Skip to main content

Davis Journal

Teen passionate about getting her great grandfather the recognition he deserves

Jun 07, 2021 01:54PM ● By Becky Ginos

The Ghost Army used inflatable tanks to trick the enemy.

WASHINGTON—When 15-year-old Madeline Christianson’s great grandfather told her he was part of a secret unit in World War II called the Ghost Army she thought he was making it up. The unit used blowup tanks and fake radio transmissions to trick the enemy into thinking they were facing a large army to deflect attention away from the real troops.

“I asked him, ‘what are you talking about?’” said Christianson who is now 17. “I thought he was pulling my leg. It’s not in any history books – then I found out it was real.”

Christianson decided to do an exhibit about it in 2018 and entered it into the National History Day and won. “I got to go present the project at the Utah State Capitol and Congressman (Chris) Stewart happened to be there,” she said. “We were in the right place at the right time. I’d already talked to his staff so I was able to introduce myself.”

“I thought it was an amazing story,” said Stewart. “I’d never heard about it. I wanted to find a way to honor these men. It was classified for 50 years so they couldn’t tell their families and many passed away before they could tell their spouse.”

Stewart started work to cosponsor the Congressional Gold Medal Act to recognize these unknown heroes. “It’s the highest honor Congress can give,” he said. “It’s hard to get. You don’t want too many or it would dilute it.”

There are only 11 members of the Ghost Army left out of 1,100 and one of those is Christianson’s great grandfather, 103-year-old Stanley Nance who is from Utah. “We want to get this awarded before Stanley passes away,” said Stewart. “I’ve met with Stanley a couple of times and he is an amazing person, very humble. They all are.”

Stewart said he had to persuade the other representatives to back the bill. “I had to have 300 one-on-one conversations. There are other things out there and they are all worthy but this is unique. I had to convince them that time is of the essence on this.”

In the meantime, Christianson was working too. “I went to Washington and lobbied,” she said. “I was terrified they’d think I was young and dumb. But I had done my research and I was very passionate because it’s near and dear to my heart. It’s not every day you have a 15-year-old lobby for a 103-year-old.”

The Ghost Army was so creative and evasive, she said. “They used blow up tanks. It was almost comical that they’d get blown over by the wind. They saved a lot of lives in the war and they had nothing to protect themselves. It’s remarkable, out of 1,100 members they had only three casualties.”

Nance was a radio operator in the unit and sent out fake transmissions, said Christianson. “He played the ukulele and learned to twist his wrist and use his thumb to strum. He was able to use his thumb to press the keys faster while sending out morse code.”

The Ghost Army was so good that the Germans thought there was a huge army and retreated, she said. “They blew up their own bridge because of fake tanks. Some of the techniques are still being used by the military today. It’s hard to believe that 1945 technology revolutionized deception. They are the first unit worldwide to use solely deception. They never fired a shot.”

Christianson said her great grandfather doesn’t think what he did matters anymore. “I’m trying to show him that what he did was very important. I seriously believe even 75 years ago they saved lives. I can’t even fathom it. With the Ghost Army it’s what didn’t happen.”