Showing posts with label Jr.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jr.. Show all posts

Friday, March 1, 2024

Windham resident to receive Congressional Gold Medal for late father’s service as ‘Ghost Army’ officer

By Ed Pierce

If he were still alive, former U.S. Army Captain William Barton Skelton, Jr. would shrug off being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his exploits during World War II and say he didn’t deserve it. But for his daughter, Malinda “Mindy” McKinney of Windham and her two sisters, it’s long overdue recognition for their father’s participation in a top-secret unit that ultimately helped the Allies defeat the Nazis and change the world.

U.S. Army Captain William Barton Skelton, Jr.
served with the Camouflage Engineers Unit of
the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops Unit,
also known as the 'Ghost Army' during 
World War II. His daughter, Malinda
'Mindy' McKinney of Windham will join her
sisters in Washington, D.C. on March 21 to
receive the Congressional Golf Medal 
recognizing her late father's service with
the top secret unit. COURTESY PHOTO
Skelton was part of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, known as the “Ghost Army,” which was the first mobile, multimedia, tactical deception unit in U.S. Army history. The unique unit was able to simulate the activities of 30,000 troops or two entire American divisions by using visual, sonic, and radio deception tactics to fool German forces during World War II’s final year.

A highly anticipated ceremony to present the Congressional Gold Medal to Ghost Army soldiers and members of their families will be held at the U.S. Capitol on March 21 and McKinney will attend the event along with her sisters, Helen and Anne, who both live in Wilmington, North Carolina. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson will host the medal presentation along with U.S. House and U.S. Senate leaders and sponsors of the legislation which passed in 2022 and authorized the award, Congress's highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements by individuals or institutions. The ceremony will be the first time the Gold Medal, designed and produced by the U.S. Treasury Department, will be unveiled to the public.

House sponsors of the bill to honor Ghost Army veterans with the Gold Medal include U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster of New Hampshire, U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah and U.S. Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Susan Collins of Maine.

“What made the Ghost Army special was not just their extraordinary courage, but their creativity,” Kuster said. “Their story reminds us that listening to unconventional ideas, like using visual and sound deception, can help us solve existential challenges like defeating tyranny.”


The Ghost Army consisted of 82 officers and 1,023 enlisted soldiers and its existence were unknown and a closely held secret for more than 50 years until its activities and operations were declassified in 1996. At that time, the Ghost Army’s bold and daring techniques created to fool and distract the enemy about the strength and location of American troops was disclosed, including the use of inflatable tanks, sound effects, radio trickery, and impersonations.

The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops Unit took part in 22 large-scale deceptions in the European theater from Normandy to the Rhine River, with the bulk of the unit arriving in England in May 1944, just before D-Day on June 6, 1944. Troops assigned to the unit included artists, engineers, professional soldiers, and Army draftees.

The brainchild of Colonel Billy Harris and Major Ralph Ingersoll, who served as American military planners based in London, the unit included famed artists such as fashion designer Bill Blass, painter Ellsworth Kelly, and Art Kane, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century.

Skelton’s unit waged war by deploying inflatable tanks and vehicles, broadcasting fake radio traffic and troop statistics, sound effects, and creating messages between fake generals. It harnessed imagination and illusion to trick the enemy and saved thousands of lives in the process.

At the war’s end, soldiers of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops Unit were sworn to secrecy, and unit records were classified, and its equipment was carefully dismantled and stored. An article in Smithsonian Magazine in 1985 mentioned some of its activities but the project remained classified for 11 more years.


McKinney, a retired Raymond Elementary School secretary, said that her father served in the Ghost Army as a member of the 603rd Camouflage Engineers Unit of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops Unit.

