PALATINE, Ill. (WLS) -- Bernie Bluestein, one of the last surviving members of a top-secret U.S. Army unit during World World II, was honored over the weekend in his hometown of Palatine.
Known as the Ghost Army, the unit will soon be presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, but Bluestein's hometown couldn't wait to celebrate him.
A lifelong artist and sculptor, Bluestein is now 98. His unit's mission during World War II wasn't declassified until 1996. Even his son had no idea.
"When I found out about it, my mouth dropped," said his son, Keith Bluestein.
As an 18-year-old art student, Bluestein was recruited to be part of a top-secret team of 1,100. Their mission was to use creative tactics to simulate real troops, like putting up inflatable rubber tanks.
In an interview with ABC7 four years ago, Bluestein talked about those critical operations to fool enemy forces.
"Of course when they shelled us, alright, mission was accomplished," Bluestein recalled.
After the war, Bluestein eventually returned to art. For the last three decades, he's been taking classes at Harper College.
"Bernie has taken classes at Harper since 1980, at 65 years old," Harper College Professor Jason Peot said. "In 33 years, he's taken nearly every class we offer."
Bluestein recently traveled on a Ghost Army tour through Europe. Madeline Christianson was there.
"I remember thinking, how can your service be recognized here overseas when even America hasn't?" Christianson said. "Bernie, today is America's turn."
It was a public thank you long overdue.
"I want God to bless you for all that," Bluestein said to the crowd. "Thank you."
Harper College is also naming a new art classroom in Bluestein's name. The actual gold medal won't be designed and minted for at least another year.