75th Anniversary of World War II
75 years ago we celebrated VE Day on May 8, 1945, and VJ Day on August 14, 1945.
In the past I reported my memories of these events, when we took the bass drum and the flag from the stage at St. Mary School in Des Plaines, IL and paraded all around town. People were jubilant!
My friend, Kevin Quinn, recently told me about his father who was in the battle for the Ludendorf Bridge at Remagen, Germany in 1945. The bridge was captured on March 7th. Sgt. Thomas M. Quinn was with the 286th Combat Engineers. He graduated from S.E. Catholic High School, Philadelphia PA in 1943. He studied physics, algebra, Spanish, Latin, English and geometry.
Thomas M. Quinn
The 286th Combat Engineers were also at the Battle of the Bulge in Dec., 1944. It’s a safe bet he was at the Midnight Mass said by Father O’Donnell of St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago, who was chaplain of the 101st Airborne. Mass was said on Christmas Eve.
Sgt. Quinn was a foreman of construction. As foreman he was attached to the 286th Combat Engineer Battalion in France, Belgium and Germany. He was in charge of a platoon of 43 men engaged in bridge building, road building, planting and removing mines, and demolition work. He directed all operations of men and supervised work done. He was sometimes required to work under enemy fire and in blackouts. He assigned duties, kept duty rosters and made frequent inspections on projects.
Capturing the Bridge
Crossing Rhine River at Remagen in 1945
The Americans quickly launched a full-scale assault on the bridge while the defending Germans scrambled to detonate the explosive charges that had been set to destroy it. The fighting was fierce as both sides realized what was at stake. The American soldiers scrambled under withering gun fire from girder to girder returning fire and ripping the explosives from the bridge’s super structure.
The German’s were successful in detonating some explosives - but not enough to destroy the bridge. By 4pm approximately four minutes after the assault began, the Americans had reached the other side of the river. While we were running across the bridge I spotted a Lieutenant completely exposed to enemy fire that was pretty heavy by this time. He was cutting wires and kicking demolition charges off the bridge with his feet! Boy that took plenty of guts. He’s the one who saved the bridge and made the whole thing possible.
Soon the bridge was swarming with Americans while Mitchell, joined now by other engineers, cut and jerked out wires leading to dynamite charges. Gingerly they detached detonators and lifted boxes of explosives from the piers.
The battle for control of the Ludendorff Bridge caused both the American and German forces to employ new weapons and tactics in combat for the first time. Over the next 10 days after its capture, the Germans used virtually every weapon at their disposal to try to destroy the bridge. This included infantry, armor, howitzers, mortars, floating mines, mined boats, a railroad gun and the giant 600 mm Karl-Great super heavy mortar. They also attacked the bridge using the newly developed Arado Ar 234B-2 turbojet bombers. To protect the bridge against aircraft, the Americans positioned the largest concentration of anti-aircraft weapons during the war, leading to “the greatest anti-aircraft artillery battles in American history.”
Quinn and his fellow soldiers on the bridge after capturing it from the Germans.
The American counted 367 different German Luftwaffe aircraft attacking the bridge over the next 10 days. the Americans claimed to have shot down nearly 30% of the aircraft dispatched against them. The German air offensive failed.
The bridge finally collapsed on March 17, 1945, ten days after it was captured, killing 33 U.S. Army Engineers and wounding 63. While it stood, the bridge and newly established pontoon bridges enabled the U.S. Army to establish a bridgehead of six divisions, about 25,000 troops, with accompanying tanks, artillery pieces, and trucks, across the Rhine. Capturing the bridge shortened the war, and VE Day came on May 8. After the war, the bridge was not rebuilt; the towers on the west bank were converted into a museum and the towers on the east bank are a performing arts space.
Hall of Famer, Warren Spahn
23-year-old Warren Spahn was a Tech-Sergeant of the 286th Combat Engineers in March, 1945, working feverishly to shore up the Bridge at Remagen on the Rhine River in Germany. On March 17, Spahn was ready to lead a security detail onto the span to protect engineer repair crews. Suddenly, without warning, the heavily damaged 1,000-food bridge collapsed, killing 33 engineers and injuring 93.
My friend, Kevin Quinn, remembered meeting his father’s friend, Warren Spahn, in the parking lot of the Philadelphia Phillies. Spahn received a Purple Heart and a battlefield promotion. Kevin said he and his brothers would take his father’s medals into the woods when they went to play Army. I asked what medals were they? Kevin replied, “two Silver Stars and a Purple Heart,” which caused me to react and say, “your father was a real hero!”
The war with Japan brought us into the Atomic Age. Following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese surrendered, leaving behind hundreds of thousands dead.
We must remember my uncle Bill Boyle, an Army medic who won a Bronze Star in the Phillipines, and Ambassador James C. Kenney’s father who fought with the Marines on Iwo Jima.
Brian and Katy Costello
Brian Costello, Pipe Sergeant with the Shannon Rovers Bagpipe Band lives in Elmhurst near the Illinois Prairie Path Trail.
Each night at sunset, Brian goes outside and plays his pipes to lift the spirits of his neighbors.
Each night Danny boy, Amazing Grace and When Irish Eyes are Smiling are played in memory of his parents!
- Font Size
- Reading Mode
75th Anniversary of World War II