SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A Utah teenager is pushing Congress to recognize an elite Army unit that is credited for saving countless lives without ever firing a shot in World War II.
The mission of the Ghost Army was top secret, and even to this day has received little fanfare.
Their job was to confuse and deceive the enemy.
They didn’t use traditional weapons of war, they used their minds to create illusions.
Making themselves look and sound like a giant, intimidating force ready to attack when in reality they were few in number or even working alone.
Stanley Nance of Salt Lake City was one of them.
At 101 years old, he has lived a life most of us can only imagine. And he loves to talk about it.
He loves to talk about it, and still remembers every little detail of a life full of faith, family and serving our country.
“The American flag means everything to me,” said Nance.
That allegiance led him to enlist as a young man.
He excelled in basic training and in learning the skills of a radio technician.
Top brass took note, and all of a sudden Nance was swept up in a series of secret military moves.
In the middle of it, he asked for the opportunity to call his wife back home.
“I have to call her and tell her I’m not in Southern California anymore, that I’m here in Tennessee. He said the Army will take care of that. So, I knew I was in something very, very strange,” he said.
Sgt. Nance was one of 1,100 men handpicked for a covert operation in World War II.
“And, that’s what I was is a secret soldier, because we kept everything secret, and we told nobody.”
Those secret soldiers deployed psychological warfare from the front lines.
“The whole division would move out, and the Ghost Army would move in with their vehicles, and with their dummies and things and take over that position,” Nance said.
That would keep the attention on them, while the real threat was moving into position off the radar.
Speaking of off the radar, Nance and his secret band of brothers are still ghosts to this day in ways.
Their work wasn’t declassified until some 50 years after the war.
He held on to the secret even longer than that.
It wasn’t until his 100th birthday that a book on the coffee table gave him away.
His great-granddaughter, Madeline Christianson, a self-proclaimed history nerd, wasn’t buying it at first.
“He was talking to me about this major unit that he was apart of in World War II that used inflatable tanks and deceptive measures. And, I was like grandpa that’s not real. I’ve had years of history classes and they haven’t said anything about this,” she said.
Oh, but it was real, and Christianson embarked on a journey to learn everything she could.
It took her all the way to Europe where she walked in the footsteps of her great-grandfather and his comrades all those years before.
On the tour, she learned about the fake radio messages sent to throw off the enemy, aerial and sonic illusions and the decoys used, which include inflatable tanks, planes, and soldiers.
“Many of them considered it a suicide unit because their whole purpose was to draw enemy attention to themselves and they had nothing to defend themselves with.”
She says several were injured, but miraculously the Ghost Army only suffered three casualties and there’s no indication the German army ever caught on to their tricks.
“It’s estimated they saved 10, to 20, to even 30,000 lives,” said Christianson.
As she got more and more attached to the story, Christianson created an exhibit on the Ghost Army.
It won the World War II history award at the National History day competition in D.C. this past summer.
“I thought the story of the Ghost Army would be forgotten long ago,” said Nance.
Christianson will have none of that. She says there are less than 15 members of the unit still living today.
She has personally interviewed about half of them.
“I was able to interview nine veterans, and it just, I’ve adopted nine grandpas now.”
She wants the American government to give her grandpas the recognition they deserve.
“I feel an urgency, it’s very personal to me,” she said.
She’s lobbying Congress to pass the Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act, and she wants them to do it before it’s too late for the few remaining members.
“It would be so amazing to be able to have grandpa, and all my adopted grandpas to say this is the medal you never got, this is the citation, this is the purple heart you never got after the war.”
In the meantime, Nance holds on to memories of his efforts being recognized overseas.
Like the time in the French countryside when an elderly couple had him in their home for a glass of milk.
“He grabbed me, and hugged me, and kissed me on both cheeks. Then he said, he made mention that we, me and my companions, had liberated France once again.”
Or another time while driving through a city where thankful residents lined the streets and two little girls stood out in the crowd.
“And, I would have just liked to have got out of my truck and just hugged them. Waiving those little American flags with sticks.”
The bill is being sponsored by Representative Ann Kuster, (D) New Hampshire.
Christianson has successfully lobbied all four of Utah’s representatives to sign on as cosponsors.
She’s now working on our senators to get their support, and by the way, she’s only 15 years old.
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