Purple Heart Bronze Star

 

T/Sergeant
John H. Marcotte

1907 - March 17, 1945

Caledonia County, Vermont - Ludendorff Bridge, Remagen

 

 

John H. Marcotte was born in 1907 in New Hampshire. He moved to Vermont and got married. Later he divorced. He worked as an foreman in construction or with the railways. He enlisted into the Army on 29 April 1942.  He became an engineer with the 1058th Engineer Construction and Repair Group.


[no patch available]

1058 Engineer Construction
 and Repair Group
 

On March 7 1945, the US 9th Armored Division captured the Ludendorff Railroad Bridge at Remagen. The capture of this bridge meant the US Army had their first bridge over the Rhine River. The capture of the bridge was an historic feat which was the subject of a movie and several books after the war. Since then it has passed into history as 'The Bridge at Remagen'.

However, the Germans tried to prevent the Americans from using it to bring men, equipment and supplies over the Rhine and into Germany. They shelled the bridge constantly, had mines, explosives and frogmen with explosives flow down the river in an attempt to blow the bridge. The Germans also attacked the bridge with no less than 11 V2 rockets. The Luftwaffe attacked the bridge even with jet fighter-bombers. This left the bridge heavily damaged.

The 276th Combat Engineer battalion, assisted by the specially trained welders and steelworkers of the 1058th Engineer Construction and Repair Group (in some sources also called the 1058th Port Construction and repair Group), had relieved the combat engineers of the 9th Armored Division on March 10th and were working around the clock to repair the bridge.

Ken Hechler, in his famous book about the bridge writes: "About two hundred men, principally engineers, and their equipment were working on the Ludendorff bridge on the afternoon of March 17. Just before two o'clock, Captain Francis Goodwin, and engineer combat supply officer, walked into the railroad tunnel to investigate some German water supply equipment he had seen at the far end.[...] He stopped briefly to talk with Major Carr, the commander of the 1058 Port Construction and Repair Detachment [...] and asked how long it would take to plank over the gap blown by the German demolition. Carr estimated that he could repair the gap in one more day but that it would take a month to completely repair all of the damaged parts of the bridge.

Captain Goodwin strolled across to the Remagen side of the bridge. He paused and asked one of the welders whether he had enough gas for cutting and welding. The welder assured him that the supply was adequate. The captain stopped by the crane which was trying to straighten out one of the members in the truss by tightening a cable, and he questioned the sergeant in charge about what he was attempting to do. Everything appeared to be in order. [...]


Welder at work at the Ludendorff Bridge (US Army Signals Corps, National Archives)

At the time Captain Goodwin was leaving the bridge, Lieutenant Colonel Clayton A. Rust, the commanding officer of the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion -one of the two units of engineers working on the bridge repair- was talking to an fellow officer near the center of the bridge. [...] Suddenly, around three o'clock, Colonel Rust heard a sharp riflelike report. It sounded like a rivet head being sheared off. He looked up and saw one of the hangers slowly break loose and dangle from the bridge. Then came another sharp report from behind him to the left. Another rivet had sheared off. Both these noises came too quickly on top of each other for the colonel to shout any warning. The entire deck of the bridge started to tremble. Colonel Rust began to hear frantic cries from the men on the bridge as they dropped their tools and lumber and started to run. The whole deck was vibrating and dust was rising from the surface. Instinctively, he knew that the time was short, that everybody on the bridge was aware that it was collapsing and that it was every man for himself. He started to run to the Remagen side of the bridge and in a few seconds found himself running uphill as the center span collapsed. Then the water of the Rhine swirled around his knees and in an instant he was engulfed. He had no sensation of falling, but the weight of one of the girders soon pinioned him under water. How long he was held under, Colonel Rust does not know, but suddenly his trap was sprang and he rose to the surface just as he felt his lungs would burst. [...] The current then swept him down to the treadway bridge, where he was pulled from the Rhine, badly shaken but not seriously hurt.


The Ludendorff Bridge, minutes after it collapsed (From www.usace.army.mil pp)

"No one alive can say why the bridge collapsed,' Colonel Rust said later. "The bridge was rotten throughout, many members not cut had internal fractures from our own bombing, German artillery, and from the German demolitions. The bridge was extremely weak. The upstream truss was actually useless. The entire load of traffic, equipment and dead load were supported by the good downstream truss...It is my opinion as an engineer that the collapse occurred as the result of vibrations caused by numerous possible sources, i.e., air compressors, one crane, a few trucks, several electric arc welders, hammering, and finally, but important, the not insignificant concussion of heavy artillery recently emplaced in the town of Remagen...I believe that, as the vibration continued, the condition of the previously buckled top chord was aggravated to such an extent that it buckled completely under a load which of course it was not designed to carry".


