ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It was a long-overdue honor in Washington, D.C. on Thursday for a military unit which played a key, yet secret role during World War II. The Ghost Army was made up of some unlikely heroes. The sons of one soldier travelled to the nation’s capital, where they accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of their late father. 

A work of art is meant to make you feel something. To take you somewhere. For Alan Singer and his family, art has done just that — and then some.

There is an exhibit at Rochester’s Rundel Library called "Our Nature." It is about the Singer family. A family of artists, and a show highlighting the works of Arthur and Judy singer and sons Paul and Alan.

“This show actually is evidence that an artist can make a great deal of impact,” said Alan Singer. “And also support themselves in a life that's very rewarding."

Arthur Singer was a world renowned wildlife artist. This story focuses on Singer’s military service. And a secret.

“This was a top secret operation that remained secret into the 1990s,” explained his son. “And you were not allowed to say anything about it.”

The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops was a 1,100-man unit whose mission was to deceive and mislead Hitler’s German forces during WWII. The Ghost Army used inflatable tanks, sound trucks and fake radio transmissions — deceptions carried out by actors, lawyers, sound engineers — and artists. 

“He really became a mature artist during the war,” he said.

In his downtime during the war, Singer painted. Included in the exhibit is a self-portrait made during his service, and a scene painted in Normandy, portraying soldiers and battleships.

“Boats were being sunk. They're about to land on the beach, and you have to get your materials together and dodge bullets that are coming in,” said Alan Singer. “I mean, how do you do that?”

The Ghost Army remained officially classified until the mid-1990s. Only now will its members finally receive the Congressional Gold Medal. The legislation was signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2022, following a lengthy effort spearheaded by family members and by Rick Beyer, a filmmaker and author who founded The Ghost Army Legacy Project.

“I think it’s the highest honor a civilian can get,” said Singer. “I think it’s a personal step in a direction that we didn’t expect.”

Arthur Singer died in 1990. Alan Singer recently retired after a long career as an art professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. He and his brother Paul traveled to Washington, D.C. to accept the Congressional Gold Medal on their late father’s behalf.

There are just seven surviving members of the Ghost Army, all over the age of 100. Just three were expected in person at the medal ceremony on Thursday.

Unlikely heroes, whose contributions were a true work of art.

“Even though my father is not alive to receive it,” said Singer. “What an honor it is to be part of that group.”