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Joseph Richard Spence Jr.

603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : Co D


Born 1923 in PA, Died 2011


County of residence at enlistment: Venango County, PA
Other residence(s): Oil City, PA in 1942; Mankato, MN; Bowling Green, OH; Charlotte, NC; Shippenville, PA in 1998
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
College education before the war: Edinboro Univ.
College education after the war: Edinboro Univ.; Penn State
Source: Notes provided by family of Harold Dahl; Ghost Army roster by state; 603rd reunion mailing list; Company D Names Only Roster;  Company D With Addresses Roster; Bernie Mason Company D Roster; signature on NAZI Banner at; photo from Spence Collection, GALP Archive

Joe Spence was born on December 2, 1923 in Oil City, PA, a small community in the northwest part of the state. In 1942 he graduated from Oil City High School, where he was active in art and theatre, and registered for the draft that same month. In the fall, he enrolled at Edinboro State Teachers College (now Edinboro University), and enlisted with five fellow classmates. He was called to duty on February 16, 1943. In basic training he was tested and assigned to the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP); that took him to the City College of New York where he completed a course in basic engineering--studying math, physics, and electronics--but no art! (The ASTP was a program designed to meet the wartime demand for junior officers and soldiers with technical skills.)

Paintng of Arch with soldiers

Painting by Joe Spence

He was eventually assigned to the Ghost Army and served overseas with the unit, as a member of the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion. His son John tells the story of one encounter between Joe and a famous general during the Battle of the Bulge, when Joe was serving as a checkpoint guard. "Around that time Patton came across the sector boundary in a jeep with a driver and my dad was on checkpoint, and he asked Patton for the sector boundary password and Patton didn’t know it,” said John. “Dad told him he couldn’t let him through. Patton looked at his dad and asked ‘Do you know who I am, soldier?’ while putting his hand down on his pearl handled revolvers. Dad said, ‘I don’t care who you are. If you don’t have a password, you don’t cross.’ Patton went back, got the password for the crossing, and told dad he was a good soldier as he passed through the checkpoint.”

Joe also recalled a night when he was assigned to a sound truck, enacting a deception near the Rhine River. He had to engage in a little theatre that night--keeping 30-40 unattended campfires burning by himself, to help make it look as if there were an entire division there.

Joe was discharged from the Army in October, 1945 and went back to school at Edinboro State. He married Carol Carr on December 31, 1947 and received his BS in Art Education from Edinboro in 1948.

Joe and Carol would go on to have five children: John, Catherine, Carolyn, Thomas, and Mary.

He spent the next seven years teaching art--first at Oil City High School, where he taught art and dramatics. He then moved to Warren, PA to teach art at Beaty Junior High School, and became Elementary Art Supervisor in 1953. He taught adult painting classes in Warren as well as extension courses for Penn State. Simultaneously, he did graduate work at Penn State University, receiving a master's and a doctorate in art education.

In 1955, he was offered a position as chair of the Art Department at Clarion State University (now Clarion University) in Clarion, PA, where he would spend the next 15 years. In 1962, he also became Director of Development and Campus Planning at Clarion.

In 1970, the family moved to Mankato, MN, where he accepted a position as head of the Art Department at Minnesota State University. He continued to work as an artist throughout these years; some of his intaglio prints were exhibited at the Minnesota Museum of Art in St. Paul in 1971.

Five years in Minnesota were followed by four years as Director of the School of Art at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

His last academic move was to Charlotte, NC, where he served as chair of the Department of Creative Arts at the University of North Carolina.

In 1986, Joe retired and he and Carol moved back to Pennsylvania. In retirement Joe continued to practice his art--especially watercolor painting (and decorating family birthday cakes!). He loved to create personalized cards and banners for celebrations.

Joe died on September 12, 2011 in Shippenville, PA and is buried at Brandon Cemetery in Seneca, PA. His daughter, Carolyn Spence Cagle, serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Ghost Army Legacy Foundation.


1942 draft card

1943 enlistment record

1947 marriage record

1955 article in Oil City Derrick (PA) about his appointment at Clarion State

1971 article in the News Herald (Franklin PA) about an art exhibit of his

2011 Find a Grave Record (includes obituary)

2013 article on the website (Clarion County PA)

Biography submitted in email to Rick Beyer from Mary Spence, May 5, 2021.

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