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Kimberling City resident attends Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal ceremony

On March 21, 2024, Congress officially presented the Congressional Gold Medal to the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and the 3133rd Signal Service Company Special, known to World War II historians as the “Ghost Army.” The ceremony was held in the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and presided over by Speaker of the House Mike Johnson. Over 600 people attended, including many family members of Ghost Army veterans. One of those family members was Carolyn Cagle of Kimberling City.

 



In the summer of 1944, a handpicked group of G.I.s landed in France with the mission of creating a “traveling road show” of deception on European battlefields with the German army as audience. With numerous tricks up their sleeves, including a collection of sound effects records, these soldiers conjured up phony convoys, phantom divisions, and make-believe headquarters from Normandy to the Rhine River to confuse the enemy about the strength and location of American units, with each deception requiring they impersonate a different U.S. unit. The soldiers took their roles seriously, hanging out at local cafés to fool spies with their stories and not-quite-perfectly camouflaging weapons and equipment as decoys.

 

Three surviving members of the Ghost Army were able to attend the ceremony: Bernie Bluestein, John Christman and Seymour Nussenbaum. Bluestein, who accepted the medal on behalf of the Ghost Army, served in the 603 Camouflage Engineers, as did Cagle’s late father, Joseph Spence. Several other dignitaries and Congressional leaders and Pentagon officials attended or participated in the ceremony, along with Ghost Army Legacy President Rick Beyer.

 

As the daughter of a Ghost Army veteran, Cagle has served on the Legacy Project Board, which worked together for several years to accomplish the legislation authorizing the medal, signed in 2022 by President Biden. After a committee developed the actual design, incorporating meaningful images, the U.S. Mint was tasked to create the medal, which will be on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Large images of the medal were displayed in the Emancipation Hall for the ceremony, and copies were made available for families. 

 

For many years, families did not have information about how their loved ones served, until the information was declassified in 1996; the public then began to realize the enormity of the contributions of the Ghost Army to Allied victory, and the work on recognition and legacy began. In 2019, June 6 was designated “Ghost Army Recognition Day” in Missouri by proclamation of Governor Parson. A documentary, 15 years in the making, has been shown at the IMAX in Branson several times.

 

“Coming together with others who have worked on this, meeting with other family members, was a wonderful sense of community,” said Cagle, whose husband, Rick, and daughter, Briana, attended with her. “The event coordinator did an amazing job.” In addition to recognition at the ceremony, families were treated to a welcome Gala that evening. Cagle also found the ceremony benediction, given by a Jewish U.S. military chaplain, particularly meaningful in the light of current events.

 

Family members are not only grateful for the physical recognition and for the Congressional Gold Medal, but they are also proud of their loved ones’ role as trailblazers for military tactics still being used by the Army today. “The technology is new, but the concepts are the same,” said Cagle.

 

In recognizing the veterans at the ceremony, former Utah representative Chris Stewart summed up the spirit and legacy of the Ghost Army and other World War II veterans, saying, “You look in their faces and see their eyes; you know that our bodies get old but our souls do not; our spirits do not get old. In their hearts, they are still the same brave young men willing to sacrifice anything to serve their country.”

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