WWII Ghost Army That Tricked Hitler Is Awarded the Congressional Gold Medal

By: Julia | Published: Mar 31, 2024

Veterans of a reputed “Ghost Army” in World War II have been awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in public recognition of the many lives they saved throughout the war. This Ghost Army was responsible for doing whatever they could to divert and deceive German forces.

For decades, nobody knew about this Ghost Army. The soldiers assigned to this unit were sworn to secrecy, as they were a part of top-secret missions throughout World War II. However, now that their story is public, the surviving members of this unit have been recognized. 

A High Honor

In March, three Ghost Army veterans made the trip to the U.S. Capitol to receive a Congressional Gold Medal. This medal is the highest honor the U.S. legislative body can grant.

Advertisement
Two U.S. soldiers in World War II in a black and white photo.

Source: The U.S. Army/Wikimedia Commons

During World War II, the Ghost Army consisted of more than 1,000 soldiers. Now, only seven are surviving. Three of these seven were at the ceremony. Those honored include 100-year-old Bernard Bluestein, 100-year-old Seymour Nussenbaum, and 99-year-old John Christman. 

A Long Time Coming

These three veterans weren’t alone, however. Many family members of the Ghost Army’s troops who have passed over the decades also attended to celebrate their bravery. For many, this honor felt like a long time coming.

Advertisement
A black and white photo of U.S. soldiers sitting on a tank during World War II.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

“It has been 80 years since the Ghost Army landed in France, 19 years since I came to this story, nine years that I’ve been working on the gold medal,” Rick Beyer, the president of Ghost Army Legacy Project, a nonprofit, said. “This is a day that has been a long time coming. But it has been well worth the wait, right?”

The Ghost Army in World War II

The Ghost Army was created in the Second World War as a diversion strategy. These soldiers were trained to divert the Nazis from other Allied troops. They did whatever it took to create these deceptions, from using inflatable tanks to starting fake rumors in French towns.

Advertisement
A black and white photo of a U.S. soldier driving a truck during World War II.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

More than 1,000 soldiers were assigned to this special army. However, these troops could easily make it look like they were two units of 30,000 soldiers to trick the Germans.

The Successes of the Ghost Army

Throughout World War II, the Ghost Army was wildly successful in its deceits. These men are thought to have saved anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 American troops.

Advertisement
A group of U.S. soldiers on a boat during World War II.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

In opening the ceremony, House Speaker Mike Johnson succinctly explained how beneficial these men were to the U.S. during the war by speaking from a declassified Army report. “Rarely if ever has there existed a group of such few men which had so great an influence on the outcome of a major military campaign,” Johnson said.

Who Made up the Ghost Army?

The Ghost Army was made up of many creative young men who had careers at ad agencies and communications companies before the war. However, many other troops made up the unit, such as policemen and miners.

Advertisement
A line of U.S. soldiers walking into a bombed European city during World War II.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Those who were more artistic or technical than others found a home within the Ghost Army. These men, all of whom came from different backgrounds, were tasked with diverting the German forces from the real units to the Ghost Army. 

Advertisement

Deceptions in France

Many of the Ghost Army’s deceptions occurred in France, though the unit also conducted top-secret missions in Belgium and Germany. Gilbert Seltzer was one veteran of the Ghost Army who successfully pulled off many deceits.

Advertisement
U.S. Army soldiers during WWII securing a road in Europe.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Often, Seltzer was tasked with projecting the sound of tanks moving through French and German villages. This caused many locals to think that massive tanks had come through the streets — and the rumors would spread.  

Advertisement

Notable Successes

Though some veterans have stated that they weren’t aware if they were successful in their diversions or not, especially as no records were kept of their deeds after the war, some notable successes have stood the test of time.

Advertisement
Many American soldiers crossing the Rhine River in Germany during World War II.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

One victory came in March 1945 when the Allies were crossing the Rhine River. The Ghost Army was able to deceive the Nazis by getting them to think the Allied troops were crossing 20 miles away from where they actually were. 

Advertisement

The Secrecy of the Ghost Army

The work of the Ghost Army was incredibly important for Allied troops in World War II. Their work was also incredibly secret. The troops assigned to this unit were sworn to secrecy, no matter what. After the war, all records associated with this deception were classified.

Advertisement
A black and white image of American soldiers loading onto a boat to cross the Rhine River in Germany during World War II.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

This high level of classification even led to many in the Army brass forgetting about it. In the late 1980s, the Ghost Army was rediscovered by the military — and veterans were asked to come in for briefings about their campaigns during this time. 

Advertisement

Ghost Army Veterans and Their Families

Because of this high level of secrecy, many families of Ghost Army veterans were never aware of what their father, grandfather, or ancestor did during World War II.

Advertisement
A black and white WWII-era photo of American soldiers eating.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

“One of my favorite lines was one gentleman who only would tell his family ‘I blew up tanks,’ without saying they were inflatable tanks,” Representative Ann Kuster, the Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act’s first sponsor, said.

Advertisement

Declassification

However, decades after World War II’s end, the reports and documentation around the Ghost Army became declassified. Once this happened, many veterans’ relatives and nonprofits worked to celebrate the veterans who did so much through their diversions.

Advertisement
A new plaque that was put up in Europe that celebrates the Ghost Army.

Source: GilPe/Wikimedia Commons

Even today, the military is using what the Ghost Army did in their own deceptions conducted during times of war. In this way, the Ghost Army’s legacy remains.

Advertisement

Heroes Honored

Beyer, who has long worked for the Ghost Army veterans to receive a Gold Medal, has claimed that many of these veterans don’t see themselves as heroes — even though so many other people do.

Advertisement
A man putting a medal on another soldier during World War II.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Bluestein, a veteran of the Ghost Army, spoke at the ceremony to simply state his gratitude. “You’ve all contributed to my existence and to my being who I am,” he said. “I’m very proud and happy to be here to receive this honor.” 

Advertisement