Ludendorff Railway Bridge, spanning the Rhine River at Remagen, March 7, 1945, 9th Armored Division
I was born on 25 December 1925, in Flint, Michigan. On the morning of 7 Dec 41, I was at home, hearing the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On Monday, 8 Dec, when President Franklin Roosevelt declared war against the Japanese Empire, I was in class, a senior in high school. Quickly we were at war with Germany and Italy. In the spring of 1942, I graduated from high school and was drafted into the U.S. Army on 28 June 1944, at Fort Sheridan, IL. I completed basic training at Blanden, FL, and was assigned to the 9th Armored Division.
After landing in France, on 25 Dec 44, the 9th Armored Division moved to the front. I was an infantryman. I almost did not make it to the Rhine River, being involuntarily assigned as a replacement crewman on a Sherman tank. I did not like it and after one day asked the captain of the unit to let me out, which he did. I was assigned to the Division's headquarters' company, performing reconnaissance patrols for the Division. On patrol we normally used a halftrack as the primary method of transportation. On patrol I had an M-1 rifle and sometimes a carbine. Most of the time on patrol I carried three pistols; a long barrel .38 caliber German Luger, a .38 caliber Italian Beretta and a .25 caliber pistol. I retrieved all three from dead German soldiers. In close combat I preferred to use the pistols.
I was in the reconnaissance force, which operated in front of the Division. We were rotated into and out of reconnaissance on a regular basis. When in reconnaissance, we were always on the move. Lt. Col. Leonard E. Engeman would let us sleep in buildings in occupied towns. We only slept outside five or six times after leaving Belgium.The homes and buildings usually had been bombed or shelled and were without roofs. When assigned to a road guard position, I slept on top of the engine hood of the half track, the warmest spot I could find. It was cold at night and we did our best to keep warm.
On 5 March 1945, two days before we reached the Rhine River, I was detached from the lead division's reconnaissance group and dropped off at a road check point to direct the division's vehicles to which one of three roads to take. I took up my guard post at 1430 hours and was told the division should reach my position by 1600 to 1630 hours. The vehicles did not reach me by that time and it kept getting later. I went out and picked up all the guns I could locate and created a large pile near the gas station that I decided to use as cover for the evening. I found the weapons all over the ground, recovering them from dead German soldiers. I feared that someone might pick one up and turn it on me.
I was in the building until 2130 hours when I heard the sound of tank tracks coming toward my location. It was the lead column of the 9th Armored Division. I showed the lead tank which road to follow and then climbed in, rejoining my reconnaissance unit in time to make the historic dash across the Ludendorff Railway Bridge over the Rhine River. On the morning of 7 March 1945, we were on the west bank of the Rhine, above the town of Remagen, seeing the railway bridge still intact, Lt. Col. Engeman was excited about finding a bridge intact over the Rhine.
When the bridge collapsed, 28 U.S. Army engineers working on the bridge were killed. I was not in the area when the bridge collapsed, as we had moved up into the hills through a gully. It was there that I was shot with a wooden bullet; the impact took my helmet off. I was kept in the line since it was considered only a flesh wound. By the time the bridge collapsed, the pontoon bridges had taken the burden of moving men and equipment across the Rhine. The bridge was a mass of twisted metal, visible near both the west and east banks of the Rhine.
As we moved away from the river, more and more German troops surrendered. They threw their weapons down onto the ground, raised their hands in the air and surrendered. I did not take part in any large actions after crossing the Rhine; it seemed the German troops gave up, surrendering to U.S. or British troops rather than to the Soviet Army troops farther to the east.
It was at this time that I found out my parents had received a telegram reporting my death; it was another Paul Priest. Things like that happen in war. It was a great relief to my parents when they heard I was still alive and they got a letter from me. We were again the spearhead for the American attack into Germany: the 9th Armored Division was assigned to move into Czechoslovakia to be certain the Germans would not attempt any real effort to regroup and continue resistance. Germany surrendered at Rheims, France, on 8 May 1945; two months to the day after the 9th Armored Division captured the Ludendorff Railway Bridge. Eventually, I was shipped back to the United States. I returned to Flint, MI, where I married by pre- war sweetheart, Joan, on 22 August 1945. I still remember the bridge over the Rhine and the role the 9th Armored Division played in capturing it and ending the war. After 60 years, many of those who served with me are gone and I wanted to tell their story.
Read 2013 tribute to Paul Priest in Rapid City Journal. more
Jacket presented to Paul Priest, January 11, 2014. Presentation below in 2014.