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Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception Hardcover – June 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although it includes some U.S. Navy deception activities carried out by the late actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., among others, novelist Philip Gerard's Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception concentrates on the WWII activities of the Army's 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, whose activities were kept secret for many years. The 23rd used sound effects, camouflage and radio to mislead the Germans about Allied plans and conceal Allied troop movements during the liberation of France and the invasion of Germany in 1944-1945. Their story is told here through veteran recollections, memoirs and published works, and includes anecdotes of army life and combat.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Theater designers, sound technicians, painters--these are not at first glance the kind of vocations that bring to mind war heroics until one considers their record of deception in war. One operation famously fooled the Germans about where D-Day would land; less well known are the doings of the unit Gerard has brought to light. In this originally researched saga of the Twenty-third Headquarters Special Troops, Gerard explains that actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. lobbied to have a deception unit created. Press flack Hilton Howell Railey was appointed to assemble the troops, and he picked creative people (including future fashion plate Bill Blass) attuned to visuals vital to deception. Once shipped to Europe, the Twenty-third, now under the command of a career officer, tried to perpetrate frauds on the Germans by posing either as fake divisions or as real divisions that were actually posted elsewhere. Gerard interviewed veterans and read their war papers in doing research for his book, and their personal experiences are the highlight of this work. Fresh material for the WWII shelf. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton; 1st edition (June 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525946640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525946649
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"I believe in the writer as a witness to evil, as a reporter of injustice, as a chronicler of human compassion, even on occasion of greatness, as one whose skills illuminate the Truth with a capital T, without irony. I believe it is the job of the writer to put into words what is worst - and also what is best - about us. To light up our possibilities, discover the finest lives to which we can aspire, and to inspire our readers to greatness of soul and heart."

The Patron Saint of Dreams book trailer:
Pocket Biography
Philip Gerard was born in 1955 and grew up in Newark, Delaware. He attended St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware. At the University of Delaware, he earned a B.A. in English and Anthropology, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. After college he lived in Burlington, Vermont, writing freelance articles, before returning to newspaper work in Delaware and then going west to study fiction writing at the University of Arizona writers workshop. He earned his M.F.A. in Creative Writing in 1981 and almost immediately joined the faculty at Arizona State University as a Visiting Assistant Professor and later as Writer in Residence. He remained at ASU until 1986, then taught for a brief time at Lake Forest College in Illinois before migrating to coastal North Carolina.
Gerard has published fiction and nonfiction in numerous magazines, including New England Review/Bread Loaf Quarterly, Creative Nonfiction, Hawai'i Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, New Letters, Arts & Letters, Fourth Genre, and The World & I. He is the author of three novels: Hatteras Light (Scribners 1986; Blair/ Salem paper 1997, nominated for the Ernest Hemingway Prize), Cape Fear Rising (Blair 1994), Desert Kill (William Morrow 1994; Piatkus in U.K. 1994); and four books of nonfiction, including Brilliant Passage. . . a schooning memoir (Mystic 1989) and Creative Nonfiction-- Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life (Story Press 1996), which was a selection of the Book-of-the-Month and Quality Paperback Book Clubs. Maryanne Culpepper, director of story development for National Geographic Television, writes, "It is the manual for nonfiction storytellers. . . Creative Nonfiction is on every bookcase at National Geographic Television."
He has written nine half-hour shows for Globe Watch, an international affairs program, for PBS-affiliate WUNC-TV, Chapel Hill, N.C. , and international broadcast, and scripted two hour-long environmental documentaries, one of which, "RiverRun- down the Cape Fear to the Sea," won a Silver Reel of Merit from the International Television Association in 1994. Two of his weekly radio essays have been broadcast on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."
Gerard's Writing a Book that Makes a Difference (Story Press, 2000), combines his dual passions of writing and teaching. His latest book of nonfiction Secret Soldiers (Dutton 2002; Plume softcover 2004) tells the story of an unlikely band of heroes in World War II: artists who fought the Nazis by creating elaborate scenarios of deception, conjuring phantom armored divisions out of sound effects, radio scripts, pyrotechnics, and inflatable tanks. River Run: Adventuring Through History,Nature, and Politics Down the Cape Fear to the Sea is forthcoming from UNC Press.

