Since this picture has been hanging on a wall in Coppola’s Restaurant men’s room it has stirred up so much commotion. This is a picture of General Patton on June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy and invaded Europe. The Rhine River was Germany’s ancient line of defense; when American troops crossed the Rhine on March 7, 1945 at Remagen near Cologne, it was all over for the Nazis. General George S. Patton showed his contempt for the Germans by relieving himself into the river.
In the early 1990’s a loyal customer, Jim Quinn (who passed away last year) brought in the picture because he said our men’s room needed something to spice it up. As a woman I found this extremely odd but it’s a men’s room and what do I know! Suffice to say that not only has this picture become a conversation piece but it has also provoked people to steal. The picture has been stolen so many times that we keep copies so we can keep replacing it. But regardless, it has stirred up so many interesting conversations.
I only bring it up today because last night an out of town gentleman (here for the Vassar College Graduation) after returning from the men’s room needed to speak to someone about that picture. As my face was getting flushed from embarrassment I just couldn’t get the words out on what General Patton was actually doing. The customer was an older stately gentleman and I kept stumbling for words. It was at the end of the evening so I directed him to the kitchen to speak to Jim. The reason I found this typical question so unusual this time is because he wanted to tell his story about that picture. He was actually there! This white haired gentleman was one of the engineers from the 150th Engineer Combat Battalion that crossed that Rhine River many times during WW2. Well, I had to look up what exactly did an engineer do during the crossing of the Rhine River sixty six years ago. After reading about the 150th Engineer Combat Battalion, I was extremely impressed and couldn’t wait to write you all about it. i thought I would take an excerpt from the information I found so you can be equally impressed!
“It was during this week, in late March of 1945, that the U.S. Third Army under Gen. Patton, began its famous bridging and crossing operations of the Rhine. After the completion of the Battle in The Ardennes, Patton and his Army turned to the south and east attacking toward the Rhine. Without the luck of the 9th Armored Division, further to the north, who were able to capture the only intact bridge across the Rhine at Remagen, Patton’s Third Army faced the necessity of bridging the wide river with their own resources. There had been a total of 22 road and 25 railroad bridges spanning the Rhine into Germany, but with the exception of the Remagen Bridge, they had all been destroyed.
In a special order to his men, Patton stated that from late January to late March, “You have taken over 6,400 square miles of territory, seized over 3,000 cities, towns and villages including Trier, Koblenz, Bingen, Worms, Mainz, Kaiserslautern, and Ludwigshafen. You have captured over 140,000 soldiers, killed or wounded an additional 100,000 while eliminating the German 1st and 7th Armies. Using speed and audacity on the ground with support from peerless fighter-bombers in the air, you kept up a relentless round-the-clock attack on the enemy. Your assault over the Rhine at 2200 last night assures you of even greater glory to come.” (After Action Report, Third U.S. Army, page 313)
The first unit to cross was the 5th Infantry Division that used assault rafts to cross the raging Rhine at Oppenheim (west of Darmstadt and south of Mainz) in the early morning hours of March 23. The 150th Engineer Combat Battalion (EC inflated the floats for the bridge in the rear area, moved them to the river in trucks, and by daybreak had assembled them into rafts. By 1880 that evening, a class 40 M-2 treadway bridge was taking traffic. The following day, a second 1,280 foot class 24 bridge was completed in the same area. It was later upgraded to a class M-40 bridge. Without the benefit of aerial bombardment or artillery preparation, units landed quickly and established a beachhead that was seven miles wide and six miles deep in less than 24 hours. Several amphibious tanks of the 748th Tank Battalion crossed with the men of the 5th ID.
When daylight came, the Luftwaffe attacked the enclave with 154 aircraft in an attempt to dislodge the foothold on the east bank. Effective anti-aircraft fires brought down 18 of the attacking planes and destroyed 15 more.
By March 27, five divisions with supporting troops and supplies had crossed the three bridges constructed at Oppenheim. The entire 6th Armored Division crossed in lass than 17 hours. During the period of March 24-31, a total of 60,000 vehicles passed over these bridges. After consolidating on the east bank, the Third Army continued its drive to the east, capturing Darmstadt on March 25, and arriving in Frankfurt the following day.
Working as a well-coordinated unit, the Third Army relied upon trained veteran soldiers, dedicated leadership, an excellent working relationship with the XIX Tactical Air Command, a logistical train that moved all classes of supplies and personnel replacements quickly to the front.}
* See Barry W. Fowle, editor, Builders and Fighters: U.S. Army Engineers in World War II, Office of History, US Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Belvoir, VA, 1992. See especially Fowle, “The Rhine River Crossings,” pp 463-476]
I don’t know if it was coincidence or not but after we closed Jim Quinn’s son came knocking on our door and wanted to come in with along with Jim Quinn’s grandson to have a drink at the bar. When he knocked on the door I had no idea who he was but he had such a familiar face that I couldn’t turn him away. Jim came out to greet him and that’s when I realized who he was. Who knew that General Patton relieving himself at Coppola’s is still keeping Jim Quinn alive in all of our memories. If anyone knows Jim Quinn, I am sure he is smiling while he and his best friend Howard Cramer are looking down at us sitting in their armchairs sipping their Manhattans.
In honor of all WW2 vets for Memorial Day my son sent me this youtube video: