A salute to U.S. war heroes

By Paul Grondahl/Times Union, August 5, 2016

Bridge, The Crossing, honors 48 Americans killed in WWII battle

>> Used with permission and previously published in the Times Union.

“Left, right, left, right, left,” U.S. Army Lt. Col. Demetrius Green said softly, as he held an American flag aloft and kept cadence for a phalanx of marching soldiers who cast long shadows at sunset Monday.

They stood shoulder to shoulder beneath the flags of the United States, Germany and Canada and moved reverently and silently across the milelong bridge over the River Waal near Albany’s sister city.

Opened two years ago, “The Crossing,” as the bridge is called, is considered the world’s longest war monument. It is a Dutch tribute to the 48 American war heroes who died here on Sept. 20, 1944, during World War II. Paratroopers with the U.S. 82nd Airborne crossed the river in canvas assault boats and captured the strategic bridge under heavy German fire. The fierce battle is depicted in the 1977 film “A Bridge Too Far.”

The rhythmic thud of 200 combat boots was the soundtrack to Monday’s commemoration, which is known as the “Sunset March.” Local Dutch veterans began the marches when the bridge opened and have kept their nightly tribute going in all seasons. Monday was the 637th crossing.

After the marchers crossed the span on their 15-minute journey, they gathered in formation and saluted the 48 names of the fallen etched in a stone monument on the far shore as a bugler blew a mournful military tune of the 82nd Airborne. A few dozen local Dutch folks also marched across the bridge and joined the soldiers at the monument.

“If it weren’t for the sacrifices of those brave soldiers in World War II, we wouldn’t be here. We hold our veterans in the highest regard and we can’t thank them enough,” said Greene, a native of Selma, Ala. and a 26-year Army veteran who began his career at Fort Bragg with the 82nd Airborne. He now serves at the U.S. Army base in Stuttgart, Germany.

“We call ourselves ‘Bragg babies.’ We carry that lineage in us and we’re very proud to be part of a tradition that is much bigger than ourselves,” Green said. He added that every recruit at Fort Bragg is taken to the 82nd’s museum to learn about the paratrooper unit’s rich history and then they are also shown the movie “A Bridge Too Far.”

“I didn’t know anything about the battle here or Nijmegen before I came to participate in the marches five years ago,” said Army Lt. Col. David Kirkland, who is stationed at Scott Air Force Base in southern Illinois. “I learned the history over the years and I made the unit I brought with me this year watch ‘A Bridge Too Far’ so they would understand what happened here in World War II.”

“This was a very moving ceremony and I’m honored to have participated,” said Air Force Maj. Denise Martin Zona, who grew up in Syracuse and is stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. She is a clinical psychologist who made her first trip to Nijmegen to participate in the four-day Walk of the World.

“This commemoration was even more special when I saw how the Dutch still honor the sacrifice of these American soldiers after all those years,” said Army Lt. Col. Dentonio Worrell, a native of Brooklyn. He is a dentist who serves as the commander of the dental clinic at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers of Europe in Belgium. He’s spent 18 years in the Army and plans to operate a free mobile dental clinic in the poor, rural South when he retires from military service.

“The march was very humbling and emotional for me,” said Sgt. 1st Class Alexander Burnett, who is stationed at Fort Bragg and who carried the flag of the 82nd Airborne.

Among the civilian marchers was Maria Martens of Nijmegen, who represents the district in the Senate at The Hague. “It was very special and moving to see how people here keep this tradition alive,” Martens said.

The gracefully swooping modern bridge is illuminated with 48 lights, one for each of the fallen soldiers, that turn on with motion detectors as walkers pass under them.

A group in Nijmegen also recently published a coffee-table book, “The Crossing,” that documents the World War II battle and tells the stories of the fallen soldiers, including three members of the 82nd Airborne from New York state.

Source: Times Union