This article was originally published in the Naples Daily News in April 2014
Naples, FL – The Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida is exposing a secret from World War II. Artists of Deception: The Ghost Army of World War II is currently on display and shares the story of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, otherwise known as the Ghost Army.
Last month the Museum honored veterans of this illustrious unit at its annual Triumph Event, held at the Hertz Hangar at the Naples Municipal Airport. On hand to share the story and accept the award were Rick Beyer, producer of The Ghost Army documentary, and Gil Seltzer, a 99-year old WWII veteran who served in the unit.
Seltzer, along with 1,099 other men, was chosen to serve in the top secret “ghost army” which arrived in Europe on the heels of the D-Day invasion. Their job was to create a traveling road show of deception throughout France, Luxembourg and Germany. To achieve the goal of simulating a much larger force, four units were brought together. Consisting of the 3132 Sonic Service Company, the Signal Company Special, the 406th Engineer Combat Company and the 603rd Engineer Battalion, these 1,100 men were able to create the illusions needed to confuse the Germany military.
One of the soldiers in the Signal Company was Gazo Nemeth, a 91-year old veteran now living in Ft. Myers. Mr. Nemeth, originally from Youngstown, Ohio, was drafted in the U.S. Army at age 20. As one of 150 radio operators, his job was to impersonate operators from real unit and mimic specific patterns of typing Morse Code, all to ensure the Germans never knew this was deflecting them from the real movements of the American forces. Mr. Nemeth has an incredible memory for the movement details of his unit, as well as many stories that “the Army would rather you not know,” most with a humorous twist.
Mr. Nemeth was on hand, not only at the Triumph event, but also at the Holocaust Museum on April 13th for a screening of The Ghost Army documentary, sharing a little bit about his experience during World War II. Members of the Ghost Army were told never to discuss their actions during World War II and most never did. Mr. Nemeth was quite surprised to see the documentary premier last spring, but he has since become a local celebrity. His community in Ft. Myers has shown the film as the “movie of the month” and his neighbors are eager to learn more about the actions of this amazing unit.
Most of us would never know this story without the exhaustive efforts of Rick Beyer. After a meeting with Martha Gavin, the daughter of Ghost Army veteran, John Jarvie, Rick was hooked and worked to bring the story to life. Starting in 2005 with the first interviews, the project flourished and the documentary was released in 2013. Rick collaborated with Elizabeth Sayles, the daughter of another Ghost Army veteran, to co-curate the Artists of Deception exhibit.
Included in the exhibit are original and reproductions items used by the Ghost Army: patches of the units they impersonated, radio equipment necessary for the deception, and the artwork created by the soldiers. The Artists of Deception exhibit will be on display at until June 1st, highlighting the role of these 1,100 soldiers, as well as the artwork created during their time in Europe.
The Holocaust Museum will hold another screening of the documentary on Sunday, May 18th at 12:30 pm. Mr. Gazo Nemeth will once again be present for a short question and answer session immediately following the film. Reservations are required as space is limited. To reserve your seat, call 239-263-9200. The Holocaust Museum is open afternoons from Tuesday through Sunday. Please call the Museum or visit www.HolocaustMuseumSWFL.org for the most up to date information on open hours and tour times.