“When Daddy would talk about the war before his oath was up, he just said ‘I blew things up.’ We didn’t even think that his military service involved deceiving the German army into believing that the Allies had more troops and equipment that what they did have,” McKinney said. “He never spoke of specifics of the five battles that he was part of but rather wanted to share stories about the bonds among the men of his unit and the good things that happened such as wild boar hunting in France with locals that then fed all the troops, discovering a tank of beer at a German brewery that they requisitioned, and when a wild boar startled them as they ate K-rations at the edge of the woods near the Moselle River. They tried their best to get that boar for a barbecue, but it did not happen. The Battle of the Bulge started the day after that.”

Following World War II, Skelton completed chemical engineering studies at Carnegie-Melon Institute of Technology and worked briefly for Goodyear Tire in Akron, Ohio before embarking upon a 33-year career with DuPont in Delaware, Kinston, N.C., and finally in Wilmington, N.C. where he retired. He passed way in 2011 and was predeceased by his wife, Jessica Matthews Skelton, in 2007.

He kept his oath to remain silent for 50 years about his service in the Ghost Army but once that time passed and the unit was declassified, Skelton shared many fascinating stories with his family about his service and the activities of the Ghost Army, McKinney said.


Three of the seven surviving Ghost Army soldiers, all 100 years old, are planning on attending the medal presentation which wraps up a nearly 20-year effort by members and volunteers of the Ghost Army Legacy Project to raise awareness and win recognition for the little-known Army units that played a unique but unheralded part in the Allied victory of World War II.

According to McKinney, none of this recognition would have been possible but for the efforts of the Ghost Army Legacy Project and their supporters. She said she is grateful to Senator Collins for being one of the primary sponsors of the legislation.

She said once she moved to Maine, her father would come to visit her about every other year if not every year at times.

“He even went to Raymond Elementary and gave some of the classes a magic show,” she said.

But on March 21 when McKinney and her family will be in Washington to receive the Gold Medal, she says her thoughts will be of her late father, who was previously awarded the Bronze Star by the Army for Meritorious Service with five battle engagements for his valor and distinction in World War II.

“Receiving this highest honor that one can receive, the Congressional Gold Medal, is very humbling,” McKinney said. “If my father were still alive, he would say that he didn’t deserve it. Much as what he had to say about being awarded the Bronze Star.” <

Friday, October 15, 2021

Surprise parade, celebration honor Windham veteran on his 90th birthday

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Walter Braley, Jr. turned 90 on
Sunday, Oct. 10 and was treated to a surprise parade outside
his home in Windham and several presentations for his 
birthday. Joining Braley following a VFW presentation are
VFW Commander Willie Goodman, right, and Jeff Cook,
VFW Post 10643 Adjutant. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE   
By Ed Pierce

The late American tennis star Arthur Ashe once described true heroism as the urge to serve others at whatever the cost. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Walter Braley, Jr. of Windham can be considered as one such individual.

On his 90th birthday on Sunday, Oct. 10, Braley’s many friends, family, and neighbors in the Cornerbook subdivision turned out in force to show their love and admiration for the Korean War veteran who admitted being surprised that others would give up their Sunday afternoon to throw him a parade and spend time with him on his special day.

“Honestly, I was shocked they did this,” Braley said. “I was told to sit down here by the road, and I did and then all of a sudden people drive by honking and there are fire trucks with sirens going off. I think it’s great to get to be 90 years old, that’s for sure.”

He was born in Somesville, Maine as the only child of the late Walter Braley Sr., and Eva (Cirard) Braley. When he was 10, his family moved to Scarborough so his parents could work in the shipyard there.

In 1947, Braley, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 17. He completed basic training at Camp Lejune in North Carolina and then was commissioned for active duty by Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith.

During his time as a Marine, Brayley was stationed at bases in Cuba, California and in Korea. While in Korea he patrolled the DMZ, the no man’s land separating South Korea from its hostile North Korea neighbor.

“I walked across the DMZ before Donald Trump ever did a few years ago when he did so with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un,” Braley said. “I did it first.”

While stationed at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, Braley was asked to pick up a fellow Marine, future county music superstar George Jones, who was just about to launch his recording career.

