The Bridge Worth its Weight in Gold

I had heard about the battle for Remagen Bridge from several World War II veterans during interviews, but it was entirely different being there in person.

Our tour group left the Belgium Ardennes area and continued east through the Eifel Mountains. We followed the advance of the US 1st Army through to the Remagen Bridge that once spanned the River Rhine.

Remagen Br (5)

Note: Our guide pronounced it ‘RAY-ma-gen’, rather than the way my veterans who served there pronounced it with accent on the second syllable. No matter.

Having listened to my veterans and watched the 1969 movie, The Bridge at Remagen, I knew a little about what had gone on there between the Allies and Germans.

In March 1945, the American forces had just ended a victorious, but ferocious fight in the Ardennes region that had raged since mid-December.

In December 1944 the Nazis had assertively pushed into the territory of the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. The intense conflict which occurred during one of the worst winters on record became known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Like most Allied soldiers, Max Whiteleather (below) fought at the Bulge while living in fox holes filled with snow. When clouds finally cleared around Christmas, help arrived in the form of the Army Air Corps which dropped much-needed supplies.

aWhiteleather old standing

As the Allies proceeded to advance into the heart of Germany, they were ordered to advance on Remagen. The bridge was crucial to gain a toehold into enemy territory. It had to be taken intact.

German armed forces tried unsuccessfully to defend the town and the nearby bridge across the Rhine.

Aware that the Rhine River posed the last major geographic obstacle to Allied troops, Hitler had ordered that the bridge over the river be destroyed rather than lost to the Allies.

Remagen Br (9)

Thankfully, members of the 9th US Armored Division disengaged explosives set to destroy the bridge and the plans were foiled. Allied troops reached the bridge and captured it intact on March 7, 1945, enabling 8,000 Allied troops to cross it.

George Buhler (below), a veteran whose story is recorded in my first book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans, fought at Remagen. He recalled how the fighting was fierce. “The Germans shot 18-inch shells at us from railroad cars,” he said.

Buhler MP uni

Max Whiteleather had fought at D-Day on the beach of Normandy in June 1944. When his unit — 820th Engineer Aviation Battalion, Co A – was sent to Remagen, they were ordered to build an additional bridge– pontoon — across the Rhine following the Allies’ conquest.

As dozens of Allied vehicles lined up, waiting to cross, Max Whiteleather’s outfit set to work. The additional crossing helped the Allies gain the advantage needed to overcome the German Army.

Unfortunately, although the Army Corps of Engineers worked to reinforce the original bridge, which had been damaged during the conflict, on March 17 the bridge collapsed, killing 28 American soldiers.

Today, not much is left of the bridge, except its original basalt foundations and a museum about the bridge. Basalt is black stone native to Germany.

The quote in the title is by General Dwight D. Eisenhower upon learning that the Remagen Bridge had been taken intact.

For a relatively small bridge — you can see the distance in the photo — it’s amazing to think how much fighting occurred there. But as we learned on our tour of European World War II battlefields, bridges were a common place of conflict.

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Max’s story is included in my second book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans. It contains 34 stories of men/women of every branch- Army, Navy, Army Air Corps, Marines, Merchant Marines, Coast Guard.

I’m excited to say it will be available in August 2017! Stay tuned here for more information!

Thank a veteran today for his/her service!

 

 

 

 

 

Sneak Peak – They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans

I’m putting finishing touches on my second book of World War II stories — They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans. It contains 34 stories of men/women of every branch- Army, Navy, Army Air Corps, Marines, Merchant Marines, Coast Guard. It will be available for purchase by the end of summer. I’ll announce its completion at that time.

A major book launch party is being planned that will be unique and patriotic. Details to follow!

Leading up to the book’s release and book launch, I’ll give a sneak peak of the stories included inside. Today we’ll begin with a particularly amazing story. I met Mr. James ‘Andy’ Anderson last year at a friend’s recommendation. This is the only story of its kind that I’ve heard from a World War II veteran. It’s pretty astounding, don’t you think?

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In June 1943, Private First Class James ‘Andy’ Anderson was assigned a secret mission.

Anderson, a graduate of Broad Ripple High School in Indianapolis, had been drafted and assigned to the 94th Medical Gas Treatment Battalion, Third US Army. After completing basic training at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Anderson had trained as a medic at Camp Grant and Camp Ellis in Illinois. “We learned how to give shots and dress wounds on a battlefield,” he said.

At Camp Sibert in Alabama, Anderson and others in his outfit learned how to treat injuries of a chemical nature and disengage chemical warfare weapons.

