NEWS | March 28, 2017

Army Reserve supports memorial dedication for World War II Rhine River crossing

By Lt. Col. Jefferson Wolfe 412th Theater Engineer Command

By Lt. Col. Jefferson Wolfe
7th Mission Support Command Public Affairs Officer

NIERSTEIN, Germany — A bridge was a metaphor linking past and present as well as the people of two countries, during a ceremony along the Rhine River.

The ceremony dedicated a monument honoring the 249th Engineer Combat Battalion, which participated in the assault crossing of the Rhine March 23, 1945 landing at Nierstein to secure U.S. Third Army’s line of advance.

Soldiers of the 249th built a bridge linking the banks on either side of the river so American troops could cross. The monument was placed at the site where the first boat landed.

The Army Reserve’s 316st Engineer Company, a Multi-Role Bridge Company in the 412th Theater Engineer Command, is the modern version of what was used in World War II.

Soldiers from the 361st, headquartered in Warner-Robbins, Georgia, were in attendance, talking to local Germans and Americans and demonstrating the equipment.

The 361st mission was to set up a static display for the event to symbolize the crossing of the river from World War II, said 1st LT. Decoyeia Moore.

“I love that we get the opportunity to be here,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for our Soldiers.”

The 361st is the only U.S. Army bridging unit in Europe, Moore said.

“So, for us to be able to support this is awesome,” he said.

The 361st came to Europe in the summer of 2016 to participate in Exercise Anakonda, Moore said. After the exercise was over in Poland, the bridging equipment stayed at Grafenwoehr in Germany, with a four-person team to maintain it.

The team has been maintaining about 200 pieces of equipment, said Sgt. Matthew Harris, the bridge crew chief.

The bridging goes into the water, and is pushed into place by a MK-2 boat, Harris said.

The Soldiers have been working with the active-duty 15th Engineer Battalion during their stay in Germany.

“A company’s worth of bridging assets for five people,” Moore said. “With the 15th’s help, of course.”

Harris, who spent three years on active duty before joining the Army Reserve, said the active-duty Soldiers have made the Army Reserve Soldiers part of the team.

“I love it,” Harris said. “This has been a great tour.”

The ceremony also included the commander of the modern day 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), Lt. Col. Julie Balten.

The 249th is an active-duty unit, but has one Amy Reserve company in Rhode Island, she said.

Balten hopes to continue, “Building bridges and continuing to build the relationship between our two countries.”

The monument is symbolic of the close cooperation between the two countries, said Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Phillip Jolly, the U.S. Army Europe deputy commanding general for Mobilization and Reserve Affairs.

“This partnership is a fraternity forged in the defeat of the Nazis and the birth of a democratic and free Germany, connecting multiple operations by recounting the events of World War II,” he said. “As of today, there will be a memorial here on this scenic promenade, a marker that will give pause to those who might otherwise have been oblivious to its place in history.”

The river crossing hastened the end of World War II, he said.

“A bridge is a wonderful metaphor,” Jolly said. “In 1945, it linked Nierstein with Trebur and, in present day terms, it links Rhineland-Pflaz with Hessen. It is also a metaphor for the close shoulder-to-shoulder cooperation and support we enjoy from our Bundeswehr allies.”

Many German and American officials attended the event, including Helen Patton, the granddaughter of U.S. Army Gen. George Patton; Catherine Rommel, the granddaughter of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel; and Robert Shelado, a World War II veteran who was present for the crossing.

Shelado recounted his experiences during the 18-hour construction of the bridge.

“You’ve humbled me and honored me with your invitation to speak here today,” he said.

The monument was made possible through the collaboration of the 249th Engineer Battalion Association, from Rhode Island, and officials from the city of Nierstain and Rhineland-Pfalz.

A funding website was set up by the association, and the Ralph and Luci Schey Foundation provided a significant contribution, along with many others, according to information the association.