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News > Filmmaker visits Hanscom to present ‘The Ghost Army’
Ghost Army
HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Filmmaker Rick Beyer answers questions during a Heritage of Freedom event at the Hanscom Conference Center April 22 about his documentary, “The Ghost Army,” which recounts a secret mission during World War II. The one hour documentary featured interviews with 19 veterans of the unit and describes specific deceptive operations during the war. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mark Wyatt)
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Filmmaker visits Hanscom to present ‘The Ghost Army’

Posted 4/25/2013   Updated 4/25/2013 Email story   Print story


by Deborah L. Powers
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

4/25/2013 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass.  -- Rick Beyer, an award-winning producer and author from Lexington, Mass., presented the Hanscom community with a sneak preview of his new documentary - a riveting tale of a U.S. Army unit conceived and operated in secrecy during World War II.

The Hanscom Conference Center's Concord Auditorium was filled to capacity on April 22 for the special screening of "The Ghost Army," followed by a question-and-answer session with the filmmaker. The event, sponsored by the Hanscom Federal Credit Union, was part of the Heritage of Freedom series.

Over the last eight years Beyer interviewed 21 veterans of the unit and poured over thousands of photos and hours of video archives to tell the remarkable true story of the once top-secret wartime exploits of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops.

The 23rd, dubbed The Ghost Army, used bluff, trickery and illusion to fool the enemy during the Second World War. The film chronicles the mysterious 1,100-man unit's battlefield deceptions through France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany from June 1944 to March 1945. From Normandy to the Rhine, the handpicked group of GIs fabricated phantom divisions, set up fake headquarters, replicated radio transmissions and simulated movement of armored divisions with inflatable tanks, trucks and airplanes to fool the enemy about the strength and location of American units.

The unit's last mission was their most critical, with thousands of lives at risk. It was a deception that drew German forces away from the area where the American troops were planning to cross the Rhine River. Fortunately, the operation was a success. In all, the Ghost Army's staged operations and carefully scripted scenarios ending up saving countless American lives. Their mission and what they accomplished remained classified throughout the war, and remained under wraps for more than 40 years thereafter.

The men chosen to handle the meticulously engineered illusions were sonic deception and radio operator experts, as well as artists recruited from prestigious art schools. Many went on to achieve post-war fame, including fashion designer Bill Blass, artist Arthur Singer and painter/sculptor Ellsworth Kelley.

The artists' creativity continued to flourish even under the extreme wartime conditions. The sketches and paintings they created between missions captured a unique pictorial record of the war.

In the question-and-answer period following the screening, Beyer announced that some of the artwork is currently on display for the public. "Artists of Deception" opened in mid-April at the Hopper House in Nyack, N.Y. The exhibit features the artwork of more than 17 Ghost Army artists, including Bill Blass' wartime notebooks. He hopes it will become a traveling exhibit in the future.

Another audience member inquired about women's role in the creation of phony, inflatable tanks used by the unit. In fact, females in this area of the country - including Lowell and Malden, Mass., and Woonsocket, R.I. - did take part in the production, told at the time they were making targets for target practice. The hundreds of manufactured tanks were destroyed at the end of the war, he added.

Beyer told the crowd that his inspiration for the film began after hearing the story from a woman whose uncle was a member of the unit. The filmmaker was drawn in by the fact that it was a different take on a wartime narrative.

"It was a World War II story that was neither about the front lines, nor was it about the generals," he said.

Instead, it centered on the creativity and imagination of this special group of veterans. And as soon as he got to know the soldiers themselves - whom he described as "uniformly, just amazing people" - he wanted to tell their yet unrevealed, inspiring tale.

For those who missed the screening or would like to watch the film again, "The Ghost Army" is scheduled to premiere nationwide May 21 at 8 p.m. on PBS. More information about the documentary can be found at www.ghostarmy.org.

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