(US Army Signals Corps, National Archives)

The engineers of the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion and the 1058th Port Construction and Repair Detachment lost 7 killed, 18 missing whose bodies were never recovered and 3 who subsequently died of wounds -a total of 28 who gave up their lives; 63 others working on the bridge were injured when thrown into the icy waters of the Rhine by the sudden collapse."


(US Army Signals Corps, National Archives)

The collapse of the bridge was witnessed by Colonel David E. Pergrin of the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion, who was standing on the treadway, described above. In his book First Across The Rhine, he writes:

"It was coming up to 1500 and the colonel [Anderson] and I were still on the treadway bridge when our attention was arrested by a loud, painful groaning from just to our south. As I instinctively glanced towards to source of the sound, I heard a even louder sound of simultaneous screeching, cracking, and splintering as steel rubbed against steel and wood. There, directly in front of me, the tired old Ludendorff Bridge was at last giving way. As the effects of the self-demolition progressed, the immense structure swayed and then caved in. It was like watching a slow-motion movie, the progressive action was so distinct.

The collapse of the Ludendorff Bridge set all available hands in the 291st to instant, instinctive rescue efforts and a frantic race to save our own span. Automatically, as soon as the big railroad bridge sounded its own death knell, my veteran engineers recovered from the shock and got to doing all the things that seemed to need doing.

In no time at all, all sorts of heavy debris was floating swiftly in the current toward our vulnerable treadway floats. As the infantrymen on the treadway span speeded up their pace from the route march to every man for himself, my magnificent engineers appeared as if out of nowhere with cranes, powerboats, and other equipment that could be used to rescue swimmers and prevent fatal collisions between debris and the floats. Scores of my men ran out from either bank armed with pikes, poles, or anything that came to hand that could be used to hold off debris and direct it between the pontoons. Max Schmidt and several others drove Quickway cranes out onto the bridge in order to lift the larger, heavier pieces of planking up and over our span. As efforts to save our bridge coalesced, many of my men worked their way out onto the saddles to help pull their comrades from the largely bilged 276th Engineers out of the dangerous current.[...]

We fished out eighteen survivors from the many members of the 276th I had seen scrambling for safety during the last moments of Ludendorff's thundering, screeching demise. Among them was Lieutenant Colonel Clayton Rust, the battalion commander, who was picked up by a boat manned by Sergeant Frank Dolcha.[..]

That was some of the good news. We eventually learned that the tally had mounted to twenty-eight killed or missing and ninety-three injured."


A casualty of the collapse is taken off the bridge (US Army Signals Corps, National Archives)

Major William C. Carr, Commanding Officer of the 1058th is buried at Henri-Chapelle American Military Cemetery in Belgium. Commemorated on the Tablet Of The Missing there are S/Sgt Henry F. Albertson and Captain Arthur F Gullo (a memorial to Capt. Gullo was erected on his family plot on a Carthage, NY cemetery. For more information go to the the 488 Engineers Light Pontoon Coy website. See link below). Of the 276th Combat Engineer Battalion the following men are buried at Henri-Chapelle: Sgt Albani August, Pfc Quitman Goar, Pfc James E. Herring, and Pvt Wesley L. Lowery. Commemorated at the Tablet Of The Missing are 2Lt Gene C. Enos, Cpl Noble S. Kirkwood, Pfc Benjamin H. J. Rowland, and Tec4 Edwin D Smotherman.

S/Sgt Alexander P. Tercha (of the 1058th Engineer Port Construction Group) is buried at Hamm American Military cemetery in Luxembourg.

T/Sgt John H. Marcotte is buried at Margraten American Military Cemetery, Plot K Row 8 Grave 12

The STARS & STRIPES ran an article on March 17, 1962 about the collapse of the bridge. You can find it on-line by following this link. Another article, about the reunion of US and German soldiers who fought for the bridge on March 7, 1945, can be found here.


Margraten, The Netherlands


Sources:
The Bridge At Remagen, Ken Hechler, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, 1998
First Across The Rhine, Col. David E. Pergrin (with Marc Hammel), Pacifica Press, Pacifica, California, 1989
The Rhine River Crossings, Barry W. Fowle (see US Army Corps of Engineers website)
Town of Erpel Official Website

US Army Corps of Engineers Website
488th Engineers Light Pontoon Company
Memorial To Peace Bridge at Remagen


See also:
T4 Harley E. Harlow (1058 Eng. Construction and Repair Group)
T4 Robert H. Hufford Jr. (1058 Eng. Construction and Repair Group)
T5 Wesley E. Smith Jr (1058 Eng. Construction and Repair Group)

Major James E. Foley (276th Combat Engineer Battalion)
Pfc Clyde Heaps (276th Combat Engineer Battalion)
Pfc Thomas N. Migliore (276th Combat Engineer Battalion)
 

Directions to Margraten American Military Cemetery

If you have any suggestions, comments or additional information, please contact me.

This website is dedicated to the men and women who died and/or are buried in The Netherlands during World War II.

 

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