Ghost Army Favorite 

Practitioner: 

Date: 

Jan 1 1945

Location: 

Europe

The Ghost Army had one goal: Deceive Hitler’s forces and their allies.

Credited with fine-tuning the ancient art of deceptive warfare, the American military units of the Ghost Army used inflatable tanks and trucks to cloak the true size and location of American forces. They played ear-piercingly loud recorded sounds to mimic troop movement. They sent out misleading radio communications to scramble German intelligence.
The objective was to trick the Germans into thinking the Allies were in the neighborhood in force, so that actual units elsewhere had time to maneuver.
The Ghost Army, described as “a traveling roadshow of deception,” was composed of engineers and artists, designers and architects, radio operators and truck drivers. The work was so secretive that group members, who are credited with saving thousands of Allied lives, were unsung heroes for several decades after the war. But a grassroots effort in recent years culminated this week in the ultimate recognition from the U.S. government.

On Tuesday, President Biden signed a bill that grants the Congressional Gold Medal — Congress’s equivalent of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — to members of the Ghost Army for “their unique and highly distinguished service in conducting deception operations” during World War II.

“Through their courageous, creative and innovative tactics, the top-secret Ghost Army outmaneuvered and deceived the Nazis, saving thousands of Allied lives during World War II,” Representative Annie Kuster, Democrat of New Hampshire, who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement. “More than 75 years after defeating fascism in Europe, it’s time these soldiers receive the highest honor we can award: the Congressional Gold Medal.”

Bernie Bluestein, of Schaumberg, Ill., is one of only 10 known surviving members of the Ghost Army, an unofficial term for the two U.S. Army units involved in the subterfuge. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, Mr. Bluestein’s unit, carried out more than 20 deception campaigns close to the front, including in France and Germany. A sister unit, the 3133rd Signal Company Special, executed two campaigns in Italy in 1945.

In an interview on Tuesday night, Mr. Bluestein, 98, said the award gave him an indescribable feeling of satisfaction, but he expressed sadness that so few veterans were alive to enjoy the honor with him. The other surviving members of the group range in age from 97 to 99.

“Something we did was appreciated by so many people and at the time we didn’t realize that,” Mr. Bluestein said. “It’s really a great feeling to have people acknowledge that I had a job to do in the service and it was helpful in our winning the war.”

In one of the 23rd’s most elaborate feats of trickery, during the critical Rhine River campaign to finally crush Germany, the unit set up 10 miles south of the spot where two American Ninth Army divisions were to cross the river. To draw attention away from the actual divisions, the Ghost Army conjured up a decoy force of inflated tanks, cannons, planes and trucks; sent out misleading radio messages about the American troops’ movements; and used loudspeakers to simulate the sound of soldiers building pontoon boats.
The Germans fell for the ruse. They fired on the 23rd’s divisions, while Ninth Army troops crossed the Rhine with nominal resistance.
During that campaign, Mr. Bluestein and other soldiers would visit bars and gathering spots and pretend to be senior officers to create scuttlebutt among the locals that the Americans were up to something. The hope was that German spies would eventually be misdirected.
But Mr. Bluestein was an artist at heart. Before the unit began using inflatable tanks, he would paint on cloth draped over wooden tanks to make them look authentic. He stenciled insignia for 23rd members, and he produced posters to distribute around towns — anything to create an authentic flourish.
“Like, Coca-Cola signs, so they’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, the Americans are here,’” Mr. Bluestein said.

Mr. Bluestein had a long career after the war as an industrial designer for companies that made household appliances like refrigerators and toasters, but in retirement he found himself embracing art again. These days, his favorite objects to sculpt are pins and needles, a tribute to his father, a tailor, and his mother, a seamstress.
About half of the soldiers in Mr. Bluestein’s unit, the 603rd Camouflage Engineer Battalion, were artists, said Rick Beyer, a documentarian who has chronicled the story of the Ghost Army and pushed for the gold medal.

The Army took existing units and “mashed them together, Frankenstein style,” to create the 23rd, he said, but it also recruited from art schools like the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Cooper Union. Some members became famous after the war, like the fashion designer Bill Blass and the painter Ellsworth Kelly.
In addition to Mr. Bluestein, the other nine surviving members of the Ghost Army are Bill Anderson, 97, of Kent, Ohio; James T. Anderson, 99, of Dover, Del.; John Christman, 97, of Leesburg, N.J.; George Dramis, 97, of Raleigh, N.C.; Manny Frockt, 97, of West Palm Beach, Fla.; Nick Leo, 99, of Brentwood, N.Y.; Mark Mallardi, 98, of Edgewater, Fla.; Bill Nall, 97, of Dunellon, Fla.; and Seymour Nussenbaum, 98, of Monroe Township, N.J.

Mr. Beyer, who produced a 2013 documentary that aired on PBS about the Ghost Army and later co-wrote a book with Elizabeth Sayles, “The Ghost Army of World War II,” said the effort to bestow a Congressional Gold Medal on the group was the product of a grassroots campaign that required two-thirds of each congressional chamber to co-sponsor the legislation.
“We had to convince literally 350 congressional offices, one by one, of doing this,” Mr. Beyer said. The end result was a rare bipartisan feat at a time of intense partisan rancor. “Sometimes, it’s good to take a breath and say maybe there are some things we don’t have to be completely cynical about,” he said.
“The Ghost Army in some ways is still helping to keep our country safe,” Mr. Beyer said, “because people are still studying what they did and are learning from it and use it today.”
Although warfare has evolved since then, and advanced reconnaissance technology makes fooling enemy forces with inflatable tanks a bigger challenge, the principles and innovation of the Ghost Army live on today in the work of soldiers who practice psychological operations, Gen. Edward G. Burley, a retired Army brigadier general who commanded the Joint Psychological Operations Task Force in Iraq, said in an interview.

General Burley said soldiers today are taught about the imagination employed by the Ghost Army to “think outside the box” to make military deception more believable.
“These are giants, and we’re standing on their shoulders,” he said. “Their techniques are still being used today. We’re just adding additional elements to adjust for technology.”

By Vimal Patel
New York Times
 Feb. 3, 2022

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