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98-year-old Congressional Gold Medal recipient honored for service as Ghost Army soldier in WWII

Ghost Army veteran, Manny Frockt, 98 (Angie DiMichele/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS)

The 10 living members of an often-unsung unit in the U.S. Army have been awarded with Congress’ highest recognition for their role on Europe’s 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 Saturday to recognize one of them — veteran Manny Frockt, 98, who was a member of the sonic deception unit of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, known as the Ghost Army.

President Joe Biden signed the Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act into law in February to recognize the soldiers for “their unique and highly distinguished service in conducting deception operations” during the war in Europe, the law says.

The tactics of the Ghost Army included hundreds of inflatable tanks, “advanced engineered soundtracks” and radio tricks to deceive German units, according to the new law. Many of the soldiers were recruited from art schools and other creative or technical backgrounds.

“‘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,’” an Army analysis after the war said, according to the law.

Through its cunning and ingenuity, the unit of about 1,100 men was able to make it seem as if there were as many as 30,000 troops in its operations, according to the nonprofit Ghost Army Legacy Project, whose president, Rick Beyer, spoke at Saturday’s event.

Beyer said the Ghost Army carried out 22 different battlefield deceptions.

“He was one of those guys who played sounds from giant loud speakers mounted on half-tracks to fool the enemy about American forces and where they were,” Beyer said.

Frockt participated in Operation Viersen in March 1945, their final mission, to trick Germans about where Americans would cross the Rhine River. It was “the biggest and most successful operation,” Beyer said, that likely saved thousands.

U.S. Congressman and Army veteran Brian Mast, who represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District, was a co-sponsor of the act. At the ceremony Saturday, he congratulated Frockt on being one of “the best liars of the war,” which drew laughs from the crowd.

“You successfully did something that we can laugh and joke about, but it was serious. It was serious in this way to, as a service member, make yourself essentially the worm on the end of a hook without the backup that everybody else had because the real backup was somewhere else.”

A video played on a projector screen on stage showed black-and-white footage of soldiers tipping over an inflatable military vehicle disguised as the real thing and popping the turret off 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 sonic deception unit, playing “recorded sounds of mens’ voices yelling, gunfire, grenades and engines until the enemy either retreated or the largest armed forces had enough time to move their troops.”

Frockt told the audience he attended college at ages 16 and 17 before joining the military at 19 years old. He served until he was 23-and-a-half years old.

“I wrote a letter to the government about whether or not I was going to get drafted, and the response was, ‘Show up. You’re gonna be drafted.‘ So I showed up, and I was drafted,” he said. “The point that I make is if you are of the opinion that a certain thing should be done, do it. Don’t wait for somebody else to do it for you.”

Frockt, the son of a pawn-shop and antique-store owner, was born in Tennessee before moving to Kentucky. Just days after Frockt turned 18, he registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, according to a bio written by the Ghost Army Legacy Project.

Once discharged, Frockt went home to Kentucky and attended the University of Louisville Law School and met the woman who would become his wife, Esther Tandeta, the bio says. He practiced law for 50 years, part of that time in Lake Worth Beach, and both of their children, Joel and Shelley, went on to become lawyers themselves.

What the Ghost Army soldiers did during the war was kept confidential until 1996, the nonprofit says. Some veterans said they weren’t allowed to tell anyone about what they did for decades. Frockt was one.

“The brass said ‘Keep your mouth shut.’ So I did,” Frockt said in the bio written by the nonprofit.

Frockt’s parting message for those listening Saturday was simple.

“I happen to be one of the men that was in Paris, France the day it was liberated. I was liberated,” he said. “So I say to you, stick with it if you believe in it. Don’t take any bulls— …”


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