'Ghost Army' Survivors Get Congress' Highest Honor

Secret WWII units saved thousands of lives by fooling Nazis
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 22, 2024 8:59 AM CDT
WWII 'Ghost Army' Gets Congress' Highest Honor
This photo provided by the Ghost Army Legacy Project shows inflatable tanks in March 1945.   (National Archives/Ghost Army Legacy Project via AP)

With inflatable tanks, radio trickery, costume uniforms, and acting, the American military units that became known as the Ghost Army outwitted the enemy during World War II. Their mission was kept secret for decades, but on Thursday the group stepped out of the shadows as they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. "The actions of the Ghost Army helped change the course of the war for thousands of American and Allied troops and contributed to the liberation of a continent from a terrible evil," Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said during the ceremony at the Capitol.

  • Their legacy. Wormuth said that many of the techniques the Ghost Army pioneered are still used on the battlefield. "Even though technology has changed quite a bit since 1944, our modern techniques build on a lot of what the Ghost Army did and we are still learning from your legacy," she said. House Speaker Mike Johnson said during the ceremony that it's estimated that between 15,000 to 30,000 lives were saved because of the Ghost Army's work.

  • Survivors were there. Three of the seven known surviving members attended the ceremony: Bernard Bluestein, 100; John Christman, 99; and Seymour Nussenbaum, 100. The Ghost Army included about 1,100 soldiers in the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, which carried out about 20 battlefield deceptions in France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany, and around 200 soldiers in the 3133rd Signal Company Special, which carried out two deceptions in Italy. "Our mission was to fool the enemy, to put on a big act," said Nussenbaum, a painter who went on to a career in commercial art.
  • "It has been well worth the wait." The legislation to honor the military units with Congress' highest honor was signed into law by President Biden in 2022. That came after almost a decade of work by family members of the soldiers and Rick Beyer, a filmmaker and author who helped bring their story to light after their mission was declassified in 1996. "This is a day that has been a long time coming but it has been well worth the wait," Beyer said.

  • One of their biggest missions. Operation Viersen came in March 1945 when the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops' deception drew German units away from the point on the Rhine River where the 9th Army was actually crossing. "They had hundreds of inflatables set up," Beyer told the AP in an interview before the ceremony. "They had their sound trucks operating for multiple nights. They had other units attached to them. They had set up multiple phony headquarters and staffed them with officers who were pretending to be colonels." "This was an all-hands-on-deck affair and it was completely successful," Beyer said. "It fooled the Germans. They moved their troops to the river opposite where the deception was."
(More World War II stories.)

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