Top-Secret ‘Ghost Army’ WWII Unit Receives Congressional Gold Medal

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Veterans of a top-secret World War II unit that used inflatables and fake soundtracks to feed phony intelligence to Nazi Germany were given the congressional Gold Medal on Thursday.

The work of the “Ghost Army” unit, comprising the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and 3133rd Signal Service Company, is believed to have saved the lives of up to 30,000 men as the Allies pushed deeper into Europe.

The unit of about 1,300 soldiers ran more than 20 missions to create false troop movements and signs of impending assault that led German officers to believe US forces were attacking in the wrong locations.

But their deeds were shrouded in secrecy for decades until their declassification in 1996, and even then they “received minimal recognition,” said a congressional bill passed in 2022 to commemorate the veterans.

The awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal — the highest honor bestowed by Congress — comes after a 10-year push to better acknowledge the unit, sparked by a 2013 PBS documentary about their feats.

Three veterans from the unit, Bernard Bluestein, John Christman, and Seymour Nussenbaum attended the event, alongside a who’s who of lawmakers and dozens of the unit’s family members.


Veterans Bernie Bluestein, in a wheelchair on the right, Seymour Nussenbaum, in a wheelchair on the left, and John Christman, standing on the left, are applauded as their unit received the Congressional Gold Medal.

Veterans Bernie Bluestein, in a wheelchair on the right, Seymour Nussenbaum, in a wheelchair on the left, and John Christman, standing on the left, are applauded as their unit received the Congressional Gold Medal.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images



The trio is part of the seven surviving members of the “Ghost Army,” which selected its members for their experience in creative fields such as art, advertising, and architecture.

Bluestein, 100, of Illinois, joined the unit from the Cleveland Institute of Art and worked with camouflage engineers. His friend, 100-year-old Nussembaum, is from New Jersey and made counterfeit uniform patches. Christman, 99, also of New Jersey, was a demolition specialist.

“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,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said at the event, quoting a line in a US Army report about the unit.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries also gave remarks, alongside several senators and representatives who sponsored the 2022 bill.

Much of the unit’s fieldwork came after the Allies landed in Europe in June 1944. They would deploy inflatable tanks, use speakers to broadcast the sounds of vehicles moving, and send out radio signals for interception, sometimes receiving fire from deceived German artillery teams, per the nonprofit Ghost Army Legacy Project.


This photo provided by the Ghost Army Legacy Project shows a photo of Operation Viersen Aerial in March 1945.

This photo provided by the Ghost Army Legacy Project shows a photo of Operation Viersen Aerial in March 1945.

National Archives/Ghost Army Legacy Project via AP



Nussenbaum told The Associated Press it was “like putting on a big production.” Some unit members posed as generals, wearing costumes and walking in plain sight, he said.

One notable mission involved impersonating a 40,000-man force about 10 miles from where the US pushed across the Rhine and into Germany. Another, in Brest, France, saw unit members traveling around the frontline to play sounds of tank convoys in hopes of compelling the Germans to think they were surrounded and surrender.


This photo provided by the Ghost Army Legacy Project shows inflatable tanks in March, 1945.

This photo provided by the Ghost Army Legacy Project shows inflatable tanks in March, 1945.

National Archives/Ghost Army Legacy Project via AP



Notably, Germany’s forces also attempted to fool the Allies through similar means, including dummy tanks meant to look like Panzers.


Gunner RA McLaren from the the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, 1st Canadian Corps of the British Eighth Army examines the camouflaged dummy Panzer IV tank.

Gunner RA McLaren from the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, 1st Canadian Corps of the British Eighth Army examines the camouflaged dummy Panzer IV tank.

BIPPA/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)



Speaking at Thursday’s event while in a wheelchair, Bluestein thanked activists who’d worked to win recognition for the veterans, including Rick Beyer, who directed the 2013 documentary about the unit and leads the Ghost Army Legacy Project.

The government’s declassification of the “Ghost Army” in 1996 had “let the world know we did exist,” Bluestein said.

Democratic Rep. Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire spoke of the many years that the “Ghost Army” members had to keep silent about their work during the war, and how long it took for them to be recognized after information about the unit was declassified.

“One of my favorite lines was one gentleman who would only tell his family, ‘I blew up tanks,’ without saying they were inflatable,” she said.

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