Tidioute was transformed into 1945 Germany on Friday in preparation for the fifth World War II reenactment of the Battle of the Bridge at Remagen on Saturday, the only bridge across the Rhine River that was captured by American forces during WWII.
Residents and visitors can watch as U. S. soldiers drive the German army back across the Ludendorff Bridge after Germans fail to destroy the bridge with pyrotechnics provided by Pyrotechnical from Newcastle, Pa.
Event coordinator Patrick Tarasovitch said over 200 participants are expected to come for the battle from up and down the east coast and as far away as Canada and the Carolinas to stay in Tidioute for the reenactment.
Tarasovitch said the event is “choreographed by history” and will follow the original battle and troop movements. Participants keep an eye out for the equipment including uniforms, Army jeeps and guns wherever they can.
“Everybody’s looking all the time,” he said, noting the organization for the event takes quite some time. “It takes about a year, as soon as we get done with one we take a break and start working on it for the next year.”
This year’s reenactment featured special guest retired Major Ken Hechler, who at 98-years-old is the oldest living former member of the United States Congress. Hechler was a combat historian and wrote the book “The Bridge At Remagen” which was later made into a movie. He worked for President Truman, then as a congressman and finally as Secretary of State of West Virginia for 16 years.
“It was the turning point in the war, it was the first crossing of the Rhine since Napoleon and it happened on the seventh of March, 1945,” Hechler said. “It was the final blow to the Nazi regime because the war was over in Germany on the eighth of May, which was only two months after the bridge was captured. And of course it also demonstrated the courage and initiative of the American forces. As soon as they discovered the bridge was still standing they sent out a task force of tankers, infantry and engineers. The engineers were very effective because they disconnected all of the explosives that the Germans had planned to use to destroy the bridge.”
Events for the weekend which include a USO dance and lasagna dinner at the Tidioute Fire Hall from 7 to 10 p.m. and is open to all reenactors and civilians.
Mark Dorney of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has been participating in reenactments for 20 years as a German medic. He has collected nearly all of the original German medical equipment that he will carry with him into battle on Saturday.
“There is such a multitude of sources,” Dorney said about where he found his field medic kit. “Flea markets, veterans donate, vehicle shows, all over. And you just keep your eye out for the equipment your looking for. I take doing medic very seriously and I have a list of the equipment they should have had on hand. And that list, of course I’ve had to have it translated, acts as a shopping list.”
Aspirin, bandages in the original cardboard boxes, tools, salve tabs, and the leather pouches are all in his collection. The morphine and opium that German medics carried are not, but rhubarb pills and other homeopathic items are.
“We love it, the town really gets behind it. You can tell a lot of care goes into doing it. You can tell the local people are really involved,” said Peter Gentry from Maryland. “Everybody in the unit hails from New England all the way down to the Carolinas.”
He reproduced a German truck a with a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun hitched to the back.
“We just did a bunch of a restoration work on it… It was a frame with a lot of specs and detailed stuff. Basically what we did is it’s pretty much a one-to-one replica of the vehicle itself,” he said.
On the American side of the encampment Jordan Previte from Cleveland, Ohio brought his 1944 WC51 American truck which he bought mostly assembled, but stripped down and pieced back together over six months.
Vincent Gioscia was back in Tidioute for the fourth year from Massachusetts as an American soldier with Tim Halvac also from Massachusetts. “It’s awesome, we love it,” said Gioscia. “We just accumulate stuff over time. A lot of the time people don’t know what stuff is.”
Both Gioscia and Halvac will eat with the original stainless steel mess kits used by American soldiers in the war.
Residents should note that the Tidioute Bridge crossing the Allegheny River will be closed to vehicle and foot traffic from 2 p.m. until the completion of he event which should conclude around 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Be sure to determine which side of the river you want to watch the battle from and plan accordingly.
Route 62 will also be closed during the event from approximately 3:30 to 4 p.m. Organizers urge planning for delays and driving carefully as route 62 will be congested.