According to Braley, Jones would go out with his friends when they were on weekend leave and perform songs in exchange for drinks and Braley was among the group Jones came to know.

Years later when Jones was in Maine to perform a concert, he introduced the audience to Braley and asked him where he had been since he last saw him in the 1950s.

“Right here,” Braley said.

Because of an injury he sustained in Korea, Braley eventually was discharged from the Marines at the rank of Sergeant and returned to Maine.

He worked for a veterinarian in Saco and spent most of his adult life working for the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook. Since his retirement, he’s been an active participant in the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion in Windham, and he also volunteers extensively.

Windham VFW Post 10643 Commander Willie Goodman said that Braley’s work on behalf of the VFW is inspiring.

“He’s known as our unofficial recruiter and is constantly bringing new members to our organization,” Goodman said.

When Goodman suggested that the post honor him on his 90th birthday with a surprise drive-by celebration and a photo album recalling his time with the VFW post, the response was overwhelming. 

“We had no shortage of people wanting to do something nice for Walter’s birthday,” Goodman said. “Everyone loves this man.”

Among the special visitors who turned out for the birthday celebration were Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce and Cindy Beaulieu of the Quilts of Honor group.

Joyce presented Brayley with special “Challenge Coins” given to those held in special esteem for free coffee or breakfast at a local restaurant while Beaulieu presented him with a special quilt honoring his military service.

“First we honor you for your service,” Beaulieu told Braley. “Second, freedom is not free, and we thank you for your service. We hope this quilt brings comfort to you as you are forever in our thoughts and in our hearts.”

She said to date Quilts of Honor has made and presented 280,855 quilts to American veterans, including the one given to Braley.

“I just want to say thanks to everyone for coming out here today and recognizing me in this way,” Braley said. “You’ve made me feel appreciated and you can’t ask for more than that in this life. I’m deeply grateful and to all my fellow Marines, I say Semper Fi.”  <   

Friday, June 26, 2020

Forestry group selects area resident as its Northern Regional Director

Williamsburg, Va. – Windham business owner, Rene D. Noel, the owner of Southern Maine Forestry Services, in Windham, has been named as the new Northern Regional Director for the national organization Association of Consulting Foresters of America, Inc.

ACF organization members are independent professionals who manage forests across the United States and they also market forest products for private woodland owners and other associated projects and enterprises.

Rene D. Noel, Jr. of Windham, the owner of Southern Maine
Forrestry Services, has been chosen as the Northern Regional
Director of the national Association of Consulting Forresters of
America, Inc. SUBMITTED PHOTO    
“With more than 30 years of experience, Rene’s expertise in forestry management and his leadership skills are valuable to ACF and the Northern Region,” said Justin M. Miller, president of Green Timber Consulting Foresters, Inc., and president of ACF. 

Noel, a licensed forester and appraiser, founded Southern Maine Forestry Services (SMFS) in 1981 to meet the need for comprehensive land and woodlot management in Maine and surrounding states.  Since that time, the firm has grown to five foresters who have managed more than 100,000 acres for 800 clients.

Before starting his company, Noel worked for the Bureau of Public Lands and the Maine Forest Service. He also managed a landscape nursery in Long Island, N.Y. and started his career with the U.S. Forest Service working as a forest technician based in the Black Hills.

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in forestry science at the University of Maine in Orono.

During college, he started a small business with another student providing forestry management services to landowners. Services including weeding and thinning, tree pruning and planting, herbicide application, and boundary line maintenance.

“I look forward to contributing to ACF and working in collaboration with Justin and my colleagues who are serving as national ACF directors and officers,” said Noel. 

ACF professionals are excited to have Noel on board as Northern Regional Director of the organization. 

“I’m delighted to work with Rene on ACF’s Executive Committee,” said Shannon McCabe, CAE, Executive Director, ACF. “I look forward to partnering with Rene the rest of the EC to further the association’s mission.”

