The Ghost Army: Hero lives in Arkansas…raised in Kankakee, IL

Born and raised in Kankakee, Illinois, Leslie Gates, 93, currently lives in Arkansas and is finally able to share his astonishing secret. The top secret unit that he was involved in during World War II, the Ghost Army. Officially known as the 23rd headquarters of special troops….Operation Quicksilver.  After D-Day in France and until the end of the war, over 20 battle deceptions were staged very close to the front line deceiving German soldiers and officers between 1944-1945 ending in the Rhine Valley.

A secret for over 40 years, some information still considered classified today, the Ghost Army was finally able to share their personal experiences in the last couple of years. Consequently, able to share the fascinating battlefield illusions they created whose American purpose was to fool Hitler with fake strategic games and theatrical events.

These disguised missions were composed of inflatable tanks and false radio transmissions. Giant speakers were used to broadcast the sounds of men and artillery to make the Germans think that the units were larger and deflect their concentration from other battles. Painters designed hundreds of rubber tanks, jeeps and aircraft. Aircraft could be inflated with gasoline fueled air compressors that looked authentic to Nazi military. They also pretended to be members of fellow units by sewing patches on their uniforms going as far as spending time at French cafes dressed up as Generals. Only the best of actors and creative artists were part of the 1,100 elite men in the Ghost Army.

Les Gates lived on the 400 block of  Harrison street in Kankakee during his childhood and high school years; his father a lifelong resident who worked for the post office. He has visited Kankakee several times and I, too, went back for him; the picture I took where his house once stood bought by one of the churches in the early 1970’s and now torn down.

Les talks about his experiences with the Ghost Army who saved tens of thousands of lives because of their unique deceptions. Les and his one brothers talent was music and composition. In 1938, in Kankakee they formed a band that included the band director from his high school and was sponsored by the Rural Letter Carriers Association of Illinois.

Delighted they were selected to play in Washington DC and it happened that the Hardin Simmons University band was also playing. Les’s brother was offered a music scholarship to attend the University. After attending, Les Gates traveled with his family to visit his brother in Abelene Texas and often played trombone for entertainment there.

Of course, the college heard his brilliance and offered him a scholarship too. However, the war changed all of that.  Beginning his training in the Army, because of his musical talent, he began at Fort McClellan and learned the art of radio dispatch. Voice transmission were not as popular as morse cord and it was the dots and dashes that was clearly easy for him as a trombone musician.

I spent the better part of three years with the 3132nd and 3133rd  signal service companies. I got to the 3132nd from the A S T P program when it was dropped. The 3132nd was the first organization that started training in the art of sonic deception at Pine Camp, N Y . We were all ushered into a room with guards outside the door and we were told we were not to speak to anyone about this. I developed appendicitis at Fort Slocum-Port of demarcation and “missed the boat” and was transferred back to Pine Camp to join the 3133rd. The 3132 operated in the European theater .

The 3133rd went on to Italy and operated there until the end of the war. Both units were reported to have been VERY effective in their operations. There were VISUAL deception units, also, and of course you couldn’t suddenly have a division of armored tanks appear without the appropriate sounds, thus the sonic units were VERY important to the overall operation. We had amplifiers that could , project “sounds” for 5 or more miles, and were very convincing. We could actually bounce speakers off the clouds to get as much distance as possible. The tanks were not just inflatable and if hit by artillery, just pop like a balloon but had a framework of tubes so the enemy could shoot and it would not fall so quickly.

Only a few dozen members of the Ghost Army are still alive throughout the United States as the ranks continue to dwindle.  According to Ghostarmy.org, as of May 2017, bipartisan legislation has been re-introduced in both the House and the Senate to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops for particular recognition. “Rarely, if ever, has there been a group of such a few men which had so great an influence on the outcome of a major military campaign,” In the past eight years,  World War II units including the Native American Code Talkers, Women Air force Service Pilots, the Monuments Men and the Doolittle Raiders have received the Congressional Gold Medal. “The dangerous, life-saving, top-secret work of the Ghost Army is well deserving of similar recognition,” Rep. Kuster says.

Les Gates ended his army experience, actually, as a band man. Since World War II, he has played in numerous bands, concerts, dance bands and symphony orchestras. Since his move 10 years ago to Arkansas he has not played.

I would be incredibly honored to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Not just for me but for so many of my comrades whose lives were saved. Though at 93, I do hope they make a decision soon.

Please feel free to contact Les if you know anyway to help him and share his story at lesgates@suddenlink.net or me at karlasullivan17@yahoo.com

Unemployment can be a blessing

Since the early beginnings of the millennium, I had been in more than one job followed by doing time on unemployment. Being a single mother at the time and sole provider, I had always taken the first job offer to put food on the table.

For most, becoming unemployed is a serious professional crisis that depletes energy, reputation, self-esteem, health and, of course, money but unemployment can be a gift.

