World War II veterans known as the “Iron Men of Metz” for their unshakable will to liberate a French town will have a Columbus bridge named in their honor Friday.
Veterans of the U.S. Army 95th Division — Infantry Company I will be honored at a 1 p.m. ceremony at the Clifty Creek bridge on U.S. 31, just south of 10th Street and Taylor Road.
The event is open to the public, and parking is available in lots south of the bridge on either side of the highway.
During World War II, the division earned its nickname by engaging in a monthlong confrontation with Nazi forces that ended in liberation of the town of Metz, France, just 30 miles southeast of the German border.
After taking the city, American troops captured a Nazi general who, before formally surrendering the city, said the 95th Division must be made of iron because the Germans fought with all they had and the city had never before been captured — giving the 95th Division the moniker “The Iron Men of Metz.”
This week, local resident Charles “Red” Whittington, a member of the 95th Division, is hosting his comrades and their families who are attending the dedication.
Each year, 95th Division I company veterans and their families gather for a reunion in the hometown of one of its members.
Whittington’s granddaughter, Kristin Whittington, was instrumental in orchestrating the bridge dedication as a tribute to her grandfather’s service and to the service of the men in his division.
“This all started as a result of my niece,” said Julie Schuette, Kristin Whittington’s aunt. “She wanted to do this as a gift or dedication of her grandpa’s service.”
Kristin Whittington said she originally looked for a stretch of highway to be dedicated but ran into complications when searching for unnamed stretches of road in the area.
During her discussions with state Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, Whittington said the idea of dedicating a bridge instead of a roadway was brought up.
She then mentioned the idea to her grandfather to obtain his approval.
“I approached him and said, ‘How about a bridge instead?’ and he thought it was a wonderful idea,” Kristin Whittington said.
The woman has attended I Company and 95th Division reunions with her grandfather for many years, including one in the city of Metz, and said she enjoyed learning little-known facts about history.
“I found it very exciting,” she said. “I learned a lot through his World War II comrades, things that you would never find in a history book.”
“Kristin really did a lot of work,” Charles Whittington said.
Kristin Whittington said she came up with the idea of a dedication for her grandfather’s division about two years ago.
She worked closely with Smith, House Speaker Brian Bosma’s office, Gov. Mike Pence’s office and Indiana Department of Transportation officials to finalize the idea for the bridge dedication.
Beginning Thursday, visiting 95th Division and I Company members will participate in various activities around Columbus, including a visit to the local farmers market and a tour of the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum at the Columbus Municipal Airport.
“It’s going to be quite an honor for our division,” Charles Whittington said of the bridge dedication. “It’s going to be something that is going to be there for a long time.”