THE NAME OF VITIE ATKOCIUS OF FORESTVILLE WAS MISSPELLED IN LAST THURSDAY'S EXTRA IN AN ARTICLE ABOUT A REUNION OF THE 83RD INFANTRY DIVISION, WHICH FOUGHT IN FIVE MAJOR CAMPAIGNS IN EUROPE DURING WORLD WAR II. (PUBLISHED 06/17/99)
In April 1945, Roy T. Dodge was on the banks of the Elbe River with his combat engineer battalion, trying to establish a bridgehead that would allow the 83rd Infantry Division to cross the river, one of the final barriers on the U.S. Army's march toward Berlin.
Word came that another Army unit, the 2nd Armored Division, had been forced to withdraw from its bridgehead on the river after a German counterattack.
The commander of the 83rd Division, Gen. Robert Macon, sought out Dodge. "You're not going to let that make a difference here, are you?" the general said to Dodge, who commanded the engineer battalion.
Dodge did not. The 83rd Division's bridgehead over the Elbe was established and held, giving the U.S. Army a clear shot to Berlin.
On Sunday, the 55th anniversary of D-Day, Dodge was one of a group of more than 50 veterans from the 83rd who gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to dedicate a memorial to the division.
Dodge was to go on to face many other challenges in his life, not the least of which was to help build Washington's Metro system. After retiring from the Army Corps of Engineers in 1967, Dodge served as chief engineer for Metro until 1978, years in which Washington's subway system was born.
But the bridgehead on the Elbe holds a special place in Dodge's memories.
"We did that in 24 hours in darkness," said Dodge, 81, who now lives in a retirement home at Fort Belvoir. "We're now 32 years into building Metro."
Surrounded by family members, friends and tourists at Sunday's memorial service, the veterans unveiled a granite stone with a plaque bearing the division's thunderbolt insignia. They also laid a wreath on Gen. Macon's nearby grave.
There were prayers remembering comrades who had died more than a half-century earlier. And there were stories recalling the 83rd's accomplishments.
The division fought in five major campaigns, including Normandy, Brittany, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe. Over the course of the war, the 83rd took some of the heaviest casualties of any Army division, with 3,600 killed and nearly 12,000 wounded.
The division landed at Normandy on June 19, 1944, and was engaged in heavy fighting as U.S. forces tried to break out.
"During the days we fought in the hedgerows, progress was slow and casualties high," said Elford A. Cederberg, a division veteran and former congressman from Michigan.
Vitie Atkovius, a resident of Forestville, described how he patted himself all over his body to make sure he was in one piece after being grazed in the head by a bullet during the Normandy fighting. "It bled like hell, but I was all right," he said.
The division accepted the surrender of 20,000 Germans at Brittany, moved into Luxembourg and participated in the Battle of the Bulge.
"The Bulge was the worst for me," said Rudolph Zamula, an 83rd veteran who lives in Potomac. "It was so damn cold, and our losses were very heavy."
The division was best known by a nickname given to it by war correspondents -- the "Rag-Tag Circus." It stemmed from orders Macon had given that the division could supplement its transport with anything that moved. This came to include many captured German vehicles, among them jeeps, tanks, motorbikes, buses and two fire engines.
"Out in front, with infantrymen hanging all over it, was one of the firetrucks. On its rear bumper was a large, flapping banner. It read, `Next Stop: Berlin,' " author Cornelius Ryan wrote about the division in "The Last Battle."
But Dodge, addressing his fellow veterans Sunday, said the Rag-Tag nickname "belittled what we accomplished."
During the final drive on Berlin, the division marched 225 miles in 18 days. "We kept pace with `Hell on Wheels,' " Dodge noted, referring to the famed 2nd Armored Division.
The division was ordered to halt its advance April 12, 1945, and Soviet troops went on to capture Berlin.
The 83rd "was fully prepared to go into Berlin, but for political reasons did not," said John Prinzi, the unit's historian.
CAPTION: At Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday, a bugler plays taps at a memorial ceremony honoring the Army's 83rd Infantry Division.