In 1943, Anderson Wilson enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 19. Unbeknownst to him, he would be fighting in World War II through the art of deception.
In the last weeks of 1943, President Roosevelt signed a specialized army unit into action. It initially comprised of 52 men but grew to 1,100 men. The unit, dubbed the “Ghost Army” today, remained classified until 1996.
As a member of the Ghost Army, Wilson became part of a best-kept secret for 50 years. “There was no other unit like it in the Army,” says Wilson. “We went overseas in the largest convoy that ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean.”
The Troops That Did Not Exist
The mission of the Ghost Army was to create the perception of a real Army division. “We had a camouflaged battalion full of artists and others, including Bill Blass (an American fashion designer),” Wilson recalls. “Our 1,100 men would move in at night. We had inflatable tanks, artillery and airplanes for show when the air reconnaissance flew over.”
The Ghost Army used record players to create sounds commonly associated with a division post. This deception intended to fool the German troops and manipulate their movements. The Ghost Army also provided concealment for American troops and their allies during navigation to more beneficial vantage points.
“Most of our operations were done within 100–300 yards of the front line,” Wilson says. “We didn’t have any kind of artillery — only trucks to move the unit out in a hurry. But we didn’t have as many casualties as you’d think for that kind of outfit.”
Despite the number of members, the Ghost Army, or officially known as the 1st Headquarters Special Troops, stayed under the radar, kept quiet and remained discreet. In fact, the specialized unit was so successful in its mission to stay out of the spotlight that its legacy was largely unknown to the public until PBS launched a documentary, “The Ghost Army,” in 2013.
An Untold Secret at the VFW
Wilson returned home in June 1945. After his military discharge, Wilson took an accounting job with a hardwood and steel company, reconnected with friends, and joined the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization.
At the VFW, Wilson would listen to stories of other veterans, but the secret classification of his missions did not allow him to reciprocate; therefore, he decided to part ways with the VFW.
He then met the future Mrs. Wilson on a blind date in 1946. “Neither of us wanted to go,” he laughed as he tells the story. “We dated for about six months before we got married. That was 73 years ago, and I’ve had her ever since.”
Mr. and Mrs. Wilson had two children. The couple relocated to Shreveport, Louisiana, for a job opportunity, lived there through retirement, but eventually moved to Slidell, Louisiana, to live closer to their family.
When the Ghost Army Came to Light
In 1996, the Ghost Army mission became declassified. Wilson was finally free to discuss his career with family, friends and inquiring minds. He re-joined the local VFW, this time feeling proud to share his stories with fellow service members.
In 2017, Right at Home Slidell began the honor of providing care services to Wilson and learned the secret he had kept for half a century.