An army of pure intimidation

In his book about the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, Jack Kneece describes a scene in which 40,000 Nazi troops are bottled up in the Brittany Peninsula on Aug. 24, 1944.

The German commander was preparing for an assault by Patton's Third Army, which his soldiers had heard setting up less than a mile away.

However, the force opposing Lt. Gen. Hermann B. von Ramcke was not Blood and Guts' Third, but members of a top secret U.S. Army unit using loudspeakers, inflatable tanks and camouflage to fool the Germans.

Among the members of the 23rd was Gardnerville resident Bob Thompkins, whose diary is reproduced in Kneece's book, "Ghost Army of World War II."

Thompkins is 78 today and lives with his wife of 58 years, Bunny.

He moved to Gardnerville 12 years ago from Los Angeles, where he was manager of the graphic art production for Unocal. He retired in August 1988 and has been active in the Carson Valley's arts community.

Bob and future fashion designer Bill Blass served in the Special Troop together during World War II.

Thompkins was in Verdun putting up phony signs when he found out he was a papa for the first time.

It was during the Battle of the Bulge (July- December 1944). Bunny sent him a cablegram but was told that because of the battle, it would probably be delayed.

So, she contacted "Stars and Stripes," which printed that Bob was a father. He found out on Dec. 29, 1944.

Bob has three sons, three dogs and "a bunch of cats."

He went to work as an art director for Young & Rubicam Advertising before coming West.

Carson City's Vietnam veterans will be out at 3 p.m. today to rededicate their memorial, located on the southeast side of Mills Park.

The memorial has been in the park since 1991, but recent renovations gave the veterans a chance to move it to a more visible location, according to Ray Frederick.

"The city of Carson worked well with us," he said. "We moved it over 12 feet and lined it up with the sidewalk and the bridge. This will make it a focal point for that end of the park."

Frederick said The Flag Store gave them a $3,000 flag pole for $1,200 and the veterans paid for the trees.

"The city put in the lighting, irrigation, the pole and the trees," he said. "It really looks first class."

Frederick said veteran Jim Weller was key to getting the memorial rebuilt.

Rumor has it the veterans may be thinking about adding a miniature version of The Wall, listing the names of Nevada residents who died in Vietnam.

Any decision would be made in time for their annual dinner and fund-raiser, which is usually just before Memorial Day.

Backyard Traveler Rich Moreno will be signing his latest book at the Children's Museum Membership Reception 6 p.m. Thursday.

Director Denise Sins said the museum is celebrating work just completed on the floor.

"We've really been sprucing the place up," she said. "We're going to have a reception for all the members. This is going to be a real fun event, encourage the community to stop on by."

Rich is just back from the Napa Valley of West Canada, better known as Kelowna, British Columbia. He is co-chairman of the western division of the Society of American Travel Writers. As part of his duties, he visited Kelowna in preparation for the convention. Rich says Kelowna is home to 53 wineries.

I spoke to Mary Jo Cline on Friday about her father, former Carson City supervisor John Hayes, who passed away on Thursday.

John grew up in Oklahoma and was about the same age as my own father, who was born in Oklahoma. As I listened to Mary Jo describe her dad's ability to come up with a way to use all kinds of things, I was reminded of my own father's scrounging through junk piles looking for treasure.

Mary Jo's father made a boat out of pontoons; my dad once hung old swamp cooler pads on the inside of a horse trailer and then rigged a hose to keep them damp. He would sit in there and do his teaching work. We lived in Las Vegas.

Mary Jo said she has been saving the tapes of the messages her dad left on the phone.

"In his last message he said 'Mary Jo, are you lollygagging around again?'" she said. "He was so positive, even though he really didn't feel it. The one thing he always said was to hope for the best, but expect the worst. He had a good attitude."

Kurt Hildebrand is assistant managing editor of the Nevada Appeal. Reach him at 881-1215 or e-mail him at


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