Dover’s Anderson receives Congressional Gold Medal

By Mike Finney
Posted 4/22/24

DOVER — James “Tom” Anderson has never been one to seek out the spotlight.

Perhaps it is just a throwback to his time in World War II spent as a member of the undercover 23rd …

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Dover’s Anderson receives Congressional Gold Medal


DOVER — James “Tom” Anderson has never been one to seek out the spotlight.

Perhaps it is just a throwback to his time in World War II spent as a member of the undercover 23rd Headquarters Special Troops unit that used various methods of trickery in aiding the Allies.

Known as the Ghost Army, Mr. Anderson was a member of a top-secret, first-of-its kind U.S. Army unit that fooled and distracted the enemy on the battlefields of Europe, saving thousands of lives in the process.

The known seven surviving members of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops unit were honored at a ceremony in Washington in March, where they each received the Congressional Gold Medal.

In Mr. Anderson’s typical low-key fashion, the resident of Dover chose not to attend the festivities, but rather received his Congressional Gold Medal in the mail.

David Skocik, president of the Delaware Veterans Commission, offered to drive the 101-year-old veteran to the ceremony, but Mr. Anderson refused.

“He was not able to go to the actual ceremony in (Washington) D.C.,” Mr. Skocik said. “I offered several times to take him there, but he said ‘no’ several times. He kind of avoids public appearances.

“I said, ‘When you get your medal mailed to you, let me know.’ I went to him about a week ago and I said, ‘You know, it’s time that you get some credit and visibility and everything like that,’ and he said, ‘OK, if you want, I’ll be there.’ He’s a super guy.”

Mr. Anderson finally got his ceremony April 11 at Dover’s Modern Maturity Center, where he typically goes for lunch around five times a week.

Mr. Skocik wanted to make sure that his receiving such a distinguished honor was recognized.

After all, the Ghost Army’s accomplishments had been kept classified for 50 years following World War II.

The Congressional Gold Medal is an honor reserved for a select few recipients that represents Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals and institutions.

The honor for the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was passed by both houses of the Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on Feb. 1, 2022, one day before Mr. Anderson celebrated his 99th birthday.

Perhaps the biggest honor Mr. Anderson received that day was a letter and photo from President Biden congratulating him on his accomplishments.

“It was a very good day,” Mr. Anderson said, during a ceremony at the Modern Maturity Center two years ago. “I’m just trying to keep on going.”

Rick Beyer, of the Ghost Army Legacy Project and director of the award-winning PBS documentary “The Ghost Army,” reflected on Mr. Anderson’s remarkable life that day.

Mr. Beyer said the unique group of deception artists used such tactics as putting up inflatable tanks and vehicles to confuse the enemy, to creating fake radio traffic and sound effects.

Together, Mr. Anderson’s unit conducted 22 battlefield deceptions, playing an important role in securing an Allied victory.

However, for decades, few knew of their heroic exploits since the records of their activity remained classified until the mid-90s.

Mr. Anderson landed on the beach at Normandy on the second day of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, as a member of the Ghost Army.

“Specifically, one of Tom’s jobs was to use bulldozers to create phony tank tracks away from the inflatable tanks, so that they looked real,” Mr. Beyer said. “Guys in the 406th also impersonated MPs from other units as part of what they call their ‘special effects deceptions’ to fool enemy spies who had been left behind.”

It was their bravery that led to the survival of thousands of other troops.

“Congress has awarded just 182 gold medals over the last 250 years,” Mr. Beyer said. “The first one went to George Washington — General George Washington then in 1776 — and others have gone to the Wright Brothers, Sir Winston Churchill, boxer Joe Louis and Rosa Parks.

“So, Tom, you are in pretty good company.”

Things were never easy for Mr. Anderson in World War II. In fact, he had to fight to stay in action on two separate occasions.

“I gave up two Purple Hearts,” Mr. Anderson said. “I got a piece of shrapnel in an arm, and I wouldn’t go to the hospital. They wanted me to go to the hospital and I finally talked my medic into pulling it out of there. Let me tell you, that was hard. Tears rolled down my cheek.

“I also got frostbitten feet (in the Battle of the Bulge) and I stayed in the hospital for two days before I could get to where I could walk. I told the major that was in charge at that time, I said, ‘I’m leaving,’ and he said, ‘Oh no, you can’t go. You can’t go.’

“So, I explained the outfit that I was with, and he looked down at the desk and he said, ‘OK, I’m not going to write you up for disobeying an order.’ He said if anything happens don’t blame me, I didn’t do it.”

Nothing about the now-decorated war hero is a surprise to Mr. Skocik.

“There you go, The Greatest Generation … That’s how they responded to things,” he said.

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