Life is a Game – Adventures of a World War II Interrogator and U.S. Soccer Pioneer


Soldier, scientist, artist, author, and the Johnny Appleseed of American soccer: His was truly a “life in full.” German-born Gottfried K. “Joe” Guennel moved to the U.S. as a young teen. During World War II, he became one of the U.S. Army’s famed “Ritchie Boys” – a highly trained interrogator of German prisoners of war and war criminals. His artistic talent and interest in palynology led him to write and illustrate two well-regarded books. And woven throughout his life was his passion for soccer, which led him from the playgrounds in Germany to the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame.

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At war’s end, Guennel remained in Germany to interrogate suspected war criminals in advance of the Nuremberg War-Crimes Tribunal. He grilled arrogant generals and haughty industrialists and even the mistresses of Nazi bigwigs. Of Hedwig Potthast, Heinrich Himmler’s mistress, Joe said, “I found her unremarkable in every way.”

After the war, he returned to the U.S. and earned his doctorate at Indiana University in the field of Palynology—the study of ancient plants—that earned him a career with an oil company in Colorado to help it find places in the western United States where oil deposits were likely to be. But it was his love of soccer—the game he played as a young boy in Germany—that was his true passion. Starting the first soccer team at Indiana University, Joe went on to create soccer programs everywhere he went, especially in his new home state of Colorado.

Immersing himself in every facet of the game—from player to coach to referee to publicist to administrator—Joe helped the once-foreign sport grow into an all-American one that became one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. As a result of his untiring efforts to turn soccer into a mainstream American game, Joe was inducted into the United States National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1980. His 50-year-long friendship with Flint Whitlock, also an acknowledged “soccer nut,” resulted in the collaboration that produced this book.


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