Veterans Day Thanks to Gilbert L. Seltzer, AIA, for His Service in the Ghost Army 75 Years Ago

November 11, 2019

Veterans Day Thanks to Gilbert L. Seltzer, AIA, for His Service in the Ghost Army 75 Years Ago

Recently, AIA New Jersey has been celebrating the October 11th Birthday of AIA Newark and Suburban Member, Gilbert L. Seltzer, AIA. Mr. Seltzer might be the only 105-year-old practicing architect in the world. Every morning, he heads to his office in West Orange, New Jersey, to tackle the latest in a lifetime of projects. But his story goes beyond a long-lasting career in architecture; he was also a member of the Ghost Army, the famed deception unit in World War II that has been covered extensively in books and documentaries. Classified top-secret until 1996, it was a truly unique operation, and Seltzer is a truly unique architect.

“In the early part of my career I paused for 55 months to serve in the army, which included my time in the now-famous Ghost Army. To us, it was a job. We didn’t recognize that we were being uniquely heroic or saving lives. We had a job to do, and we did it. It didn’t occur to us that it was anything more.

What was different about the outfit was that we had a lot of artists, including Ellsworth Kelly, Bill Blass and others, many of whom continued to sketch in their spare time. We recognized that these soldiers were not quite the GI type that you’d find elsewhere. We even considered ourselves a strange outfit, which added to the mystique, along with the fact that so few knew we existed. It was classified top secret for 50 years. We weren’t allowed to talk about it; we weren’t even allowed to tell our wives.

The Ghost Army, was were a three-pronged unit. We had a visual arm, which was the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, my battalion. We had a radio company, which used messages by script to fool the Germans who were listening in, and we had a sonic company that could simulate the sound of tanks moving into the woods, for instance, or men building a bridge.

It seems we were very successful; the imagination of the locals was such that, when we moved through a town with the speakers blaring, the next morning the locals wouldn’t say, ‘Did you hear the tanks last night?’ They’d say, ‘Did you see the tanks moving?’ They actually thought they saw them. The human imagination is unbelievable.

Maybe our biggest exercise was when the Allied armies crossed the Rhine; our orders were to attract the German army and their forces 20 miles south of where the actual crossing was to take place. The U.S. Army expected casualties of around 30,000; they lost a total of 4. They attribute that to the fact that we lured the Germans to the wrong place. They say we saved 30,000 lives. I don’t know about that; we were just doing our jobs.

In a word, the Ghost Army was a success. And it seems to remain a fascinating subject for all who learn about it.”

The words of Gilbert L Seltzer, AIA – As told to Steve Cimino

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