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A Bridge Too Far? Croatian Nightmare? GIs Name Obstinate Bridge

January 1, 1996

ZUPANJA, Croatia (AP) _ ``Anybody got a name for this bridge?″ hollered Sgt. Maj. Steve Walls as he walked from Croatia to Bosnia on the pontoon span his engineers risked their lives to build.

``How about The Croatian Nightmare?″ asked Jason Shorbe, a private heading from the other direction.

American troops started rolling over the bridge from staging bases in Croatia into Bosnia on Sunday following two weeks of frustrating attempts by 650 Army engineers to put the bobbing bridge together.

The flood-swollen Sava River had been fighting engineers of Task Force Eagle, the U.S. Army deployment to Bosnia, ever since they set up their tents on the Croatian side in mid-December.

``That’s one ornery river,″ said Walls, of Philadelphia, who has been the enlisted adviser to Col. Stephen Hawkins, commander of the engineers, on building the aluminum bridge.

When they arrived, the engineers discovered that soil and fields where they had planned to leave heavy equipment were unstable.

Then came bitter cold, which bore right through the cold-weather gear of engineers working on open boats on the Sava and preparing the river bank by moving tons of earth.

Then a warm spell melted the snow, pushing the Sava’s waters over dikes and into two tent camps inhabited by the engineers. One of the flooded units was moved into a sugar beet factory that they share with rats.

After the deluge two soldiers decided to drive an abandoned truck out of the flooded area, but the truck dropped into a hole and the soldiers had to be rescued by boat.

A few hours after the span was finished and American tanks and equipment started rolling across, Walls said building the bridge had been so difficult it deserved a name.

So he walked across from Croatia to the Bosnia shore, soliciting engineers for ideas along the way.

One soldier offered A Bridge Too Far, after the movie about a bridge at Arnhem, in the Netherlands, where British forces staged a failed attack during World War II.

Another suggested Bridge Over Troubled Waters, after the Simon and Garfunkel song.

Shorbe, 20, from Tucson, Ariz., proposed ``The Croatian Nightmare″ because ``we started thinking about it even in our sleep.″

Second Lt. David Cushen, 25, of Tampa, Fla., suggested The All-Nighter, because he and other engineers lost days of sleep putting the bridge together.

Spc. Kevin Beamis and Sgt. Paul Griffin were in one of several motor boats holding the bridge against the Sava’s strong current.

Beamis, 23, from Macedonia, Ohio, seconded The All-Nighter. He looked over at Griffin and said, ``That’s why.″

Griffin, 30, from Anderson, S.C., was fast asleep sitting on the boat’s engine hatch.

Finally Walls asked his boss, Hawkins. The 45-year-old commander thought about the freezing nights when engineers moved earth and bridge sections, the submerged tents, the soldiers’ tenacity.

Then he offered his own proposal: The Bridge That Wouldn’t Quit.

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