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 email@example.com or me at firstname.lastname@example.org