At the tender age of 19, my father George Dramis found himself on the bluffs above Omaha Beach in the company of Gen. George Patton, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Omar Bradley, and Gen. Bernard Montgomery of the British Army, along with assorted brass from all branches of the military. He was a jeep driver and a radio operator, and it was sheer coincidence that he found himself elbow-to-elbow with the commanders of our Allied troops shortly after D-Day.
“I was standing right in back of Patton with the revolvers on his hips,” he recalled in an interview, “and the cameras are grinding away, the Signal Corps men, the United Press guys. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh boy, I’m going to have my picture the news.’ That was quite an event for me.”
That was as close as my father came to having his WWII exploits on public display. He served in an Army unit that carried out unique and daring missions that never made the news and remained top secret for more than 50 years after the war. Known as the Ghost Army, it specialized in creative deceptions on the battlefields of Europe. Their tactics included positioning fake, inflatable tanks and armored vehicles near the front lines, using giant loudspeakers to blast the ominous sounds of troop convoys, and filling the airwaves with authentic-sounding radio chatter and Morse code containing misleading intelligence.
Their mission was to deceive the enemy, to fool the Germans into thinking the invading Allied troops were somewhere where they were not.
“We were a fake army,” my father said. “That’s what it was exactly designed to be, to fool the Germans.”
One of their most significant missions took place in March 1945 when Allied troops crossed the Rhine River, a pivotal moment that led to the Nazi’s defeat a few months later. It was one of the few times the entire Ghost Army, the 1,100 man 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, was assembled in one location.
“Everyone was involved,” he said. “The camouflage people, the half-track people, the ones that used fake artillery, flash bombs that looked like artillery going off. That was a big deal.”
Even though the Ghost Army is credited with saving more than 30,000 lives of Allied soldiers, its significant role in the victory over the Nazis is largely unknown and unheralded. It’s time to change that.
A few months ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to The Ghost Army, which included the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops in Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg, and the 3133rd Signal Company Special in Italy. It was a major achievement for a citizens’ group called The Ghost Army Legacy Project, which has waged a six-year campaign to get Congress to award the Ghost Army with the Congressional Gold Medal. Along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it’s the nation’s highest expression of appreciation for distinguished achievements by individuals or institutions.
A companion bill, SB 1404, now awaits action in the Senate. Congressional rules require 67 co-sponsors to bring it to the floor for a vote and there are 52 so far. As of yet, neither of our North Carolina senators have signed on.
We need to ask Sen. Burr and Sen. Tillis, and other senators around the country, to join in co-sponsoring – and voting for – this important legislation. Time is critical. There are only nine surviving Veterans of the original Ghost Army.
At 96 and living in Raleigh, my father never spoke of the Ghost Army (which wasn’t called the Ghost Army until years after the war) all the time I was growing up, and he certainly never asked for any honors or recognition for his service. He believes the accolades belong to the many young soldiers who never returned from their battles. Nevertheless, the Ghost Army risked life and limb by literally making themselves targets for the Germans. Recognition for their contribution to the freedoms we enjoy today is long overdue.
Jim Dramis lives in Raleigh, NC.