Gilbert Seltzer, Soldier in the World War II ‘Ghost Army,’ Dies at 106

Gilbert Seltzer, who served with a secret Army unit in World War II that fooled German forces with inflatable tanks, dummy airplanes, pretend radio transmissions and sound results that mimicked troop actions, died on Aug. 14 at his house in West Orange, N.J. He was 106.

His son, Richard, confirmed the loss of life.

Mr. Seltzer was certainly one of 1,100 troopers connected to the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, which pulled off elegant strategic cons on German forces, ingeniously creating the phantasm that American troops had been the place they weren’t.

Shortly after the struggle, the 23rd turned often called the Ghost Army. In later years Mr. Seltzer, who at his loss of life was the oldest surviving Ghost Army soldier, turned a public ambassador for the veterans of the unit.

“We would move into the woods in the middle of the night, going through France, Belgium and Germany, and turn on the sound” — from blaring loudspeakers — “so it sounded like tanks were moving on the roads,” Mr. Seltzer advised StoryCorps in 2019. “The natives would say to each other, ‘Did you see the tanks moving through town last night?’”

“They thought they were seeing them,” he added. “Imagination is unbelievable.”

Mr. Seltzer, an architect, was a platoon chief and later a lieutenant and adjutant of the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion, whose ranks included males who would go on to work in promoting, artwork, structure and illustration, amongst them the future dressmaker Bill Blass, the photographer Art Kane and the painter Ellsworth Kelly.

The battalion dealt with the Ghost Army’s visible fakery; the 3132nd Signal Service Company was in cost of sound deception; the Signal Company, Special, devised realistic-sounding radio messages to throw off the Germans. The 406th Combat Engineer Company offered safety.

In March 1945, in certainly one of their most elaborate feats of trickery — throughout the essential Rhine River marketing campaign, designed to lastly crush Germany — the 23rd arrange 10 miles south of the spot the place two American Ninth Army divisions had been to cross the river. To simulate a buildup of these divisions at their decoy location, the Ghost Army used inflated tanks, cannons, planes and vehicles; despatched out deceptive radio messages about the American troops’ actions; and used loudspeakers to simulate the sound of troopers constructing pontoon boats.

The Germans fell for the ruse, firing on the 23rd’s divisions, whereas Ninth Army troops crossed the Rhine with nominal resistance.

Mr. Seltzer, who had flown in a reconnaissance mission earlier than the crossing to find out if the 23rd’s preparations had been satisfactory, advised StoryCorps: “We are credited with saving as many as 30,000 men, which I think is an exaggeration. But if we saved one life, it was all worthwhile.”

In a picture from the 2013 PBS documentary “Ghost Army,” a soldier stands subsequent to an inflatable rubber Sherman tank. It took about 30 minutes to inflate a single tank. Credit…National Archives

The work of the 23rd was recalled in a 2013 PBS documentary, “The Ghost Army,” produced by Rick Beyer. Two years later Mr. Beyer collaborated with Elizabeth Sayles on the e-book “The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy With Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery.”

The Ghost Army was additionally the topic of an exhibition at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans that opened in early March 2020. The museum was closed quickly after till Memorial Day due to the coronavirus pandemic; after the museum reopened, the exhibition was on view till January.

Mr. Beyer has campaigned to have the Ghost Army obtain the Congressional Gold Medal; laws handed the House this 12 months and is pending in the Senate.

“Gil was extremely proud of what he did in the Ghost Army, but at the same time found it fairly amusing that people were interested in something he spent one year on 75 years ago,” Mr. Beyer mentioned in a cellphone interview. “Like most of the guys in the unit, he was struck by how their role was saving lives. They weren’t about killing people but using creativity that could save American lives and even some German lives.”

With Mr. Seltzer’s loss of life, Mr. Beyer mentioned, there at the moment are solely 9 Ghost Army troopers left.

Mr. Seltzer was born on Oct. 11, 1914, in Toronto to Julius and Marion (Liss) Seltzer, Russian immigrants. His father owned a knitting mill and was an anarchist whose mates included his fellow anarchist Emma Goldman. His mom was a homemaker.

Gilbert studied structure at the University of Toronto, the place he acquired a bachelor’s diploma, then labored for an architectural agency in Manhattan. He enlisted in the Army in 1941, skilled at Pine Camp (later Fort Drum) close to Watertown, N.Y., and attended officer candidate faculty in Belvoir, Va., earlier than being assigned to the 603rd.

In Mr. Beyer’s documentary, Mr. Seltzer recalled his early response to being advised that the objective of the 23rd’s preparations was to have the enemy hearth at him and his fellow troopers.

“We came to the conclusion,” he mentioned, “that this was a suicide outfit.”

Mr. Beyer mentioned that three members of the Ghost Army had been killed and about 30 wounded. He instructed two causes for the comparatively small variety of casualties: The unit projected nice pressure via its deceptions, probably repelling the enemy; and the troopers weren’t all the time at the entrance, which minimized their vulnerability.

Mr. Seltzer in an undated picture. The ranks of his unit, the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion, included males who would go on to work in promoting, artwork, illustration and, like Mr. Seltzer, structure. Credit…by way of Seltzer household

After the struggle, Mr. Beyer returned to structure. Over the years he designed the Utica Memorial Auditorium in Utica, N.Y. (now the Adirondack Bank Center), which is famend for its cable-suspended roof system; buildings at West Point and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; and the East Coast Memorial in Battery Park, in Lower Manhattan, which honors troopers, sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, service provider mariners and airmen who died in battle in the Atlantic throughout World War II. He continued to work till January 2020.

In addition to his son, Mr. Seltzer is survived by two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His spouse, Molly (Gold) Seltzer, died in 1994.

One night time in July 1944, troopers of the 603rd had been on a farm in Normandy, the place they moved an antiaircraft battery and changed it with a rubber one, a part of an operation to cowl the motion of the Second Armored Division with dummy tanks and weapons to idiot the Germans into pondering the division had not left.

The farmer, who was offended about the noise that had been made by the actual weapons, approached the troopers and mentioned, “Encore boom boom?” banging his fist on a gun, not realizing it was a pretend.

“His hand bounced up and down and he said, ‘Boom boom ha ha,’” Mr. Seltzer advised Mr. Beyer in the interview filmed for the documentary however not used. “That became a byword in the 603rd.”