Ghost Army

Soldiers from Company D of the 603rd Camouflage Engineers. Joseph R. Spence (Carolyn’s Father) is at the lower right of the group.

A Stone County woman is encouraging area residents to write to their local federal congressmen to ask them to support the passing of the Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act.

Earlier this year, legislation was re-introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 23rd Headquarters, Special Troops and the 3133rd Signal Service Company, in recognition of their unique and highly distinguished service as the Ghost Army that conducted deception operations in Europe during World War II.

While congressmen from several states have jumped on board to sponsor or co-sponsor H.R. 2350 and Senate 1421, there are currently no Missouri congressmen involved in the support of these two pieces of legislation.

A classified secret for more than 50 years, the Ghost Army was a group of 1,100 handpicked soldiers selected to conduct special missions during World War II. Armed with truckloads of inflatable tanks, sound effect records, art supplies and their imaginations, the Ghost Army created a traveling road show of deception on the battlefields of Europe following the Normandy invasion, according to Rick Beyer, author of The Ghost Army of World War II and president of the Ghost Army Legacy Project.

“So they went to action about a week after D-Day. Eight days after D-Day is the first action they’re in. They conducted 21 different deceptions between June 1944 and March 1945 by fooling the enemy in a variety of situations,” said Beyer. “These are short-term tactical deceptions that each take a few days, and they are credited, over the course of that time, with probably having saved thousands of lives and helping America win the war.”

The Ghost Army was made up of artists, engineers, drivers and even bartenders. The soldiers of deception camouflaged tanks, trucks, artillery and airplanes. Recorded sounds of armored and infantry units were blasted from sound trucks and phony traffic nets were created for radio broadcast, according to ghostarmylegacyproject.org.

One of the many artists serving with the Ghost Army was Joseph R. Spence, the father of Carolyn Spence Cagle a resident of Lampe. Cagle serves as a board member with the Ghost Army Legacy Project and is leading the local effort to get the Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act passed.

“With everything that is happening in Washington, it’s hard to tell if there will be energy or perspective from people to actually push it through,” said Cagle. “But the more people that know about it, I think we can probably put some pressure on our Representatives and our Senators in Washington D.C. to go ahead and really just say ‘this is something that wouldn’t take that much time. Let’s pull together. Lets go ahead and get it done.’ Then they can stop hearing from the rest of us who are literally begging for attention.”

Cagle said she has personally has written letters to 7th Congressional District Rep. Billy Long, 29th District Sen. David Sater, Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Roy Blunt asking for their support of the act. Cagle shared the only response she had received was in the form of an email from Sen. Blunt, where he said he would keep Cagle’s thoughts in mind should the bill come before the full Senate for consideration. 

“I know that we have such a rich military history in Branson and in this area. The state, in fact, has a rich history. So I’m hoping people will pick up on this and say, ‘oh, I can do that,’” said Cagle. “There’s always that intimidation of writing, but I think in this politically challenging time, we all have to represent our opinion. This is just another thing that really seems to be important at this point in time.”

Beyer explained, in order for the act to even be considered, two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate must show their support and become a co-sponsor of the legislation. 

“We need your representative branch and your senators from Missouri to actively co-sponsor this, and we need people to ask them to do that,” said Beyer. “There really is widespread support for this thing, but we just need to bring our voices to bear on congress to make it happen.”

A resolution to urge Congress to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Ghost Army was passed in April in the Missouri House of Representatives and sent to the Senate for approval. The Senate held public hearings and executive sessions on the resolution; however, no additional action was taken on the Senate floor. 

Both Cagle and Beyer are hopeful that more people will join them in their efforts to support this letter-writing campaign. 

“I feel like I need to do this for my dad and the other members,” Cagle said. “We live with the need right now to really honor those people who have sacrificed sometimes their lives and certainly by being there and the history that they’ve given us.”

If passed, the Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act would recognize the Ghost Army as a whole, but also serve as recognition to the fewer than 30 Ghost Army soldiers who are still alive today. 

Beyer shared this is an opportunity to recognize the men who, due to the amount of secrecy, could not be recognized during and after the war. 

“I think this is an extraordinary thing because of the creativity and imagination and putting that to use to save lives and help win the war. That really does strike me as something really laudable and worthy of recognition,” Beyer said. “They saved lives. We don’t know whose lives those were. There are people alive who have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are here because of the Ghost Army. I think that’s amazing.”

The Congressional Gold Medal has successfully been awarded to other under-recognized World War II units, including The Doolittle Raiders in 2015, The Monuments Men in 2013, Women Air Service Pilots in 2010 and the Native American Code Talkers in 2008, according to ghostarmylegacyproject.org.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Ghost Army, the Ghost Army Legacy Project or writing their own letter of support is encouraged to visit ghostarmylegacyproject.org. 

The website features Ghost Army photos, archives, news and even has sample letters supporters can use as a framework to write their own.  

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