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This is the first of regularly appearing articles written by the author about the fascinating places, people, and events that have made our state’s history so remarkable. And since there is no place like home, shall we begin right here with a patriotic story that has roots in Lincolnton.

It’s common knowledge that one of the main thoroughfares through Lincolnton is known as Generals Boulevard—so named for the many distinguished generals that Lincoln County has produced in our nation’s long history. Each of them was a true hero.

But did you know that one of America’s most illustrious non-commissioned officers was born and bred in Lincolnton? Indeed, he was one of us. Honoring his dramatic story, there is a memorial to this hero to be found on NC Highway 150 just east of its intersection with Generals Boulevard. Most readers have passed over the John Reynolds Bridge (spanning US 321) on East Main Street in Lincolnton on many occasions. But who in the Sam Hill was John Reynolds? Put simply, the Lincolnton man performed one of the greatest feats of heroism the world has ever known. John Reynolds did the free world, America, North Carolina, and Lincoln County proud.

The clapboard house in which he grew up as one of 11 children of Mr. and Mrs. Chess L. Reynolds at 413 South Laurel Street still stands near downtown Lincolnton. Friends called him Bill, and he was known locally as a quiet, easy-going sort of chap.

But let’s make an abrupt shift in scenery to Remagen, Germany in March, 1945. Things were hardly quiet there for Sergeant John Reynolds, a 28-year-old engineer with the 9th Armored Division. For weeks, the fireworks at Remagen had been quite heavy. For you see, the Americans badly wanted the bridge over the Rhine at Remagen, better known as the Ludendorff Bridge. On the other hand, the Germans were hellbent on destroying that span in order to prevent the Allies from piercing the German heartland. For ten days, the Germans mercilessly pounded the bridge.

Finally, on the afternoon of March 7, 1945, the lead elements of the American 9th Armored Division pushed into Remagen. From the heights overlooking the Rhine, an officer trained his binoculars toward the river and confirmed the tough bridge yet stood. That news spread quickly through the ranks. Soon, the American fighting boys made a common plea: “She’s still there! Let’s go take it!”

But there were serious problems looming for the Yanks. The bridge had been heavily booby-trapped by the Germans with explosives. A German prisoner in Remagen yielded even worse news— the bridge was to be detonated by 4:00 p.m.

At the approach to the bridge, Lieutenant Karl Timmerman (a 22-year-old American officer who ironically had been born in Frankfort, Germany) received a radio transmission from headquarters:

 “Do you think you can get your company across the bridge?” Timmerman, a bit wary, yet willing, replied: “Well, we can try, Sir.” Then, the short order was given: “Go ahead!” Lieutenant Timmerman responded with an unanswered question: “What if the bridge blows up in my face?”

Timmerman gazed briefly at the looming 1,307-foot steel monster, laden with death. He could see numerous nests of German machine gunners in the arches. It was now 3:50 p.m., and the bridge was set to blow in just ten short minutes. He looked behind him—there he saw the eager faces of hundreds of American fighting men, crouched behind tanks and waiting for orders. The clock was ticking. The young lieutenant momentarily pondered a question: “Was he to be made a scapegoat if his charges were blown all to hell while crossing that bridge?”

His question quickly became moot as three intrepid American volunteers raced onto the bridge.

In the noble American tradition, those men were willing to risk their lives so as to spare hundreds of their countrymen. Each was an engineer officer. They were: Lieutenant Hugh Mott of Nashville, Tennessee; Sergeant John Reynolds of Lincolnton, North Carolina; and Sergeant Eugene Dorland of Manhattan, Kansas. Amid a withering enemy gunfire, the men scaled underneath the span where they furiously went about defusing the powder-keg. As bullets whizzed by their heads, the brave warriors tore and cut wires with pliers, their weapons, their hands, and their teeth. Suddenly, hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of TNT and dynamite fell harmlessly into the swirling waters below.

At length, the three gallant fellows kept the Ludendorff Bridge standing. Promptly Lieutenant Timmerman’s men cleared the German nests, and Americans began pouring across the bridge.

Timmerman was soon across and promptly arrested the German commander of the bridge, Captain Karl Friesenhahn, who had been under direct orders of Adolph Hitler to blow the span.

Indeed, the trio of Americans had enabled the Allies to gain first bridgehead over the Rhine. Although the weakened bridge at Remagen stood for only ten more days, it allowed American tanks and thousands of foot soldiers to move into the German heartland. And within days, engineers had fabricated two nearby pontoon bridges.

The back of the Hun had been broken. The Associated Press reported: “The swift, sensational crossing was the biggest military triumph since the Normandy landings and was a battle feat without parallel since Napoleon’s conquering legions crossed the Rhine early in the last century.” Time Magazine proclaimed: “It was a moment for history.”

Verily, the valor of Reynolds and the others was front page news all across America. The New York Sun noted: “To all who utilized that ten minutes so advantageously goes the deepest gratitude this country can bestow.” Andy Rooney, the first war correspondent on the scene, rated the capture of the bridge as one of the top events of the entire war.

The brass also chimed in. Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, noted that the event shortened the war in Europe by several months and saved countless American lives.

Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff termed the bridge “worth its weight in gold.”

John Reynolds of Lincolnton was awarded his Distinguished Service Cross, albeit posthumously. You see, John Reynolds was killed in action in the German heartland just a month after crossing the very bridge he had risked his life to save.

Numerous people maintain that Sergeant Reynolds yet deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor. Regardless, the Lincolnton man forever etched his name atop the list of America’s greatest military heroes.


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