ACF members help landowners enhance property values, increase the value of timber, produce a more sustainable timber harvest, enhance wildlife habitat, and establish and protect a family’s forest legacy. Because of their vital role in the supply chain, ACF members have been deemed essential workers during COVID-19.

As a condition of membership, every consulting forester must have minimum education and experience levels, complete the Practice of Consulting Forestry course, and most importantly, agree to adhere to the organization’s stringent Code of Ethics.

For more information about ACF, visit

Friday, April 19, 2019

Signs of peace this Sunday at the rotary reflects time for action toward a collaborative society

By Lorraine Glowczak

Between 12:15 p.m. and 12:45 p.m. at the Windham rotary this coming Sunday, April 21, you will see signs of peace held by individuals who are taking action with the intention and hope of moving toward a more unified society – honoring all varieties of perceptions in a diplomatic manner.

The signs will include sentences that might say: “Peace starts here”, “Peace Now” and “Let there be peace”. Last month, the signs invoked honking horns from passersby in agreement that the world could move in a more integrated direction.

This Sunday will be the second of a monthly Peace Vigil that will continue to meet at the same time and place on the third Sunday of each month. Anyone who wishes to join this group of peace activists are welcomed to do so.

“As you know, the country is in a … (pausing to find the right word)….transformative place,” is the term Jack Seery chose. He will be one of the individuals you’ll see holding the signs this Sunday afternoon. “We all have many opposing perspectives, which is healthy in a democratic culture. But somehow, as a society, we have managed to steer off course, civility speaking. This benefits no one. There are ways to support one another through collaborative efforts without being so divisive. Peace is one way to unify us and this is the purpose for this Peace Vigil.”
Seery explained how it all began. Five years ago, members of the Unity Center for Spiritual Growth located on River Road in Windham (formerly known as Unity Church of Greater Portland) began studying the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr as part of their “season of non-violence” examination.

“We read a series of books by Paul Chappell and studied peace and non-violence activists, Gandhi and King,” Seery stated. “But after five years of the academic study about peace, we realized it was a time for action. We all agreed that we contemplated the issue enough. Instead, we needed to act on what we learned.”

As a result, Unity has collaborated with other organizations including Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, to bring in well-known speakers and non-violent activists to the area. One such event was published in an article written by The Windham Eagle Reporter, Elizabeth Richards, in March 2018 – that of Peace Activist, Father John Dear, who spoke on nonviolence at Saint Joseph’s College and at Unity.

“Peace activism is one step toward non-violent communication and peace”, stated Seery
In an online article regarding King and Gandhi’s approach, written by Walter Earl Fluker, it explains the importance of peaceful activism:

“In Montgomery, King realized the power of nonviolent resistance to achieve his vision of community…..”

Fluker went on to state: “Before Montgomery, his [King’s] understanding of nonviolence was confined to an abstract association of ideas and readings from his intellectual pursuits, but in the midst of the struggle he came to understand its power to effect change, both in society and within the votary him/herself. It is also important to understand that nonviolent resistance as a viable alternative for social change had been debated and attempted by the black leadership long before King emerged as a proponent of the method. Initially, the method of the movement which came to be called nonviolent resistance was conceived in the hearts of the black people of Montgomery as "Christian love."

 King writes that:‘From the beginning a basic philosophy guided the movement.... It was the Sermon on the Mount rather than a doctrine of passive resistance that initially inspired the Negroes of Montgomery to dignified social action. It was Jesus of Nazareth that stirred the Negroes to protest with the creative weapon of love.’”, that’s the sole purpose (or perhaps the “soul” purpose) of the efforts of the Unity members who studied non-violent and peaceful approach to a chaotic society – a creative weapon of love and peace.
In terms of technicalities and to stand by their method of peaceful action, members of Unity stated they have reached out to determine if it was lawful to do what they deemed important. The Windham Eagle contacted Windham Chief of Police to verify. “As long as they are not impeding the flow of traffic, the individuals have the right to exercise their freedom of speech.”

