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MOUNTAIN BROOK, Ala. (WIAT) – A secret group of U.S. Soldiers played an important role during World War II which wasn’t revealed until decades after the fighting ended. Their mission was to trick the enemy. On Memorial Day we sat down with a former member of what’s been called the Ghost Army.
The proper name of the unit is the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, according to former 1st Lt. Ace Simpson.
As the U.S. Army’s deception unit, its job was to give the Germans the wrong idea about where U.S. troops were located and where they were likely heading. They did this with dummy tanks, trucks, and other equipment arranged to trick German reconnaissance planes. They even played loud recordings of heavy equipment being moved around and changed insignias to match whatever group they were impersonating.
“We knew that there were German sympathizers in the neighborhood, those neighborhood places and that was one reason we had to be so careful about what we said. And I think on some occasions maybe they put out false information for the same reason,” said Simpson.
“Pretty soon after we landed at Normandy on the beachhead these two old Frenchmen came out one morning and saw 4 GI’s picking up a tank and turning it around and it really wasn’t a tank it was just one of those dummies,” said Simpson. “Whoever was in charge of that, he told these Frenchmen when they were astonished at what was going on and he said – well, Americans are super strong.”
Simpson says their biggest success came during the Rhine River crossing.
“We represented, along with some other regular troops, a few, two divisions to show a buildup in one area and the actual crossing was made in the adjacent and with practically no casualties,” said Simpson. “Just from that one operation I think we saved a lot of lives.”
Even though Simpson believes the unit saved a lot of lives on both the U.S. and German sides, he’s also convinced he’s not a hero.
“We were just trying to do our job,” said Simpson.
The outfit and its mission reportedly remained Top Secret until 1996.