From left, World War II Marine Nick Haridopolos, 97, of...

From left, World War II Marine Nick Haridopolos, 97, of Northport, WWII Air Corps pilot Paul Fazio, 98, of East Northport, and WWII Navy veteran Mortimer Roberts, 96, of East Northport, stand up and sing "God Bless America" at the Memorial Day commemoration at Huntington Veterans Plaza Sunday.

Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

They used inflatable tanks and fake radio traffic to deceive the German military during World War II, tricking the enemy about the size and location of Allied forces.

About 80 years later, members of the Ghost Army were remembered at a ceremony in Huntington Veterans Plaza Sunday, where veterans, officials and families honored three men with connections to Huntington who were a part of the unit and have since died.

Among those in the crowd of more than 100 people was Cynthia Sourbeck, whose father, Robert Petrucci, was one of the Ghost soldiers. The other two were Joseph Mack, an artist who lived in Woodstock and later on a small farm in Northport after the war, and George Rittenhouse, who lived in Asharoken.

“It's lovely that they put this together even though they've all passed on — most of them,” said Sourbeck of Northport, whose father lived in Levittown.

Laura Rittenhouse Burke recalled in an interview her father telling her and her sister, Georgia Rittenhouse McKenna, that the soldiers specialized in impersonating other troops to fool the enemy. McKenna, on her website, quoted their father as saying: “We had to make the Germans think the American troops were in one place when in fact they were somewhere else.”

The Ghost Army, or the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, was made up of more than 1,100 engineers, artists and draftees, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. They waged war with inflatable trucks, sound effects, and even created phony generals. The unit, along with the 3133rd Signal Service Company in Italy, was credited with saving thousands of lives and helping liberate Europe.

“It is unfortunate these men cannot be honored for their impressive and courageous service during their lifetimes,” Huntington Town Supervisor Edmund Smyth said Sunday. “Families in [this] country are indebted to their service.”

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed a bill that grants the Congressional Gold Medal to the Ghost Army members to recognize their service. At that time, Nick Leo, 99, of Brentwood, was one of the 10 known surviving members of the Ghost Army.

“It's great that the country and even here they're starting to recognize the work that was done by the Ghost Army veterans because it wasn't honored at all right after World War II because it's classified,” said Sourbeck’s brother, Mike Petrucci, of East Northport.

Smithsonian magazine published an article about the deception operations in 1985 but records weren’t officially declassified until the mid-1990s.

Burke said her father was protective of the secret until it became public knowledge. “My father was very humble and never talked a lot about his involvement in the war,” she said. “He did later on after it was more common knowledge.”

George Rittenhouse, who was an engineer and platoon commander during the war, died at the age of 86 in 2006. Robert Petrucci, a graphic designer, died at 96 in 2018.

“Later on in life is when he really started to vocalize about all the things that happened,” Mike Petrucci said of his father. “It was hard. I mean he told stories about freezing. … His toes were all messed up. They suffered.”

“To keep warm, they had to fill their shoes with newspapers,” Mike Petrucci’s wife, Risa, recalled hearing the stories.

Mike Petrucci said his father detested war. “Anytime there's a conflict, he would always just say it's so stupid,” Mike Petrucci said. “He always hated that.”

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