Legalities aside. “We have received a lot of honking horns in support of what we are doing and our role in a peaceful approach,” Seery said.

As Gandhi has famously been quoted, “An eye for eye makes the whole world blind.” King’s response? “There is another way.” Members of Unity may be following that other way.
If you are interested in joining this small group of peace enthusiasts, you can either show this Sunday at the rotary or, for more information, contact Seery by email at

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lion King Jr. roars with talent By Stephen Signor

Emma Bennet (sitting) plays the role of Nala
On an afternoon following a successful opening night, director Mary Wassick stood center stage at the Windham Performing Arts Center. She was to greet yet another impressive turnout for this lively stage adaptation of the Academy Award-winning, 1994 Disney film Lion King, Jr., presented by the Windham Middle School. Made possible by the cast, staff and the community, there was good reason to pre-empt the show with many words of thanks. With 160 rehearsal hours and 58 plus volunteers, there was much praise to give.

“The cast has worked very hard, having begun preparing for this show back in October, and I’m so happy to see the continued support from our community,” said Wassick. With nearly 80 overall volunteers, many of them without children in the middle school, contributing to productions like this one, there was plenty of thanks to go around. those numerous volunteers, were four Windham High School students who were part of an all important crew. One of them was assistant director Libby McBride, a junior who had been asked by Wassick if she would like to help with the show.

“I grew up doing plays with Mary at WCST (Windham Community Stage Theater) in middle school,” shared McBride. “I’ve never been a director or anything like that, so when asked, I was beyond excited! I have always been an actor, singer; always on the stage. To be behind the scenes was great! It’s been really fun. I’ve really enjoyed it,” she continued.

When the curtain rose it was immediately obvious that the cast of characters were enjoying

themselves and feeling quite comfortable in costumes made possible by volunteer Becky Merriman. Her 300 to 400 hours of time investment was obvious. “I started collecting materials for the costumes in June of last year immediately after the conclusion of the Shrek show,” shared Merriman.“This production was probably the most complicated with a cast of 40, that task was obviously daunting,” she said. There are 170 costumes and that doesn’t count how many pieces are involved in each one. There are a lot of moving parts,” confirmed Merriman. Has it been worth it? “It’s been a great time! I love working with Mary and Angela.” the first act it was evident the players were in their comfort zone, feeding off the numerous responses of laughter and applause after each and every exit for quick set changes. The set was built by middle school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher Jason Lanoie; another dedicated volunteer who spent his time off from teaching during school vacations to work on the set. 

“It was the only time available to do this, but I enjoyed being part of the show,” said Lanoie.
In the audience was Nicky Calden, mother of Molly who played Timon. Now 13, “Molly has been doing this at multiple theaters since the age of eight, most recently as the donkey in Shrek,” said Calden. The character of Timon requires a comedic demeanor and according to crowd response, Molly’s previous role as Donkey paid off.

With intermission came time for a look behind the scenes. Back stage cast and crew were preparing for costume changes that involved face painting as well as garments. The transformation was seamless and not without a little age-typical banter and a willingness to share their thoughts.

In particular, were 11-year-old Morgan Wing (young Simba), Chloe Allen (one of the hyenas) and Daphne Cyr (Zazu) who shared their young passion for the theater and the fun they have working together.

“This is a lot of fun. I enjoy doing this and performing with the other kids,” said Wing. They all agreed, as they will be performing together again in the upcoming junior version of The Wizard of Oz.

After the show and a well deserved standing ovation, Wassick would reveal the nature of a successful weekend. “As for opening night, it was fabulous! Probably one of the best I’ve seen.” And she should know, having been involved in theater for 19 years; nine of those with Windham Middle School. The total count for the first two days hovered around 700.

“I just want to thank Windham Middle School for keeping the drama program alive and giving all of these great kids an outlet to express themselves and have fun. I have a tremendous amount of support. It makes me thankful everyday that Windham has such a strong regard for the arts,” said Wassick.