Veterans Commemorate Wartime Crossing of the Rhine River
REMAGEN, West Germany (AP) _ Hundreds of Germans and Americans gathered at the blackened ruins of the Remagen bridge today to commemorate the U.S. Army troops who stormed across the Rhine River and sealed the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Waving U.S. flags and standing proudly at attention, more than 100 Army veterans remembered March 7, 1945, when they captured the bridge at the town of Remagen and surmounted Germany’s biggest natural defensive barrier.
″It wasn’t a historical moment for me,″ said Alex Drabik, the Toledo, Ohio, native who raced across the bridge and became the first American soldier across the Rhine.
″I was too busy running,″ he said. ″I didn’t think about the bridge blowing or anything. I just wanted to get to the other side.″
Drabik helped lay a wreath in memory of those who fell during the battle for the bridge. German and U.S. veterans spoke of the ties now binding the former enemies.
″No one would have believed then that 40 years later military enemies would gather together to jointly commemorate their battle,″ said Peter Wurzbach, a senior Defense Ministry official who represented the West German government.
″Although former enemies, we are now equal partners,″ said Wurzbach, speaking in both German and English to the crowd of some 700 people gathered along the river banks.
The U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Divison Band, based in Ansbach, West Germany, played the German and American anthems, while Mayor Peter Kuerten of Remagen unveiled a plaque describing the action at the bridge as a battle that ″hastened the end of World War II.″
The actual name of the railroad bridge was the Ludendorff Bridge, named after the World War I German commander Erich Ludendorff.
Its capture was an unexpected coup due to the initiative of a handful of officers and men of the 9th Armored Division.
U.S. Army strategists had expected the crossing of the Rhine to be a difficult and costly operation that would rank among the fiercest battles of the war.
German soldiers had already blown up most of the bridges spanning the river by early March 1945.
They were preparing to destroy the railroad bridge at Remagen as well when an infantry unit emerged from the woods above the town on March 7 and saw the structure still standing.
″We all knew of the efficiency of the German army and never dared hope they would allow us to capture a bridge intact,″ said Lt. Col. Leonard E. Engeman, the Minnesotan who commanded the attacking task force.
After seeing the bridge, Brig. Gen. William Hoge, the leader of the 9th Armored Division’s Combat Command B, decided to ignore his orders to turn south and unleashed the attack on the bridge.
American infantrymen stormed the bridge despite heavy fire from Germans on the other side of the Rhine.