Rudolph W. Riefkohl

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Rudolph William Riefkohl
Rudolph W. Riefkohl (1910).jpg
Colonel Rudolph William Riefkohl
Born 1885
Maunabo, Puerto Rico
Died November 13, 1950
Surfside, Florida
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch Emblem of the United States Department of the Army.svg United States Army
Years of service 1911–1945
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg
Battles/wars World War I
*Meuse-Argonne Offensive
World War II

Colonel Rudolph William Riefkohl (1885 – November 13, 1950), was an officer in the United States Army, who played an instrumental role in helping the people of Poland overcome the 1919 typhus epidemic.

Early years[edit]

Riefkohl (birth name: Rudolph William Riefkohl Jaimieson[note 1]) was born and raised in the town of Maunabo, Puerto Rico. He was the oldest of five siblings born to Luis Riefkohl y Sandoz[note 2] and Julia Jaimieson. His younger brother was Frederick Lois Riefkohl, the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the United States Naval Academy and to be awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in World War I, who retired from the Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral[1] His other siblings were Helen, Emily and Louise Riefkohl.[2]

A special map[edit]

Map drawn by Rudolph Riefkohl and given to Edwin Emerson, Jr.

In the spring of 1898, as a young 14-year-old, Riefkohl was involved in a curious encounter with an American spy on the eve of the Spanish–American War. As recounted by the spy, Edwin Emerson, Jr. in Century magazine in September 1898, Emerson, who was pretending to be a German journalist, had been given Riefkohl's father's name by the German consul in St. Thomas. Upon his arrival in the town of Maunabo he met young Rudolph and asked the lad in German if he had a map of Puerto Rico (Emerson had lost his). Riefkohl answered that he did, but it was decidedly too big for Emerson's use. Riefkohl returned home, not knowing that Emerson was a spy, and quickly drew another map with a depiction of the major ports and harbors of Puerto Rico.[3] It is believed that Emerson gave Riefkohl's map to another spy, Lieutenant Henry Howard Whitney, who posed as a British crew member in the furnace-room of the merchant ship, and that Whitney gave the map to General Nelson A. Miles, thereby influencing the general's decision as to the disembarkation points for the invasion of Puerto Rico. A Photostat copy of Riefkohl's map was published in the Century article.[4] After the war Riefkohl moved to the United States and concluded his secondary education in Concord, Massachusetts, serving as a cadet in the Sixth Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteers, the same regiment that saw service in the southern areas of Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Puerto Rico Campaign.[5] In 1910, Riefkohl earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT).[6]

Military career[edit]

In 1911, Riefkohl joined the regular army and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. When the United States declared war on Germany in World War I, he was assigned to the 63rd Heavy Artillery Regiment in France and actively participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.[7] According to the United States War Department, on April 1, 1918, Riefkohl served as Captain of Coastal Artillery at the Letterman Army Medical Center in Presidio of San Francisco, in California.[8] His commanding officer was Colonel Henry Howard Whitney. Whitney asked him if he knew the Riefkohl family of Maunabo. Upon realizing that Riefkohl was the lad that drew the map which he, Whitney, had handed to General Miles during the Spanish–American War, they became good friends.[7]

In June 1919, Col. Harry L. Gilchrist was informed to assist Poland in coping with its typhus epidemic. He emphasized the necessity of having trained personnel to deal with the emergency and to instruct the Poles with the use of the equipment being purchased. General John J. Pershing had decided that organizational matters should be handled by General William Durward Conner, who in turn instructed Lieutenant Colonel Frank E. Estes, of the Army Service Corps, to mount the expedition.[9]

Estes then dispatched Riefkohl, who was then a Major, and Captain Pumhrey to Brest, France where they were instructed to assemble a new command. The Army Service Corps at Brest was organized into two separate units and later reorganized into a battalion commanded by Riefkohl. Riefkohl's battalion was successful in its mission and played an instrumental role helping the Poles overcome their epidemic.[9] However, since the Red Army was approaching their command in what is known as the Polish–Soviet War, Riefkohl and his comrades were transferred to Danzig, which was under British control. Riefkohl was awarded the Polish Commemorative Medal for the War of 1919–21 and transferred to United States Army of Occupation in Germany.[7]

Riefkohl was among the Army officers who attended and graduated from the third course of the Army Industrial College which was held from February 2, 1925 to June 30, 1925[10] He also attended and graduated from the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Quartermaster Corps School of the French Army in France. Riefkohl obtained a Master's degree in Business Administration from Harvard Business School in 1935. As war broke out in Europe, in 1939, he was instrumental in the planning and construction of Punto Borinquen (Ramey) Air Base in Aguadilla.[7]

During World War II Riefkohl served in various administrative positions, among them: Director of supply of the 3rd Service Command at Baltimore, Director of Business Administration at Quartermaster Corps School and Assistant Commandant of the Army Industrial college in Philadelphia. Riefkohl retired as a Colonel in the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1945.[11]

Later years[edit]

Riefkohl and his wife moved to Surfside, Florida. There he became a member of the Surfside City planning board and of the Military Order of the World War. He ran for mayor of Surfside and was elected in May 1949.[11]

Riefkohl's term as mayor was short lived because he soon fell ill and on November 13, 1950, died of a heart attack. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Riefkohl was survived by his wife Aimee Preston.[12]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Among Riefkohl 's military awards and decorations are the following:

Foreign award

  • Commemorative Medal for War of 1919-1921 Ribbon.png  Polish Commemorative Medal for the War of 1919–21

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Riefkohl and the second or maternal family name is Jaimieson.
  2. ^ This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Riefkohl and the second or maternal family name is Sandoz.

Further reading[edit]

  • Puertorriquenos Who Served With Guts, Glory, and Honor: Fighting to Defend a Nation Not Completely Their Own, by Greg Boudonck. ISBN 1497421837; ISBN 978-1497421837
  • The American Polish Typhus Relief Expedition, 1919–1921, by Alfred E. Cornebise, published 1982, University of Delaware Press, ISBN 0-87413-216-9


  1. ^ WWI US NAVY Recipients of The Navy Cross
  2. ^ Descendants of Otto Julius Riefkohl
  3. ^ "Los espías estadounidenses de la Guerra Hispanoamericana en Puerto Rico" (American Spies in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War); By: Roberto Ramos-Perea del Ateneo Puertorriqueño
  4. ^ "Alone in Puerto Rico," by Edwin Emerson Jr., Century Magazine, Vol. 56, Issue 5, pp. 666–676, September 1898
  5. ^ "Un puertoriqueno dirige la construccion de base area Punto Borinquen," por E. Sanchez Ortiz en El Mundo, San Juan 10/15/39
  6. ^ 1910 MIT Yearbook
  7. ^ a b c d "Un Puertorriqueño dirige la construcción de base aérea Punta Borinquen" (A Puerto Rican is in charge of Punta Borinquen Air Base); El Mundo newspaper; by: E. Sanchez Ortiz; October 15, 1939 (Spanish)
  8. ^ Army Directory ... By United States War Dept, United States Adjutant-General's Office, United States
  9. ^ a b Typhus and Doughboys: The American Polish Typhus Relief Expedition, 1919–1921 by Alfred E. Cornebise Pages 23, 25, 119 and 120
  10. ^ Army Industrial College at the Wayback Machine (archived September 22, 2006)
  11. ^ a b Florida Times, November 13, 1950, "Surfside mourns loss of beloved Mayor R. W. Riefkohl"
  12. ^ Divorce—Military Style