World War II: Catching German Spies with the American National Anthem

During WW II in the European countryside, there were a lot of crossroads without road signs, so the US Army posted soldiers at the crossroads to direct troop traffic in the right direction.

 Near the end of the war, during the Battle of the Bulge, the German SS launched Operation Griffin. The objective was to disrupt American logistics and supplies. The Nazis dressed German spies in American uniforms taken from prisoners of war. These spies were fluent in English, some having lived in America. The Germans sent them behind American lines to turn road signs in the wrong direction. They also placed these impersonators at unmarked crossroads to send American troops and supplies in the wrong direction. 

The American army came up with three ways to test whether a suspected soldier was American or German. 

First, American troops asked them American trivia questions, particularly about sports.  Sometimes, this did not work well. For example, General Bruce Clark was detained at gunpoint and almost shot when he incorrectly said that the Chicago Cubs were part of the American league. Four Star General Omar Bradly couldn’t answer several of the sports trivia questions, but fortunately everyone recognized him. So they teased him and sent him on his way.

Second, the army started misspelling the word “identification” on the new official identity papers. The Germans were always precise, and all the words on their forged ID papers were correctly spelled. 

(Interestingly, this approach was developed by Ben Franklin to catch counterfeiters.  He intentionally misspelled a word on official US currency and the careful counterfeiters always used the correct spelling.)

Third, some army units developed the most creative, quickest, sure fire way to determine whether the soldier directing traffic was American or German. They asked the solder to sing all four verses to the national anthem. If the soldier sang all of the verses, he was immediately arrested. 

Obviously, no American knows all verses of our national anthem, but an over-trained German spy would.

Two-thirds of American citizens cannot pass the US citizenship test given to foreign immigrants.  Most Americans cannot name one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for.  Most citizens cannot describe what the phrase “rule of law” means. Most Americans cannot name a single country the US fought in WW II.

Most young people are uninformed about American history and important current issues.  Their knowledge and opinions are based on social media.

We are losing our American heritage.

Thomas Jefferson proclaimed: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . . it expects what never was and never will be.”  He added, “It is the responsibility of every American to be informed.”

Sources: “Operation Greif,” “Operation Griffin,” Wikipedia; “Real History of: Operation Griffin,” The Video Game Historian, YouTube; Personal conversations with George H. London, seventh grade teacher Mr. Boxx,  and other WWII veterans.

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