Huntington Honors “Ghost Army” Veterans
By Rupert Deedes
On Memorial Day, the Town of Huntington held a special commemoration ceremony to honor local veterans who were members of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops - also known as the “Ghost Army.”
The secret unit, comprising 82 officers and 1,023 men under the command of Army veteran Colonel Harry L. Reeder, was activated on 20 January 1944 to become the first mobile, multimedia, tactical deception unit in the history of the U.S. Army.
The unit consisted of a highly-select group of artists, engineers, professional soldiers, and draftees - including famous artists such as fashion designer Bill Blass, painter Ellsworth Kelly, and photographer Art Kane.
The unit used various visual, sonic, and radio deception tools to simulate two whole divisions -- about 30,000 men – to fool German military intelligence into believing that the German military was facing much larger Allied forces than was the case.
Among the tools developed by the unit: inflatable tanks and vehicles, fake radio traffic, sound effects, phony generals, and more.
From May 1944 until the end of the war a year later, the unit took part in 22 active deception campaigns from Normandy to the Rhine River,
The unit’s existence was kept secret for forty years after the end of the Second World War, and was publicly recognized for the first time in a 1985 Smithsonian Magazine article.
“It is unfortunate that these men could not be honored for their impressive and courageous service during their lifetimes,” stated Huntington Supervisor Ed Smyth. “We are indebted to their service.”
“It is great that the country is starting to recognize the work that was done by the Ghost Army veterans,” added Mike Petrucci of East Northport. “Because it wasn't honored at all right after World War II, because it was classified,”
Petrucci’s father, Robert Petrucci, a graphic designer who lived in Levittown and who died in 2018 at age 96, was one of the Ghost soldiers.
It is believed that ten members of the unit are still alive.