December 19, 2014

Elyria
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World War II veterans reunite in Elyria

ELYRIA — It’s been 63 years since members of the 247th Engineer Combat Battalion began reconstructing a 680-foot bridge over the Maas River in Holland so American soldiers could pursue retreating Nazi soldiers who had blown up the old bridge.

But the passage of years hasn’t dimmed the memories of World War II veterans James Camera of Oberlin, Jim Moretti of West Covina, Calif., and Hyman Margolis, a former Lorain resident who now lives in Florida.

The three vets, along with 19 other members of the 247th battalion, gathered this weekend at the Holiday Inn to celebrate what is expected to be their last reunion.

CARL SULLENBERGER / CHRONICLE
Members of the 247th Combat Engineer Battalion pose during a reunion Saturday at the Holiday Inn in Elyria.

To this day, Moretti can still feel the heft of the steel Bailey bridge sections shipped from England that were used to construct the bridge beginning on Sept. 25, 1944.

One span of the bridge, which was 190 feet long and weighed 284,240 pounds, was constructed in only 36 working hours, according to the battalion’s Web site.

“It was the biggest Bailey bridge built in Europe,” Camera said.

The people of Maastrich, Holland, still use that section of the bridge.

Camera and Margolis first met in elementary school in Lorain, and when it came time to serve, they joined the same battalion composed of soldiers from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

The battalion received battle stars for every campaign in Europe — Normandy, Northern Europe, the Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe, the three men said.

“We were the closest to Berlin of any of the American soldiers,” Margolis said.

Sadly, the battalion’s Silver Star recipient, Jim Schubert, died in the past year at the age of 83.

He was awarded the honor after crawling across a bridge dividing U.S. and German forces to save a soldier struck down by gunfire.

Camera, Margolis and Moretti said they love the reunions, but gathering once a year is getting too difficult for the older vets.

Moretti, who grew up in Chicago, said he was only 18 when he went to war.

“I was shooting my .50-caliber machine gun thinking, ‘What are we doing here? I want to go home,’’’ Moretti recalled.

The battalion’s Web site said its soldiers cleared mines and debris from 35,000 miles of road, patrolled, repaired and maintained about 100,000 miles of road and constructed 5,842 feet of bridges.

Its soldiers, who landed in Normandy shortly after D-Day, were engaged in continuous operation against the enemy from June 13, 1944, to April 25, 1945, in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.

“We lost men, but we survived because we were lucky,” Moretti said.

Contact Cindy Leise at 653-6250 or cleise@chroniclet.com.