. once.

Camp Ritchie was a former National or State Guard Camp. Then federalized. Not a very large camp…I remember a nearby small town called Chocolate Park. A few of the guys in my class were married…late 20’s. When I arrived. in Feb 1943…Dave would have arrived then, many of the new barracks were not completed. There were no showers in our assigned barracks and we needed to cross over to another barrack for that accommodation. Of course, there were no sidewalks, etc. One walked through deep mud to get to another barrack; not unusual to get stuck, fall in the mud and have need to repeat the shower process.

In our Barrack, I was assigned to the second floor..as was David. He was assigned 2.. perhaps 3 bunks over from me….lower bunk . Next bunk over from me was a tall guy from Montana always sniffling and with a cold. There was always a dispute over open windows at night.

To me, this was a mixed bag of humanity. We even had a Giant of a “negro” mixed in with us who had never heard the word “integration”. This black man’s presence was quite perplexing to many of us…especially those from the South. However, in time, we learned he was an immigrant from West Africa and a Muslim (what the hell did I know what a Muslim was). I do believe he was pretty much isolated from us all…by choice. Furthermore, he had a run-in with our immediate commander and the Mess officer…. complaining that he was starving because the food he received was not in agreement with his faith. Most of us were not sympathetic to his problem since G.I.’s of other faiths received dispensations for eating restricted foods.

Within a few weeks and after classes began , things began to fall into place. However, I had little idea of the magnitude of this human milieu. It was not unusual for a fellow G.I.to state that he saw so and so at the only PX we had. And it just happened that “so and so” was a big name in the movies or entertainment world. Or some politico, academic, etc… the latter meant nothing to me. Yes, for the life of me, I cannot recall that any of my immediate classmates knew of Dave’s association with LIFE MAG etc. I’m sure that this information was known at camp headquarters.

Despite this, I was aware of the Civil War in Spain since many of my Jr, High classmates were First Generation Spanish…lovely people. And our teachers explained much of the Civil War to us.

To demonstrate further, I skip ahead: After we had graduated there was a waiting period during which time the Army was deciding where to send us with our new skills. During this wait, I was assigned as an Assistant Instructor in some field exercise, whereas I know Dave went directly to the photo lab. On one such exercise, my task was to hand out and record field glasses given to “students” whose names were on the list. In the process, a couple of Officer Instructors were talking about a particular name which seemed to impress them; and they asked me : “Did you see who’s in this class” as they pointed to a name. I read the name, DAVID ROCKEFELLER—none other. I probably would have been more impressed if I really knew who he was. In fact, it has been mainly in my adult life that I am so impressed. Can you imagine handing a pair of field glasses to a scion of this family.(He was a Lieutenant, I believe).

I mention this tale only demonstrate the make up of Camp Ritchie types and the camps purpose.

We were brought there because of our language skills. specialized knowledge, and experiences. I imagine if a “who’s who in Camp Ritche” were assembled, it would be quite something.

In post years, I never understood why David did not receive a direct commission.

Bizarre things… Some times, a private in our class was called to post headquarters not having the slightest inkling why. When he returned to barracks he began packing while explaining that he was being discharged from the Army today; tomorrow he was being sworn back in as a Captain, Lieutenant or as high as Major, and was being shipped off on a special assignment. He didn’t know why. If he did he wouldn’t tell us. Obviously, he had something the army Intelligence wanted to use.

Magical things went on at Post Headquarters. And, I am sure, that Dave went there once to initiate Citizenship process. These processes were speedily expedited here at Camp Ritchie. Check David’s records to be sure I am correct. So citizenship was given to many a Camp Ritchie G.I. Why? Obviously, so many were recent immigrants to the U.S.

It was at this time that Dave changed his name to Seymour, and he asked us to call him Chim.

I think its important for you to understand through whose eyes/ears you’re seeing/hearing the comments and descriptions about Dave. Gads, at the time, I would NOT have said that he was a kind and gentle person… but more like, “he was an OK GUY. “

I do believe Dave was as close to me as any one. But he seemed to be more of a loner. Of course, being a Jew kind of set him apart in that environment even though less so at Ritchie than might have been in a regular unit

Now looking back I think: Dave seemed to get himself involved with reckless guys — Capa , Roy. In all modesty I could be described as having reckless tendencies….and LUCKY to be alive.

… The point in all this palaver is : why Dave? Why did he stand out in my mind all these years? We were NOT Buddies; he was 11 years older. We had nothing in common. So many differences.

I’ve had other friends/acquaintances killed in wars, yet none of their deaths moved me so much as when I read of Dave’s death in TIME.

I’ll bet Dave never remembered me. However, I understand…there’s really no reason to.

Last report…mentioned before. Really can’t remember why? However, I recall Dave and I sitting in the Communications Classroom several nights. We were practicing our CW Code (Morse). And that meant but one thing, Dave and I had to practice to bring our proficiency up to standard. Perhaps he was too old and I was too young. Ha!

That’s it. End of the line.

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