Bernie Mason spent World War II moving around Army tanks, trucks, jeeps, and artillery….all by hand. No, Bernie isn’t a real life Captain America or superhuman, he was a part of a secret “Ghost Army” sector of the military.
So how did the 21 year old lieutenant do it? Well, all of the equipment Bernie moved around were highly detailed inflatables. Along with a unit of artists and creative thinkers, Bernie arranged the air-filled rubber tanks, trucks, jeeps, and artillery to fool the Germans into thinking they had more firepower than they actually did or that the equipment was somewhere other than where it really was.
The Ghost Army’s real name was the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. Bernie, who is now 93, said, “It was like putting on a show.” The inflatable military equipment was so convincing, that the Germans bought it and attacked. Bernie had barely set foot in Europe back in 1944 when he found himself hiding in a foxhole from artillery shells. The Germans were trying to destroy what they thought was a U.S. artillery unit!
Along with over a thousand other Ghost Army members, Bernie would set up truckloads of inflatables and sound-effect recordings to create their make-believe units. The trucks blared sounds of armored and infantry units, while radio operators broadcasted false troop movements. When the inflatables were injured in attacks, the soldiers would patch them and pump them back up!
After decades of secrecy, the Ghost Army is finally getting the recognition they deserve. This month, Bernie will be featured in a PBS documentary that will describe the unit’s unique missions.