MOLINE — A little-known band of creative troublemakers, who were part of winning World War II, is the subject of a documentary shown for free at 12:30 p.m. Friday at Black Hawk College, with a discussion following.
Black Hawk College Student Veterans will present “The Ghost Army,” a 2013 PBS documentary written and directed by Rick Beyer, to be screened in the auditorium at Building 1, Room 308, on the campus at 6600 34th Ave., Moline. Beyer — a best-selling author, award-winning documentary producer and a longtime history enthusiast — is in town this week as part of the Quad City Arts Visiting Artist Series.
With co-author Elizabeth Sayles, he wrote the 2015 New York Times bestseller “The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery,” which details the story of a top-secret unit that used inflatable tanks, sound effects and illusions to fool the Germans on the battlefields of Europe.
In the the summer of 1944, a handpicked group of soldiers landed in France to conduct a special mission, according to a summary of “The Ghost Army” at ghostarmylegacyproject.org. Armed with truckloads of inflatable tanks, a massive collection of sound-effects records and more than a few tricks up their sleeves, their job was to create a traveling road show of deception on the battlefields of Europe, with the German Army as their audience, the site says.
The 1,100 men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, known as the Ghost Army, conjured up phony convoys, phantom divisions and make-believe headquarters to fool the enemy about the strength and location of American units.
Each deception required that they impersonate a different (and larger) U.S. unit. Like actors in a repertory theater, they mounted an ever-changing multimedia show tailored to each operation.
The men immersed themselves in their roles, hanging out at local cafes and spinning their counterfeit stories for spies who might lurk in the shadows. Painstakingly recorded sounds of armored and infantry units were blasted from sound trucks; radio operators created phony traffic nets; and inflatable tanks, trucks, artillery and even airplanes were imperfectly camouflaged so they would be visible to enemy reconnaissance, the site says.
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Beyer's documentary won a CINE Golden Eagle and audience awards at several film festivals. TV Guide called it "entrancing," while the Los Angeles Times referred to it as "fascinating, detailed and oddly delightful."
The book and documentary are currently being developed as a Hollywood movie by producers Andrew Lazar and Bradley Cooper.
Beyer's full-length public lecture will be 7 p.m. Saturday at Central DeWitt Performing Arts Center, 519 E. 11th St., DeWitt, Iowa. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for veterans and active military, and $5 for students, available at cd-pac.org, quadcityarts.com/vas or at the door.
He has written for The Daily Beast, History Channel Magazine, Politico.com, America in WWII and other publications. Beyer has curated a Ghost Army traveling museum exhibit and several Ghost Army art exhibits.
His most recent book, “Rivals Unto Death” was published in 2017, a dual biography of Alexander Hamilton (c. 1755-1804) and Aaron Burr (1756-1836). It explores the story of their 30-year rivalry that ended in a deadly duel on the cliffs of Weekhawken, N.J.
Beyer's book traces the rivalry to the earliest days of the American Revolution, when both men — brilliant, restless, and barely 20 years old — elbowed their way onto the staff of General George Washington; follows them as they launch their competitive legal practices in New York City and through the election of 1800 when Hamilton threw his support behind Thomas Jefferson in an effort to knock Burr out of the running for president; and takes them to the dueling grounds from which just one would emerge, according to a summary at rickbeyer.net.
For more information on the Q-C Arts Visiting Artist Series, visit quadcityarts.com/vas.