The Ghost Army.

Photo: Courtesy of the Ghost Army Legacy Project

‘Combat Con Artists’ of World War II Who Hoodwinked Nazis Get Long Overdue Top Honor from Congress

Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese strategist, famously proclaimed that all warfare hinges on deception. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops unit, better known as the “Ghost Army,” epitomized this principle during World War II, employing ingenious tactics to confound the enemy and safeguard Allied lives throughout the European theatre.

Utilizing a repertoire of deceptive measures ranging from inflatable tanks and artillery pieces to simulated radio transmissions and orchestrated sound effects, the Ghost Army orchestrated an elaborate charade from the beaches of Normandy to the banks of the Rhine. Their efforts, as documented by Army historians, potentially spared the lives of thousands of American troops amidst the chaos of war.

In recognition of their exceptional valour and innovation, the Ghost Army is slated to be honoured with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian distinction bestowed by Congress. President Joe Biden signed the “Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act” in 2022, underscoring the unit’s enduring legacy of bravery and resourcefulness.

Representative Annie Kuster praised the Ghost Army for their remarkable courage and creativity, emphasizing their pivotal role in shaping the outcome of critical military campaigns. Indeed, the impact of their stratagems was so profound that General George Patton himself sought their expertise to outmanoeuvred the enemy in key engagements, such as the assault on Metz and the relief of Bastogne.

Despite operating in obscurity for decades after the war, the Ghost Army’s clandestine efforts finally came to light, revealing a cohort of enlisted troops and officers drawn from diverse backgrounds, including notable figures like designer Bill Blass and artist Ellsworth Kelly. Their contributions, though often overlooked, were instrumental in turning the tide of battle and sparing civilian families the anguish of loss.

In retrospect, the essence of the Ghost Army’s mission can be encapsulated in the words of Sergeant Stan Nance, who reflected on the profound significance of their deception: to prevent even a single mother or new bride from bearing the heartbreaking burden of a Gold Star in their window.

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