The Rhine River crossing at Nierstein by American troops in 1945 was a key operation on the west front during the waning days of World War II. Starting in Nierstein, a small town located 18 kilometers south of Mainz located in present-day Rhineland-Palatinate, hundreds of U.S. Infantry men successfully completed an assault crossing of the river and advanced to South Hesse. During the course of the operation, they built bridges for 60,000 vehicles to spread eastward and contribute to the occupation of the German Reich. This operation went down in military history as the “Nierstein Silent Crossing” as there had been nearly no combat activity. The advance of General Patton's Third Army was thus facilitated and hastened the end to World War II.
Since March 2017, this historical crossing has been memorialized by a monument - a granite pedestal flanked by two display cases and two flag poles flying the American and German flags. Construction of the monument was initiated by the 249th Engineer Battalion Association, largely financed by the Ralph & Luci Schey Foundation, and supported by the City of Nierstein. The text on the bronze plaque of the pedestal reads: “At this location, on March 22 & 23, 1945, the 249th Engineer Combat Battalion, after supporting the U.S. Army 5th Infantry Division at Oppenheim, in the first successful Rhine River assault crossing since Napoleon, completed the construction of a 366-meter floating bridge to carry elements of General George S. Patton's 3rd Army across the Rhine. The bridge was completed in 18 hours. This remarkable engineering accomplishment undoubtedly contributed to the shortening of the war thus saving countless lives on both sides of the conflict.”
The President of the 249th Engineer Combat Battalion, Gerry McCarthy, underlined the importance of this historical marker. It is a reminder of Germany's liberation from dictatorship, the ensuing friendship of the two countries in peace and democracy, and the need to always build bridges, not walls.
The dedication ceremony was also attended by 92-year-old Robert Shelato from Fort Myers, Florida, who gave an eye-witness account of his involvement in the building of the bridge. He reminisced, “My part in the Rhine River crossing began four days earlier at a bridge site on the Our River, boundary line between Luxembourg and Germany. It was there we received orders to prepare for the Rhine invasion.... After two days of practice, we moved on and arrived that night at the Rhine River near Nierstein and Oppenheim. Our first job was unloading trucks carrying assault boats and pontoons. With the enemy only four hundred yards away, it was a stealth project with no noise permitted.... The invasion was more successful than anyone could imagine, and we were running a day ahead of schedule. So, we were transferred to bridge building, building three here in Nierstein and one in Oppenheim....”
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