In 2000 years, the only invaders to cross the middle Rhein River were Caesar’s Romans and Napoleon’s French. Then on the afternoon of 7 March,1945, Sgt. Alex Drabik, a Polish-American from Toledo, Ohio, led his squad in a lunatic sprint across the creaking Ludendorff Bridge under withering German fire.
Adolf Hitler called it a catastrophe, and Dwight Eisenhower named it the Miracle of Remagen. The German defenders had blown every one of the other 27 bridges across the river, but by a convoluted set of circumstances that came down to pure, horrible luck, this one still stood.
The German High Command threw everything they had at the structure—from modern jets and rockets to antiquated suicide bombers, from tanks and artillery to frogmen and floating mines. For 10 days the Americans held them off with the greatest concentration of defensive fire in history. By the time the bridge collapsed of its own accord, 25,000 men of the American III Army Corps were on the East bank. The war in the West was effectively decided.
The Americans handed out medals like popcorn to the troops who took the bridge, and with good reason. Both sides cashiered (and in the German case, executed) officers in a desperate attempt to win the battle. Yet the structure they contested had almost no transport value and was never rebuilt. Today, in a village where bodies once piled up by the thousands, a young German peacefully accepts your three Euros for a tiny ferry that handles less than 20 modest German cars in a crossing.