Unemployment offers quality time to be there for others in our life who may be suffering from crisis that is much worse than our own. Our purpose is not what we do but what we can do for others.

Maybe it is in the divine plan that we are forced to take a break and focus on what is important. If not a coincidence, then how do you explain the repeated stories of individuals losing jobs only to find themselves taking care of aging and ill parents during their unplanned sabbatical?

One friend admitted about being able to spend time with Mom located in another state, planning and celebrating Mom’s 90th birthday and experience her passing shortly after.

Three months after her mother’s death, she was offered a job better than the one before her unemployment.

One of my own unemployment stints allowed me to travel daily and take care of my son who was hospitalized and my Mother, who was in a nursing home, all at the same time. My mother passed away in the month of August and I was offered a position a month later.

Maybe we are rewarded with our return to the workplace because we utilized our vacation time without pay to extend our hearts; a gift of love that keeps on giving love to others.

Ultimately, being unemployed offered me exploration; time to become aware of my own passions and realize that we are meant to utilize our talents with the sole purpose of sincerely guiding others to a better day rather than spend time off strategically figuring out how to win the lottery. Not knocking those that do. If you have the answer to that one, feel free to share.

What talents of my own could I use to reach those goals? For me, it was by being able to write about my struggles in life and career that could express hope in volatile times.

Unemployment allowed me to develop my writing talent and consistent belief about the price of gold in a positive attitude and becoming a true survivor. It was time for me to write about being a true friend. As a result, I have contributed to several publications but my message remains the same; for my readers to believe in their own greatness.

Maybe we are in transition in our career with a job that is not paying the bills and though we keep applying, interviewing, we just never receive the results we expect. Maybe we are suppose to be in that position, not for ourselves, but for the sake of our co-workers who really need us. Another divine purpose we may not recognize.

Small gestures, smiles, words of encouragement, and determination can define the blessings of unemployment. Helping others will find a place of life-time achievement in own our hearts; more important than any other type of awards we could add to our resumes.

It has been said that most in their final days never seem to reminisce or talk about their career, financial accomplishments and wishing for that bigger house….only the love we have shared with others .

What Baby Boomers didn’t know

Those over 60 were taught that we would retire with a substantial savings from a company we had worked for all of our adult lives.

Unfortunately, our parents lied to us.

They did not teach us how to jump from one job to the next and still be able to hobble to the workplace at the tender age of 72.

They didn’t teach us about the healthcare market; astronomical costs to maintain our health. They went from insurance on the job that the company paid for, after decades of working for the same company and retired directly into Medicare.

They did not teach us that we would be competing with youth of all ages and that are experience and wisdom didn’t mean quite the same as it did for them in the workplace

They also did not tell us that people would be promoted whether they were qualified or not.

They taught us about establishing college funds for our own children but forgot to tell us how much we needed to send our kids to school.

They did not tell us that our tri-level home or two-story condo would cause havoc on the kneecaps and that a steady banister on stairs would actually be useful.

They did not teach us to celebrate our golden anniversaries and birthdays with a designated driver. In fact, they left out the part that one alcoholic beverage would knock us out and caffeine would keep us up all night.

They did not teach us organization tips like putting our keys in the same spot every day so we didn’t have to rely on failing memory to find them.

They did not show us the proper way to go down a playground slide with our grandkids.

Unfortunately, in their timeline, there was no way to teach us about internet violence, terrorism,  social media political back-stabbing, online buying subject to constant security checks and threats.

We were taught to never speak in public about politics or religion.

We were taught decorum and respect.

We were taught to trust.

They didn’t tell us that we would hate crowds, loud music, traffic jams and driving in bad weather. They didn’t let us know that we would be fearful driving in blizzards and that is why their older counterparts moved to warmer climates. Now we know!

They didn’t tell us that we would be screaming out 1973 after a song recorded 40 years ago had been played. Nor did they admit that 40 years ago would seem like yesterday.

They didn’t tell us about constant maintenance and more maintenance of the mind, body and spirit. And they didn’t tell us about the exhaustion that came with all that constant maintenance as well as a waistline that would continue to bloom regardless of what we did to decrease it.

Finally, they did not teach us how we should take care of them. They never wanted to go there and neither did we.

What We Do Have

When I take the time to look back and remember, my aunt used to always tell me that it was hell to get old. I was just too ignorant to listen. Why should we, old age was incomprehensible and would never happen to us. Surprise!

They didn’t say surprise when we started to falter or that, ultimately, old age would sneak up on us and be filled with all sorts of surprises.

It all depended on how you looked at it.

For me, however, they did give me one quality of life that is timeless and I intend to keep regardless of the aging factor and that is a sense of humor!

Hopefully, the rest of you can laugh at yourselves as the gifts of aging, keep on giving. 

And the love we shared in our youth for many is stronger in memory than ever before.

Actually, those are the healthiest resources we have!