Daring dash of Toledo WWII soldier helped save bridge that got allies into Germany

John W. Leonard (Source: Wikipedia)
John W. Leonard (Source: Wikipedia)
(Source: WTOL)
(Source: WTOL)
Major General John W. Leonard, Sgt. Alexander Drabik and his parents at the Toledo Zoo in 1945 (Source: Wikipedia)
Major General John W. Leonard, Sgt. Alexander Drabik and his parents at the Toledo Zoo in 1945 (Source: Wikipedia)

(WTOL) - Two soldiers from Toledo share a special place in the history of World War Two, when their lives came together in 1945 to change the course of history.

The story starts at a small bridge in south Toledo over Swan Creek, the Leonard and Drabik Memorial Bridge.

Who were Leonard and Drabik?

It turns out, it was at another bridge, in Germany, where the men really made a name for themselves.

In 1945, the Ludedorff Bridge at Ramegan, was the last bridge over the Rhine that Hitler hadn't blown up to stop the allies advance and keep them from crossing into German territory.

Needless to say, the allies were desperate to take the bridge.

On March 7, 1945, the allies made their move. As the Germans attempted to blow it up, Sgt. Alexander Drabik, from Holland, OH, began a daring sprint across the 380 foot span, with ten soldiers following him.

The men ran from girder to girder as they dodged German gunfire.

In a rare film from shortly after the bridge was taken, Sgt. Drabik spoke about his exploits.

"We are about 50 yards to the end of the bridge when we received machine gun fire from the tunnel," said Drabik.

It took all of fifteen minutes, but Drabik and his squad were able to make it over the bridge, and thus became the first Americans to make it across the Rhine River.

The bridge secured, tanks and troops of the 9th Armored Divison were able to cross over within hour and gain a foothold in Germany.

Drabik and the other soldiers became overnight heroes.

"It is all owed to the gallantry of those men whose names should never be forgotten," said General Dwight Eisenhower about the heroes' actions at the Ludedorff Bridge that day.

But this man who did so much in the cause of freedom was a modest man would return home to Toledo after the war, to resume his work as a meat cutter.

A reluctant hero, the son of Polish immigrants was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, second highest military award that can be given to a member of the Army for extreme gallantry and risk of life in combat.

Tragically, Alexander Drabik died in a car accident in 1993 on his way to a reunion of fellow soldiers.

But let's not forget about General John Leonard, another Toledo native, and highly decorated war hero. Where did Leonard play into this story.

Leonard happened to be in command of the 9th armored Division at Ramegan, Drabik's division.

Two men from Toledo, who came together at a critical time and place, to change the course of history.

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