Showing posts with label appreciation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label appreciation. 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 9, 2020

Local citizen shows appreciation for two Windham paramedics for a job well done

A woman injured in a fall last year in Windham
was inspired to present a copy of the official
seal of the Windham Fire and Rescue
Department to the paramedics who responded
and helped her. Now recovered, Angela
Guillette, second from left, and her friend,
Patricia McLellan, third from left, present a replica
of the seal painted by McLellan to
paramedics Paul Silver, left, and Edward
Dippolito at the Windham Fire Station on Oct. 2.

By Lorraine Glowczak

A part of a paramedic’s job is to respond to 911 calls and address all medical emergencies. That is exactly what Windham Firefighter/Paramedic Paul Silva and Firefighter/EMT Edward Dippolito did in the morning hours a year ago on Sept. 30, 2019 when Angela Guillette fell, shattering her right femur in five places.

“I had just finished paying my taxes at the town hall and was rushing to attend a recording session for The Lighthouse Jubilee’s monthly program on Channel 5 in Portland,” Guillette said of the two-person Gospel and Golden Oldies group. “I usually walk up and down the ramp but this time, I decided to take the stairs. I didn’t pick my foot up high enough and tripped on the rug, falling hard on the floor.”

At first, Guillette did not feel much pain so when a bystander asked if she needed help getting up, Guillette said she just needed a moment to orient herself and that she would be fine.

“But then, I tried to get up and realized I wasn’t able to do so,” Guillette said. “Someone said that we should call an ambulance, so I lifted up my wrist and told her to press the button on the medical alert bracelet my daughters gave me.”

Within minutes, Silva, who has over 20 years of experience and was just one month into his new post in Windham and Dippolito who has 13 years of experience (11 in Windham) were by Guillette’s side. They determined she needed to be taken to the hospital and surgery was performed the next day at Maine Medical Center. Doctors placed a steel rod into the upper part of Guillette’s damaged leg. A woman injured in a fall last year in Windham was inspired to present a copy of the official seal of the Windham Fire and Rescue Department to the paramedics who responded and helped her. Now recovered, Angela Guillette, second from left, and her friend Patricia McLellan, third from left, present a replica of the seal painted by McLellan to paramedics Paul Silver, far left, and Edward Dippolito at
the Windham Fire Station on Oct. 2. COURTESY PHOTO BY BRENT LIBBY 

Most often, paramedics do not know the rest of a patient’s story once the emergency has been addressed and the crisis is over. Guillette, however, had other plans. She and Lighthouse Jubilee singing partner, friend, and artist, Patricia McLellan had an idea.

 “Pat and I both wanted to do something for the two paramedics who offered their help that day,” Guillette said. “She told me that she would paint the Windham Fire and Rescue Department’s official seal and we could give it to them to show our appreciation.”

Guillette and McLellan presented that shield one year later on Friday, Oct. 2 at the North Windham Fire Station. The 2- by 2-foot painting of the department’s seal was presented to Silva and Dippolito with Fire and Rescue Chief Brent Libby in attendance.

“We feel honored that Angela and Pat have gone to this extent to show their appreciation with us and to those of us in our profession,” both Silva and Dippolito said. “We are very grateful.”

“I believe the people who give us assistance and help us during emergency situations are not appreciated enough,” Guillette said. “Emergency technicians and paramedics need to be acknowledged for their efforts and that is one of the reasons why I am doing this today.”

As for the artist who painted the Windham’s Fire and Rescue’s seal, this is not the first seal McLellan has painted.

“Pat has given seals to the West Buxton Fire Department and the Watertown, NH Fire Department,” Guillette said. “She does this because she also wants to acknowledge our heroes.”

Chief Libby shared his thoughts regarding Guillette and McLellan’s kindness.

“We don’t always hear from our patients or know how things have turned out, so when people do come
forward to let us know, it feels good,” Libby said. “Sometimes we don’t always see the best of things during emergencies, so it is good to see the positive outcome.”
Above all, it is positivity and showing love during a time of challenges that inspired Guillette’s recent actions.

“I am a Christian and I believe the first thing Jesus wants from us is to love each other,” Guillette said. “I am dedicated to Jesus and I am here to help spread his love and kindness.”<