Upon being sent to Bushnell Army Air Field (AAF) in Bushnell, Florida, 50 miles north of Tampa, Anderson and other GIs volunteered to participate in experiments conducted by the US Army Chemical Warfare Service. “Fourteen guys in my group went through simulations to see the effects of mustard gas to learn about advanced chemical warfare,” he said.

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The story goes on to relate how Andy survived the testing (some soldiers did not!) and later served in Europe as a medic in some of the war’s worst battles.

Please let me know if you’d like me to add your name to my email newsletter with updates about the book’s contents, book launch party and my speaking engagements. I’ll post about the first one I’ve given since returning from our World War II trip to Europe.

During my 1-hour talk with PowerPoint presentation, I show foxholes where soldiers would have stood during the Battle of the Bulge, the Architect of Triumph in Paris where American troops would have paraded around during their liberation of that city in summer 1944.

I also describe what it was like to meet a British World War II veteran and witness an historic event that will never happen again.

This is an appropriate talk for history groups, schools, civic and churches. Contact me at the form on this site.

Thank a veteran today for his/her service!

Historic Ceremony Witnessed at Pegasus Bridge –Part 1

Tomorrow is our nation’s birthday. I’m so proud to be part of America and it’s glorious history and fantastic citizens. We’re not perfect but I’d still rather live here than anywhere else. Celebrate by thanking a vet for his/her service!

This photo was taken of a young girl awaiting arrival of Honor Flight of Northeast IN to the airport so she could thank the 85 WWII vets for their service!

2 flags in girls hair

The rest of this post is about an event from our recent WWII trip to Europe.

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Pegasus Bridge.

The name meant nothing to me before our fantastic 2 week trip to Europe in early June. Now it is the highlight of our trip and I want to learn everything about it!

I plan to watch the American movie, The Longest Day, which tells about several facets of D-Day. I’ve also checked out several books from my library on the topic.

Here is a little background about Pegasus Bridge and how it figured at D-Day:

Pegasus curr br boat

This little bridge in Normandy France was part of the D-Day invasion in the early hours of June 6, 1944. It was undertaken by the British and called Operation Tonga.

British glider crews were instructed to land at their target—beside the Caen Canal close to the Juno/ Sword beaches that would be invaded in less than six hours.

Could the British glider crews land safely (gliders were notorious for ‘crash-landings’!), do a surprise attack on the Germans guarding the bridge and secure it so Allied troops could use it to push into France?

Miraculously, they did all of that! Not to minimize those who lost their lives and were injured in the least, I’ll mention that we checked out the respectful memorials that are placed where the gliders would have landed in honor of those men who sacrificed their lives for this endeavor.

Pegasus (14)

The bridge was nicknamed ‘Pegasus’ for the patch with a winged horse that the British troops wore who secured the bridge.

When our motor coach pulled up to the current Pegasus Bridge (the original has been replaced but is still on site for viewing), the signal was on for us to halt. The cantilever bridge was in the process of preparing to rise. A boat was needing to go through.

Since our bus could not move, our guide had us disembark the bus to visit the museum on the other side of the canal before the bridge was completely inaccessible.

Bailey bridge

We enjoyed seeing a beautiful, modern museum, a Bailey Bridge (above, a US design that could be easily assembled by troops for hauling men and equipment).

aPegasus glider

The replica of the gliders used for the Operation Tonga was much bigger than I expected.

When we started to walk back to the bus, we were hindered by a great crowd of people. It was a Bank Holiday and hundreds of people had assembled for some outdoor event to honor the Pegasus Bridge.

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I regretted that we could not stay to watch, especially when we saw dozens of black London taxi cabs pulling up to the curb of the museum. It turned out there were 90 cabs—they made an impressive long line that stretched for what looked like miles.

‘Must be some big officials in them’, I thought.

There were special people inside each cab!

Someone told us that an organization called the London Taxi Benevolent Association for the War Disabled had organized the event to pick up 90 British World War II veterans in London, bring them across the English Channel on a ferry and transport them to Pegasus Bridge for the ceremony.

Whoa!

Veterans are the reason I got interested in World War II in the first place.

As respectfully as I could manage in my excitement, I leaned inside 1 cab and told the driver I was an American and would it be ok if I told the veteran in the back seat thanks for his service?

The driver said sure and then I proceeded to tell them thank you. I did this for five cabs, then a guilty conscience told me I had to get back to the bus!

What happened next was the cherry on top of the cake!

Since this post is already pretty long, I’ll save that story for the next post! Stay tuned!