He teaches in the BFA and MFA Programs of the Creative Writing Department at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, which he chairs. He has won the Faculty Scholarship Award, the College of Arts & Science Teaching Award, the Chancellor's Medal for Excellence in Teaching, the Graduate Mentor Award, the Board of Trustees Teaching Award, and a Distinguished Teaching Professorship, and the Faculty Excellence Award given by the MFA students. The Philip Gerard Fellowship, endowed by benefactor Charles F. Green III to honor Gerard's work in establishing and directing the MFA program, is awarded annually to an MFA student on the basis of literary merit. Gerard has also been writer in residence at Bradford (MA) College and Old Dominion University (VA), has taught at the Sand Hills and Bread Loaf Writers Conferences, and has conducted workshops at the Chautauqua Institution , the Wildacres Summer Writers Retreat, and the Goucher College summer residency MFA program in Creative Nonfiction.
In keeping with his conviction that writers should give something back to their profession, he has served on the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina Writers Network and from 1995-98 on the Board of Directors of the Associated Writing Programs, for two of those years as President. He has been appointed by Governor Bev Perdue to a second three-year term on the North Carolina Arts Council.

Look for his new book of narrative essays, The Patron Saint of Dreams, from Hub City Press in Spring 2012.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By CB Bassity on August 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I generally have little interest in military stories, but this book is exceptional. I can't recommend it too highly. I had trouble working last week because my reading hours ran long.
The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops makes for a great story to begin with. This specialized and highly secret unit of guys put on "shows" throughout the Allied campaign from Normandy into Germany with inflatable tanks, stereo broadcasts over the countryside of moving tanks and equipment (where nothing was moving but show-people), and pyrotechnic light shows -- all designed to cover up weak spots in the Allied line, tie up German divisions where they were ineffectual, and to draw attention away from actual troop movements.
But who do you round up to do such work? For camoufleurs you need artists, including a guy who's spent years studying how birds blend into their habitat; for producing "shows" you need scriptwriters and other show people. Fashion designer Bill Blass was involved. The antithesis of gung-ho Army grunts became a unit that saved untold numbers of lives. The interplay of contrasting styles between unconventional creative artists and career Army officers is captivating. Yet, for the most part, they all made it work. You get a sense of even the men themselves shaking their heads in wonder.
Philip Gerard's writerly craft brings much to the story. The book is arranged chronologically, introducing the various players and their training before following them to England and through the operations in Europe. Early on, certain readers might find some of the technical detail a bit much, but later when the action cranks up overseas we understand exactly what's going on and appreciate the careful preparation.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey L. Cordell on July 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
My last 40 months in the Army (1996 - 2000) were spent at Ft. Drum, New York. While there I soon learned that such well known divisions as the 45th Infantry Division and Patton's famous 4th Armored Division trained there before shipping out for combat in Europe. What I also learned about was a signal corp unit which did top secret or "hush-hush" work. Unfortunately there wasn't much else in the way of information. When I was there I heared that the surviving members of the unit had a reunion and that an author was researching for a book. I made a mental note to look for the book, but after a couple of years forgot.
Well this year for Fathers Day my seven year old daughter bought Secret Soldiers for me. It's a great read. It keeps your attention and shines a light on a part of the war effort that has been dark until recently. No these men did not engage the enemy in hand to hand combat, sieze a vital target or hold out for several days against overwhelming odds. What these men did is harder to measure in those terms. But their contributions were important in so many ways. This is a well researched book and also well written. Those two things don't always go together. The author goes technical just enough so one can understand exactly how the various operations worked and he also explains how these soldiers and their ruses could lead the Germans to deploying their forces where they shouldn't have.
If for no other reason this book should give one an appreciation for the pioneering efforts in developing speakers and tape recorders. One could argue this unti is the reason why we now have compact discs. But it should also give one a sense of appreciation for those soldiers who served in ways other then on the front line in a foxhole.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Midwesterner in Jersey VINE VOICE on May 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book expecting one thing, and got another. The Hardback version ~seems~ to promise an overall history of Deception Warfare in WWII, the most famous of which is probably "Fortitude" - the deception of Rommel into believing Patton would lead the D-Day forces to Calais, closely followed in general public awareness by the story of "The Man who Never Was".

Well, while these are indeed touched on, they're not dealt with in depth. What you get in its place, however, is admirable. The story of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops is a great one - ESSENTIAL, I'd say, because it helps open your eyes to the activites of US Army "support" Units, which you must know to have a well rounded view of WW II.

As I've said in another review on the 3AD's WW II Maintenance Operations (Deathtraps), most books on the War in Europe give the view from the Foxhole or the View from HQ, with little said about the activities of other units, which were just as important to the success of the overall campaign.

The Good Points of this book:

- Needed light shown on a unfamiliar topic

- Great attention to the detail in portraying the individual work of the units of the 23rd(Camofleur ops with Dummy vehicles & Encampments, Sonic Operations, Radio Spoofing, etc), and how that work evolved and improved over the course of their operations

- Great attention to the personalities of the men who made up the unit. An unlikely mix of combat men, artists, showmen and techies who found a way to work together against the enemy and upon occasion, shortsighted leadership. Whoda' thunk Bill Blass or Douglas Fairbanks Jr. played such roles in WWII?
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