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.


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!






Profile of WWII vet Gale (‘Smoky’) Baller – US Army

Smoky Baller served in the US Army during WWII.

Smoky Baller served in the US Army during WWII.

For the past several years I’ve made it a point to interview WWII veterans. Their stories are always interesting and historic. I encourage you to tell a veteran — any war– thank you for their service.

During World War II, Gale (‘Smoky’) Baller fought on the front line in Germany. “Machine gunners had high risk positions,” he said. “The Germans shot mortar shells at us because they knew we could do the most damage to them.”
Baller –he grew up with the nickname ‘Smoky’ because he tap danced with a sister as children — graduated from Bluffton High School in 1944. After being drafted into the United States Army in August, he passed a physical examination at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis. He completed basic training at Fort Blanding in Florida which pleased Baller. “I had never traveled outside of Indiana and liked Florida,” he said.

Baller disembarked with thousands of other American soldiers from New York City on the second largest British ship in the world – the Aquitania. They landed at Le Havre, France.

Baller didn’t get seasick during the nine-day voyage, but he didn’t attempt the menu. “I didn’t think I’d like British food so I packed a box of Hershey bars,” he said.

At Le Havre Baller was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, 39th Regiment, D company. “In our unit you operated a machine gun or mortar shells,” he said. Baller carried cans of ammunition for machine guns. The cans weighed 45 pounds and were carried over a soldier’s shoulders behind the gunners. “One gunner carried the receiver for the machine gun and the other carried the tripod,” he said.

In Winnersburg Germany Baller and other American soldiers requisitioned the home of a German couple to spy on the German army. The German home owners understood English and seemed relieved when Baller and the other soldiers explained they would not hurt anyone. While Baller did guard duty from the home’s second story window, the German woman offered the Americans a treat. “She made us a strawberry pie,” he said. When the soldiers prepared to leave, Baller thanked the couple for their hospitality with chocolate bars.

The Battle of Remagen Bridge in March 1945 was vicious. “Both sides wanted that bridge which was the last remaining one over the Rhine,” he said. “The Germans tried to blow it up, but we made a pontoon for our guys to go across in jeeps and on foot.”

By the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Buck Sergeant Baller began preparing, as did thousands of other soldiers, to fight in Japan. While waiting, Baller was assigned to work in a motor pool shop at a resort requisitioned by the Allies in Germany.

A handful of horses provided Baller the opportunity to ride daily after his work shift was completed. Unfortunately, his horse stepped in a ditch one day during a ride. Baller broke several bones in his right hand. The horse escaped uninjured.

Baller spent six months in a hospital in Munich. When the doctor said Baller’s hand would have to be re-broken, he was shipped back to Galesburg, Illinois. The war had ended in August 1945. Baller was honorably discharged in November 1946.

For his military service Baller received a Distinguished Unit Award from France. He also received the following medals: Bronze Star, Good Conduct, European Campaign, World War II Victory, Army Occupation, US Unit citation, Honorable Service, Expert Shooting and Combat Infantry.

After the war, Baller married. He and his wife, Alice, became parents to two sons, Jerry and Mark. Following Alice’s death, Baller remarried Norma in 1990.
During his lengthy work career, which ended June 2013, Baller worked for the Steury Bottling Company, Reimschisel’s Motors and Hiday Motors.

Baller’s thoughts of his military service are simple. “I went in as a soldier who was often scared to death, but I grew out of it,” he said.

The End