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!

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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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!

 

Vets Describe D-Day

D-Day. June 6, 1944.

Possibly only a handful of dates in our nation’s military history are more well- known other than Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941).

D-Day was a top secret event that had been planned for months. Every branch was involved in storming the beaches of Normandy France to overcome Hitler’s forces.

Here are a few comments from veterans of various branches whom I’ve interviewed about their involvement with D-Day:

Despite months of training, nothing went according to plan.

As Leo Scheer’s boat neared the shore of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, it hit two mines, igniting it. “We were told to strip our gear and abandon ship,” he said.

The weight of life vests, layers of clothing and combat boots dragged many soldiers into the frigid waters. “Drowned bodies floated in those waters for weeks,” said Scheer. “Many washed up against the sea wall with not a scratch on them.”

Those who made it to shore were ordered to the west end. Scheer was almost killed twice from gunfire. Finally he arrived, only to find the squadron doctor missing.

Wearing the Red Cross arm band and helmet, Leo worked on injured soldiers, removing medical supplies from bodies of dead soldiers to treat the wounded. “Bandages were packaged in waterproof tins which also contained morphine shots,” he said. “It was all we had.”

The first course of action was to stop the bleeding. “We tried to prevent shock and used morphine when necessary,” he added. Artillery fire continued non-stop for days. Soldiers were treated on the sand. “We eventually got a spot in front of a house and put the casualties there,” said Scheer.

A barrage of artillery file forced Scheer to administer medical attention while lying on the ground. “Even getting on your knees was risky,” he said.

“You slept fully clothed with your helmet on,” said Scheer. “Shells came in close. I buried myself under the sand and in the morning crawled out, glad to be alive.”

Note: The photo depicts the web belt Scheer used at D-Day, now a donated item on display at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

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Wolfe Don-FW-Air Corps

After flying from the US to an Allied air base outside the town of Muching Green in England in spring 1944, Donald Wolfe had only two weeks of training before he flew his first combat mission, called a ‘sortie’. “During the next several weeks, I flew missions over France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany,” he said.

His 44th mission occurred on D-Day as he flew over Normandy lending support to the Allies.

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Anderson James -Indy-Army

At Omaha Beach Andy Anderson carried penicillin, bandages, iodine and sulpha packets in his supply packet. As a medic on the battlefield he wore an arm band with a Red Cross, signifying his status. Although he didn’t carry a weapon, Anderson felt safe. “I depended on our American infantry to protect me,” he said.

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Alfred Edwards of Fort Wayne, IN, was operating a rhino barge on June 6, 1944. Such vessels carried tanks and troops as part of the first wave of troops to approach the shore of Omaha Beach in France. “We had no protection from enemy fire as we guided it in,” he said.

When boats and troops reached the shore and put ramps down, the site was grim. “Dead GIs lay everywhere on the beach,” said Edwards. “We dodged shooting from German soldiers while searching for mines embedded in the sand that could blow us up as we neared the shore.”

Despite incredible odds, Allied forces continued to arrive at the beach for weeks, slowly pushing German forces back into France. Code name of the secret invasion: Operation Overlord, though it was more commonly known as D-Day.

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These are excerpts of stories in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans (available for purchase on this site) and in my soon-to-be-released book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans.

It will be released in Summer 2017. Stay tuned for more details on how to obtain a copy!

Honor a veteran today by thanking him/ her for their service to our country.

We’re Headed to Europe for WWII Tour

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Hopefully our trip to Europe will be easier than for these troops on the USS Wakefield!

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My husband and I have decided to complete a huge item on our combined Bucket List of Things to do Together– Take a tour of Europe, based on World War II events.

Yes, there are actual groups who go to Europe just to learn more about what happened during WWII. We’re going with World War II Tours of Europe (worldwar2toursofeurope.com). Our itinerary includes visiting four countries—Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and France. We’ll visit Dachau, Paris, Munich, Eagles’ Nest (Hitler’s retreat), Normandy and others.

With my research and writing about World War II in recent as the result of 160+ interviews with World War II vets, combined with my husband’s lifelong interest in the subject (he knows 10 times more than I do!), we should find it all pretty interesting.

We’re months away and yet it is now all we talk about!

I plan to take thousands of photos and put many of them into a PowerPoint presentation for talks after the tour in June (not all of them of course!).

If you’d like me to talk with your group about our 12-day tour, please contact me. I’m already booking for Veteran’s Day so plan early.

It should be a great presentation with shots of re-enactors on Omaha Beach on D-Day, Paris, a concentration camp, and more!

I’ll post more about the trip in upcoming weeks AND as a bonus, I’ll include snippets of stories from my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans, that pertain to places we’ll visit.

This is from Gene Dettmer who fought with the US Army at Utah Beach on D-Day:

 

Dettmer uni head

“I saw men who had been blown up,” said Fort Wayne native Eugene Dettmer. “If I had been on the first wave that landed on Utah Beach, I would have been killed.”

Dettmer was part of the landing of Allied soldiers on the three-mile stretch of French land that comprised the westernmost flank of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The invasion’s code name was Operation Overlord. The battle was more commonly known as D-Day.

Dettmer was attached to the Third Army with the 468th AAA Battery C. He was assigned to drive jeeps for officers and half-track 468s, armored anti-aircraft vehicles used heavily by U.S. troops during the war. “Dad had taught me basic auto mechanics so that gave me skills in that area,” he said.

In March 1944 Dettmer and thousands of other young American soldiers had disembarked ships from the US to Scotland, then France. Only told they should prepare for battle, little could they imagine they would be involved in one of the deadliest battles in the history of the world.

Dettmer was one of 20,000 soldiers who landed on Utah Beach on June 18, 1944. An estimated 1,700 motorized vehicles, including half-tracks, were used to fight that day. P51 and P47 aircraft seized beach exits, captured key transportation and communication points and blocked German counterattacks. C47 planes carried wounded soldiers to safety.

American troops were not the only soldiers at Normandy. “British forces shot their cannons and their pilots helped with the airborne assault,” said Dettmer.

Although surrounded by violence and destruction, Allied casualties numbered fewer there (300) than those on nearby Omaha Beach (5,000). “Our timing was off by a day due to weather,” said Dettmer. “That may have confused the Germans, but they still put up a good fight.”

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Please consider purchasing a copy of my book for $15.00. It contains 28 stories of men/women who served at home and abroad from 1941-1945 in American military forces. It’s easy to understand and full of quotes during interviews I did with vets in their homes. You can purchase it at this site or at Amazon for $20.00 (we dropped the price here to thank you for visiting this site!).

Remember to thank a vet today for his/her military service!

Au revoir!