Ghost Army veterans receive Congressional Gold Medal

The top-secret Ghost Army, which practiced deception during World War II to save tens of thousands of lives, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal at a Thursday ceremony.

Three of the seven surviving veterans — Bernard Bluestein, 100, John Christman, 99, and Seymour Nussenbaum, 100 — accepted the award on behalf of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and the 3133rd Signal Service Company.

The ceremony comes two years after President Biden signed into law legislation awarding the Ghost Army with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow.

The Ghost Army’s existence was top secret until records were declassified in 1996, revealing the innovative tactics employed by the troops. The ceremony Thursday followed a nearly two-decade push from The Ghost Army Legacy Project, led by Rick Beyer, to raise awareness for the issue and, in the past decade, to bestow the high honor.

Congressional leaders, along with lawmakers who spearheaded the legislation, gave remarks at the ceremony, which was attended by families of Ghost Army veterans, public advocates of the legislation, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Charles Brown Jr., U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George, and Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, who gave brief remarks.

The lawmakers stressed the veterans’ long underappreciated service and noted the bipartisan nature of the legislation.

“We gather today to pay homage and to honor the legacy of a group of covert, creative and courageous American war heroes who guarded truth, and our precious troops, with righteous deception,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said at the ceremony, after invoking a similar line from Winston Churchill.

“Heroes and patriots, we thank and honor the members of the Ghost Army for their unique service to our nation, as well as for their commitment to saving lives, defending democracy and standing up for freedom in the face of tyranny,” Jeffries said. “The ingenuity and valor of the Ghost Army has astonished a grateful nation. Congratulations on this well-deserved honor.”

The Ghost Army consisted of 1,100 troops but often used creative tactics to make themselves appear to be 20,000, deceiving the enemy about the strength and location of the U.S. Army. They used inflatable tanks, sound effects, radio trickery and impersonation, techniques still employed today. In total, the Ghost Army is estimated to have saved approximately 15,000 to 30,000 American lives.

“Our nation has been slow to recognize these men’s incredible achievements,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, noting they helped win a world war, as well as developed “top-secret ways to help preserve a hard-won peace through the Cold War.”

“But today the veil of secrecy is gone,” McConnell said, adding, addressing the veterans directly, “A grateful nation knows how you answered the call in a time of need. America will never forget your service and I’m so very proud to join in honoring you today.”

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