Lives of Purpose honoring “The Ghost Army” A WWII Traveling road Show of Deception
One of the best-kept secrets of World War II will be shared in Naples in 2014. On March 27, at the Hertz Hangar at Naples Municipal Airport, The Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida will honor “The Ghost Army.” Armed with truckloads of inflatable tanks, a world class collection of sound effects records, and more than a few tricks up their sleeves, this handpicked group of G.I.s, was known officially as the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. They landed in France to conduct a special mission, deceiving the Germans about U.S. troop strength and location at strategically important sites in France, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium.
Little was known about this top-secret unit until the early 1990’s. Their creativity saved thousands of lives. So realistic were their impersonations of varied and vastly larger U.S. Army units, that they misled the Germans into making serious strategic mistakes, and bought time for the U.S. Army until the real men and materials were ready to participate. The unit took part in more than twenty operations from 1944 – 1945. If Japan hadn’t surrendered, the unit would have played a part in the invasion of Japan as well.
Composed of artists and sound technicians, specially recruited and trained, the unit tailored their creations for the mission at hand.
They impersonated other units, built phony planes, convoys, gun emplacements and even a fake Headquarters. They set up decoy, yet realistic, radio operations. The aircraft they created were purposely left visible to fool enemy reconnaissance flights. Many members of “The Ghost Army” went on to memorable careers in a number of fields, among them artist and sculptor Ellsworth Kelly and designer Bill Blass.
“The Ghost Army” will be the 2014 National Honoree for the Holocaust Museum’s annual fund-raising event, Triumph 2014 – Lives of Purpose. The event will be held on Thursday, March 27, from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m., at the Hertz Hangar at Naples Municipal Airport. The Triumph Awards acknowledge contributions by individuals and organizations who, having overcome adversity and opposition, positively affect the lives of others. On hand to accept the National Triumph Award will be a veteran of the Ghost Army, and Rick Beyer, the producer of the recently aired PBS documentary, “The Ghost Army”. As the documentary said, “Illusion was their ultimate weapon.”
Earlier in the evening, at 5:30 p.m., the Patron Reception will be held at the Hertz Hangar. Mr. Beyer will introduce and show “The Ghost Army”, followed by a Q & A with the Ghost Army veteran and Mr. Beyer.
The Patron Reception event will also include a surprise for the guests. As a follow up to Triumph 2014, the Museum will present the related exhibit “Artists of Deception, the Ghost Army of World War II – A Multi-Layered Tale of Showmanship Featuring the Art of the 23rd HQ Special Troops” in April and May.
This year’s Triumph 2014 Local Honoree is Ms. Schaeffer McHenry, a graduate of Gulf Coast High School and a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy. While a student at Gulf Coast, Ms. McHenry created an unique student organization called “The Friendship Circle”. Her inspiration for doing so is her cousin, Sara, who has Down syndrome. Sara had a very full and active social life in high school, and never lets her disability get in the way. Ms. McHenry wanted to be sure her own fellow students wouldn’t miss out on the social aspects of school life due to their disabilities. The organization made such an impact on all the students involved, Gulf Coast High School administration has made it a permanent Club.
Ms. McHenry will be present to accept the Award and talk about “The Friendship Circle.”
The Museum is very pleased to have as this year’s co-chairs of the event, Ms. Maureen Lerner and Ms. Nancy White, both long-time supporters of the Museum and its educational programs. The Honorary Chairperson for Triumph 2014 is Peter Thomas, a prior Triumph Award Honoree. Mr. Thomas, a well-known narrator and Naples resident, is a World War II veteran of the 104th U.S. Infantry Division. As a young soldier, he participated in both the D-Day Invasion and the liberation of the Nordhausen Concentration Camp.
Appropriately, given the military focus of this year’s Honorees, the event will be held at Naples Municipal Airport, which served as an Army Airfield training site during World War II. The airport also houses the Museum of Military Memorabilia, which displays a wide variety of donated military uniforms and artifacts from past conflicts.
In addition to the presentation of the Triumph Awards, the event includes a silent auction and small plate dining provided by some of Naples’ finest chefs. All proceeds from Triumph 2014 benefit The Holocaust Museum & Education Center’s Educational Programs.
Tickets for both the Patron Reception and Triumph Event can be purchased through the Holocaust Museum. For additional information on tickets, Patron levels, Sponsorship opportunities, and any other inquiries, please contact the Museum at 239.263.9200239.263.9200, or visit our website: www.holocaustmuseumswfl.org.