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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

**

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:

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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.

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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!

 

Bucket List: Take WWII Tour of Europe– Done!

My husband and I just returned from a 2-week World War II tour of Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany! The photo of my husband and me is on the patio of the ‘Eagle’s Nest’, Hitler’s retreat center, above the village of Berchtesgaden, Germany.

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We went with a group of 29 Americans and 3 Australians and one Chinese woman as part of World War II Tours of Europe. This photo is at the Mardasson Memorial at Bastogne, Belgium.

Talk about a whirlwind trip! Our guide, Dennis Ross, was experienced and so organized which made the trip enjoyable. We covered 2,000 km and five countries via a luxurious motor coach with a great driver named Gundolph.

It was exhausting, but so informational and fascinating. My husband has been interested in World War II for decades. I’ve only become interested since I started interviewing veterans in 2012. Put us together and we can usually spout some piece of knowledge about events in Europe and even the Pacific.

BUT…

This trip showed us how much we didn’t know. We soaked it all in, despite minds/bodies that were recovering from a six-hour time difference and 12-hour days on the road.

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This photo was taken on June 6, 2017, at La Fiere Bridge in Normandy (France) region as a tribute from French people to the efforts of American troops 70+ years ago. These and other memorials showed us how much the European Allied countries continue to demonstrate their appreciation for our efforts on their behalf during their occupation by Nazis.

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Photo: Museum at Compiegne Forest (France) where armistice was signed 1918, ending WWI with Germany’s defeat.

We visited the usual tourist sites like museums and had guided tours of Paris, Dachau, Nuremberg, Luxembourg, all of which was just up our alley (I was usually near the front to be sure to hear every word!)

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We stood in an actual foxhole in a woods in Bastogne where troops would have sought shelter from freezing weather and enemy troops.

We stood in the war room of Bastogne where in December 1944 General Anthony McAuliffe declared “Nuts!” to the Nazis’ demands that he surrender the 101st Airborne and its attached troops. Gen. McAuliffe and his troops held off the siege until reinforcements arrived from Allied troops.

Many of these and other examples of courage and determination during that mighty war that raged from 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland until 1945 when Axis forces surrendered were new to me. It was a pleasure to learn more about them in person!

 

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One of my favorite events was thanking British World War II veterans for their service. This photo was shot during an event honoring these vets on June 5 at Pegasus Bridge. I’ll save details for a later post.

It was great to get home and realize yet again what a great country we have – not perfect but pretty close in terms of helping oppressed countries in so many ways for decades.

I’ll be sharing more information about the trip here in future posts with photos (I shot 800+ and my husband took 350+).

I plan to give PowerPoint presentations on what we saw and learned, implementing quotes from veterans I’ve interviewed where appropriate. Many stories about these sites can be found in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans.

If you know of a group that would be interested in having me speak on this topic, please contact me via this site’s Contact form.

And if you’ve not already done so, please subscribe to this blog to continue to receive my posts that cover WWII and other stories about American military vets.

Remember to thank a veteran today for his/her service. They deserve our appreciation!

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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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.

WWII Soldier Shocked by Graves at Guadalcanal

(This is an excerpt of a story from my soon-to-be-released book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans)

Gaylord Conrad’s most vivid memories of the Pacific during World War II was not that of a bloody battle field but what came after it.

In late 1943 Conrad from Leo, IN, was attached to the US Infantry at Guadalcanal. The dreadful battle that had occurred there from August 1942 through February 1943 was evidenced by a graveyard for Allied forces.

Approximately 7,000 small crosses on graves dotted the vista as far as Conrad could see.

It was a sobering sight for the farm boy from northern Indiana. “Thinking of the number of lives lost in that battle was overwhelming to me,” he said. “The sight of that quiet field became a permanent picture in my mind.”

Conrad Gaylord kneel uni

After graduating from Leo High School in May 1943, Conrad had immediately been drafted. He completed nine weeks of basic training at Camp Wheeler near Macon, GA, before being assigned to the Infantry. Soon, he was aboard a ship sailing with thousands of troops through the Panama Canal to the Pacific.

The troops were not told where they were headed, though the mostly 18- and 19-year-olds probably would not have recognized the name, had they heard it. New Caledonia was part of an archipelago of islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean, 750 miles east of Australia.

In March 1942, the territory had become an important Allied base. The capital of New Caledonia — Nouméa — was headquarters of the United States Navy and Army in the South Pacific. At one point during the war, the island held as many as 50,000 American troops.

Several attempts by the Japanese Army and Navy to recapture the airfield were staged over the next several months. In addition to the thousands of American lives lost, approximately 19,000 Japanese soldiers died in what was a hard-fought Allied victory. Conrad and other American soldiers went in as replacements.

In an attempt to honor the fallen military chaplains conducted a sunrise service on Guadalcanal’s beach on Easter 1944. Just before the service’s commencement, Conrad was shocked to see someone he knew. “Ralph Rineholt and I had graduated from Leo High School together,” he said. The two young soldiers sat together during the service, then separated for duties. Conrad never saw his friend again. “I always wondered if Ralph returned home,” he said.

