A war-ravaged continent, a bridge called Ludendorff, and a town called Remagen.
Die-hard patches of snow littered the ground here and there.
Months before, the German Wehrmacht launched a daring winter offensive, nearly negating the hard-fought Allied gains from the summer and fall.
In an audacious response, British and Allied air power managed to cut off the Wehrmacht’s petroleum supply lines leading from the refineries along the shores of the Black Sea. Starved of its precious fuel, entire German Panzer divisions stalled, then ground to a halt. Hitler’s army had literally ran out of gas.
The Allies’ advance brought them to the banks of the Rhine. Victory was not assured, but well within sight.
During the fierce Battle of Remagen German demolition crews had, after multiple attempts, rendered the Ludendorff Bridge unusable. American engineers, displaying their expected ingenuity, erected a series of pontoon bridges spanning the river.
Floating rafts, able to support the tread of a tank as well as the boot of an infantryman, the pontoons enabled division after division to cross the river.
Over one such floating bridge, on a captured BMW motorcycle, rode a 20-year-old corporal on his first trip away from home. In later years the young combat veteran would refuse to accept the notion of heroism on his part. He freely owned his conscription, and in the years to come, always with good humor, made it clear that he was no volunteer.
He had no notion of the historic nature of the undertaking in which he played a small part. There would be more battles, and more liberations. But the “big picture” was not his concern. He was a young man who’s summer break between high school and college was interrupted. A break which was stretching into three years.
A young man who answered the call.
I miss that man. My father would have turned 92 today.
Happy Birthday, Corporal Gerald M. Christensen. I know God allows you to check in on us from time to time, and I trust you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.