The 10 living members of an often overlooked U.S. Army unit have received the highest recognition from Congress for their roles on European battlefields during World War II, roles that relied on deception to save lives.
About 50 people gathered at Morselife Home Care in West Palm Beach on Saturday to recognize one of them – veteran Manny Frockt, 98, who was a member of the sound deception unit of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops , known as the Ghost Army.
President Joe Biden signed into law the Shadow Army Congressional Gold Medal Act in February to recognize soldiers for “unique and highly distinguished service in the conduct of deception operations” during the war in Europe, according to the law.
Ghost Army tactics included hundreds of inflatable tanks, “advanced engineering soundtracks”, and radio tricks to fool German units, in accordance with the new law. Many soldiers were recruited from art schools and other creative or technical backgrounds.
“Rarely, if ever, has there been a group of so few men who have had such a great influence on the outcome of a major military campaign,” said an army analysis after the war, according to to the law.
Thanks to its cunning and ingenuity, the roughly 1,100-man unit was able to make it look like there were as many as 30,000 soldiers in its operations, according to the non-profit organization Ghost Army Legacy. Project, whose chairman, Rick Beyer, spoke at Saturday’s event. .
Beyer said the Phantom Army performed 22 different battlefield deceptions.
“He was one of those guys who played sounds from giant speakers mounted on half-tracks to fool the enemy about American forces and where they were,” Beyer said.
Frockt took part in Operation Viersen in March 1945, their last mission, to deceive the Germans as to where the Americans would cross the Rhine. It was “the largest and most successful operation”, Beyer said, which probably saved thousands of people.
US Congressman and Army veteran Brian Mast, who represents Florida’s 18th congressional district, was one of the co-sponsors of the act. At Saturday’s ceremony, he praised Frockt for being one of “the best liars of the war”, which brought laughter from the crowd.
“You managed to do something that we can laugh and joke about, but it was serious. It was serious that way, as a member of the service, basically becoming the worm on the end of a hook without the backup that everyone had because the real backup was elsewhere.
Video played on a projection screen on stage showed black-and-white images of soldiers overturning an inflatable military vehicle disguised as the real thing and blowing up the turret of an inflatable M4 Sherman. Tank.
Rep. David Silvers, D-Lake Clarke Shores, recognized Frockt at the event with a letter from the House of Representatives for his work in the Sound Deception Unit, playing “recorded sounds of men’s voices shouting, gunfire, grenades and engines until either the enemy withdrew or the larger armed forces had sufficient time to move their troops.
Frockt told the public he attended college at 16 and 17 before joining the military at 19. He served until the age of 23 and a half.
“I wrote a letter to the government asking whether I was going to be drafted or not, and the response was, ‘Show up. You will be enlisted. So I showed up and got drafted,” he said. “I mean, if you think a certain thing needs to be done, do it. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.
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Frockt, the son of a pawnbroker and antique store owner, was born in Tennessee before moving to Kentucky. Just days after Frockt turned 18, he entered the draft on June 30, 1942, according to a biography written by the Ghost Army Legacy Project.
Once released, Frockt returned home to Kentucky and attended law school at the University of Louisville and met the woman who would become his wife, Esther Tandeta, according to the biography. He practiced law for 50 years, part of that time in Lake Worth Beach, and their two children, Joel and Shelley, became lawyers themselves.
What Shadow Army soldiers did during the war was kept secret until 1996, according to the nonprofit. Some veterans said they had not been allowed to speak to anyone about what they had done for decades. Frockt was one.
“The brass said ‘Keep your mouth shut.’ So I did,” Frockt said in the biography written by the nonprofit.
Frockt’s farewell message for those listening on Saturday was simple.
“I happen to be one of the men who was in Paris, France, the day he was released. I was released,” he said. “So I’m telling you, stay there if you believe in it. Don’t take bulls—…”
Correction: An earlier version of this story had Mr. Frockt’s name misspelled.