Fifty Eight Years after the Remagen Bridge
By Catherine Tsounis
Stories of valor are generated during wartime. Young men accomplish daring acts. Returning home, working, having a family are concerns that bury these wartime experiences. One often wonders, what happened to these heroes. George (Anastaselis) Aneson, a quiet, soft-spoken man recently shared with us his exciting act of bravery at the Ludendorff Bridge collapse at Remagen, Germany during W.W. II.
In the winter of 1945, engineers were repairing damages on the Remagen Bridge. This was the first road into Germany. The bridge suddenly collapsed. The engineers were plunged into the icy Rhine River. Staff sergeant George Aneson, standing on the shore, saw his comrades struggling in the current. In a split second, he plunged into the waters. He tied the engineers together with a rope from shore, preventing them from being swept away. The Sergeant then helped them reach the shore. A television movie on “The Remagen Bridge” and other W.W.II movies have shown this incredible act. The senior citizen who lives with his wife, Fotini, in Peconic, L.I. rarely speaks of this act of bravery.
In 1945 New York City, George Aneson was credited as an “American Hero”.
Students and teachers from his former school of John J. Pershing J.H.S., said in a letter dated March 31, 1945 that “we are very proud of your deed of heroism. When you jumped into the Rhine River to rescue those two engineers, you did not think of your own safety, but the safety of those two men. Your alertness, courage and unselfishness set an example to every one of us in Pershing.”
Pershing J.H.S. Isabelle F. Forst summarized the viewpoint of W.W.II America saying, “all are over with pride of your brave deed. Peter, your brother, brought the account to school. I knew you would do good things in life. I didn’t know that you would do the great thing of freely offering your life and strength to another in his need. You did a very brave thing and while bravery has become almost a commonplace in these times, still yours had a very special quality. You were spontaneously answering the call of another’s need. It is the kind of act which excites our love as much as our admiration.”
Rev. and Presvitera Demetrios Frangos, fellow compatriots from his native island of Greek island of Imvros, Turkey, wrote to his parents, Mr. And Mrs. Anastaselis that with “great joy we read in the newspaper Herald of George’s accomplishments. We congratulate you, the parents, for having a unique child. We admire George and hope he accomplishes all his dreams. George will someday become the pride of Hellenism our beloved island of Imvros.”
Walter Cronkite showed a video of Sgt. Aneson’s act of bravery in one of his news reports. General Westmoreland was one of the soldiers watching George’s act of bravery. Years later he awarded him the highest honor “The Soldier’s Medal”. Ethnic newspapers such as the “Swedish North Star” (Nordstieinan) and National Jewish Welfare Board of New York wrote the young soldier asking him if he was one of their own. George said, “we were suppose to be dropped in Greece, as the MIT (Military Intelligence). Instead, the British went to Greece. My participation was shifted to the Normandy invasion in1942, that led to action at the Remagen Bridge.”
WHO IS HE
Who exactly is George Aneson? He immigrated to the United State with his family in 1936 from Imvros, turkey. The island is seven miles from Limnos, Greece, near the Dardanelles’ straits. Within five years, he graduated Central High School o Needle Trades as valedictorian. This was an amazing accomplishment in 1940’s New York City. He was known as a quiet youth, a good student and a leader among his classmates. These are traits that have marked George (Anastaselis) Aneson’s life.
After his heroic deed at the Remagen Bridge, he returned to civilian life, married and became a furrier. He raised an American family of two children in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. His first wife, Mary, died young and he remarried. His present wife is Fotini, who is a native of Imvros. He worked diligently as an American businessman, He helped his two children, and Sophie and John become medical doctors. George dedicated his life to his community, through the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. When his fellow Imvrian, Iakovos, became Archbishop in the mid 1950’s, he began unpaid, philanthropic work promoting good citizenship till our present time. George and Fotini have played an integral role in the growth of the first Greek Orthodox church on the East End of Long island: the Transfiguration of Christ in Mattituck. He was a parish council board member of Holy Cross Church in Bay Ridge Brooklyn and the Transfiguration church in Mattituck, L.I. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople has awarded the senior citizen the honor of Archon Exarhos.
He is unable to forget his Hellenic roots in Imvros. “A cousin of mine was stolen from the family as a child. He was trained to be a genitsaros. They were Christians who were educated and given places of honor in the Ottoman Turkish Empire. My cousin was called Sava Pasha and made a governor of the Aegean islands. As a major government official, he returned to Imvros and helped his family economically,” he said.
George makes it very clear that when he was born in Agridia, Imvros was a Greek island. On October 12, 1923In 1922, the island was given to Turkey as part of the Treaty of Laussane, in the aftermath of the Asia Minor Catastrophe. “The Turkish flag was raised over the island from my Father’s boar. We were forgotten and deserted. My father was a sailor who jumped ship in New Orleans and went to Alaska. He enlisted in the U.S. army in W.W. I and became an American citizen.”
George Aneson through the years has served as president of the pan-Imvrian Society. On Oct. 12, 2003, George and his wife, Fotini, returned to Imvros. “I telephoned His Eminence, Archbishop Iakovos, and told him a trisagion (memorial service) was performed at his parent’s grave site. Imvros is today a Turkish island that has been renamed Gokceada.
The Anesons participated on Aug. 15th in a traditional meal that included Christian and Moslem islanders. “Cattle were slaughtered. A soup was made and shared by all,” he said. They stayed at Fotini’s ancestral home in a neighborhood that now has abandoned Greek homes. George explained, “our photos mean the most to us. It is all we have of Imvros and the memories of our ancestors. In 1922, 8,000 inhabitants lived on the island. Today, only 250 Greeks inhabit Imvros. The Turkish government has signs all over the island saying ‘welcome to Imvros.’ Greek tourism is a major trade.” Many of the former islanders live in Limnos, Thessalonica, Athens and the United States. They return to the island annually, living in their ancestral homes. The capital city was called Panayia. Modern homes are being constructed signally a regrowth of the island’s economy. The Greek dialect of Imvros and neighboring Limnos has the same ancient Greek roots.
Almost sixty years after “The Remagen Bridge” act of valor, George Aneson continues to live a life of community service to the United States. He donates his time to the Greek Orthodox Church and the Pan-Imvrian Association, perpetuating his Greek roots. He is part of “the Greatest Generation, the children of European immigrants who saved the world for Democracy. George Aneson’s heroic act of saving fellow American soldiers in action was a prelude of a remarkable life of community service. W.W. II veterans are role models to their grandchildren who must continue their work into the 21st century.