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I missed posting this tribute on Memorial Day because I was working on the book this and 33 other stories will be published in by late Summer 2017. But I did have 2 stories of WWII soldiers who died in action published in area newspapers. We can all do our part to support our military.

Stay tuned for more details about the book.

Remember to thank a veteran today for his/her service!

 

WWII Soldier Fought Japanese; Liberated Prisoners

 

Paul Rider of Fort Wayne is an interviewer’s dream. He could recite his story during World War II in clear fashion, had a scrapbook full of memories, a diary and many photos – and a story that had a peaceful resolution decades after the war. Remember to thank a veteran today for his/her service to our country!

Listen to a 1-min telling by Rider about liberating internees at University of St. Tomas in Manila here.

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In February 1944 Paul Rider of Fort Wayne, IN, was part of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division preparing to leave Australia for an invasion of New Guinea. “New Guinea was a final staging area for the Admiralty Island invasion,” said Rider.

When the invasion began a few weeks later, the Allies nearly didn’t get a foothold according to Rider. “The Japanese almost pushed us off the first night,” he said. “Our 75-mm Howitzer was not too powerful.”

Rider was born in 1920 in Scott, OH, but moved with his family to Fort Wayne when he was four years old. Rider graduated from Southside High School in 1938.

Upon being drafted into the Army in March 1942, Rider was sent to Fort Sill in OK for basic training. He received training of a different sort at Fort Bliss near El Paso, TX when he was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, A Battery, 82nd Field Artillery.

As the name implies, the cavalry division was comprised of horses. Rider and other soldiers selected for the division were expected to ride them. The problem was, they didn’t know how to ride and there were no official lessons. “I had never been on a horse,” said Rider. “The Army chose you to be in the cavalry if you could stand up. We just got on the horse and tried to manage.”

Horses and soldiers participated in Louisiana Maneuvers, a series of U.S. Army exercises. “Two horses pulled a 75-mm Howitzer, while four horses pulled the Howitzer with the additional weight of ammunition,” he said.

In the hot, sticky environment Rider and other soldiers learned the horses’ needs came first. “After a day of riding, we wanted to rest but couldn’t because we had to care for our horses,” he said. They had to take off the saddle, comb, feed and water the animals, a process that usually took about an hour. The tired soldiers slept on pine needles and ticks.

Once his commander discovered he could type, Rider was transferred to an office job. Later, he transferred to Supply where he became Supply Sergeant for his battery of 250 men.

In July 1943 Rider’s division zigzagged unescorted for 25 days on the USS George Washington through waters where Japanese submarines were known to patrol.

After securing it and other Admiralty Islands in mid-May 1944, the Allies constructed a major air and naval base which became an integral launching point for campaigns in the Pacific.

Rider was also part of a flying column (small, military land unit capable of moving quickly) of 700 soldiers that battled first in Leyte, then Luzon in the Philippines. “We landed on the north shore and were under attack, but carried M1 carbines and kept moving,” he said.

Rider Yank mag surrender

In February 1945 Rider and others in the U.S. Army helped to liberate Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila. Located on the campus of the University of Santo Tomas, it was the largest of several camps in the Philippines in which the Japanese had interned enemy civilians, many American, beginning January 1942.

More than 3,000 internees suffered from poor living conditions and lack of food, including children. Many internees were near death. “The internees looked like a bunch of bones moving around,” said Rider. “It was a sad situation.”

In August 1945 Rider’s division was preparing to head to Japan for a major invasion when they heard about the dropping of a bomb on Hiroshima. The news of Japan’s surrender was exciting and the First Cavalry boarded the USS Talladega to sail for Yokohama. They arrived in time to witness the signing of the surrender on September 2, 1945, a date that would become known as ‘VJ Day’ (Victory in Japan). “Our ship moved next to the USS Missouri where the signing of the surrender took place,” he said. “I could see the Japanese officials with their top hats.”

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Master Sergeant Rider remained in Yokohama with other Allied troops until September 25 to maintain order. Then, due to his length of time in service and participation in battles, he sailed home on the Talladega. He was discharged on October 19, 1945.

Rider worked most of his life in the banking industry. He and his wife Patricia are parents to seven children. “I was glad to do what I could to serve our country,” he said.

aRider Jap flag

An unusual story that would not be resolved for more than 30 years had begun during the war when Rider and two other soldiers patrolled the jungle on Manus Island. They didn’t find the enemy, but Rider discovered something else — a case lying on the ground. It contained a Japanese flag with writing on it. Rider he suspected it had been dropped by a Japanese soldier and shipped it home as a souvenir.

In 1978 Rider was at a Lions Club meeting that hosted Japanese Lions Club members. He took the flag and a female Japanese guest read names on it. “She said the flag had probably been signed by members of a particular unit,” he said.

With Rider’s permission the Japanese visitor took information printed on the flag back to Japan and upon doing research, found the flag’s original owner who was still alive. Rider mailed the flag to him and the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel published a photo and story about the incident in March 4, 1978.