THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo
On March 5, 1945, Army Sgt. Alexander Drabik became the first Allied soldier to cross the Rhine River in Germany.
His feat, which involved braving machine gun fire to lead 10 men across the last surviving bridge on the Rhine, earned him the Distinguished Service Cross for "extraordinary heroism for action against the enemy" and "unflinching valor," and a place in history.
Saturday, it earned him -- or rather his birthplace -- an Ohio Historical Society Marker on the property that once held his family home in Sylvania Township.
The dedication of the "Birthplace of Alexander Drabik, 1910-1993" marker drew 150 people to the property at 9336 Wolfinger Rd. to pay homage to a war hero, fittingly, on Memorial Day weekend.
Among them was Wesley Falls, a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War and Purple Heart recipient, who will be the grand marshal in Sylvania's Memorial Day Parade tomorrow.
Mr. Falls, who is president of the Diehn Post of the American Legion, said he wanted to show his respect for Mr. Drabik's service and was delighted at the turnout.
The event drew many relatives of Mr. Drabik, including his daughter, Rita Wilson, who said she was gratified at the official recognition of the old homestead property.
Her father, she said, was not a self-promoter. "He would have been humbled by the honor, but he would have enjoyed it," she said.
The marker cost about $4,000, which was privately raised over three years, said Jacqueline Konwinski, one of the organizers of the dedication ceremony. It tells Mr. Drabik's story, from his birth in a log cabin that is long gone from the site though his wartime exploits. The uninhabited property on which the marker stands remains in the Drabik family.
Robert Lucas, a member of the historical society's development board, said the new marker was the 59th in Lucas County. The state has more than 1,300, he added.
Mr. Drabik, a meat cutter in civilian life, died in an auto accident en route to a reunion of his Army unit. He was 82.
Mr. Drabik's niece Phyllis Lesinski told the group that her uncle was "tall and lanky and shy and quiet." She recalled happy girlhood summers spent on the rural property.
"Uncle Alex was a presence in my life then," she said.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) recalled that her family and the Drabik family knew each other well.
She said Mr. Drabik, whose parents were Polish immigrants, had the love of liberty that characterizes Poles and people of Polish ancestry.
"When I look at the life of Alexander Drabik, I think of a flame of the love of liberty that he carried in his heart. … We are very humbled to stand in his presence and to take part in this ceremony today," she said.
Contact Carl Ryan at: email@example.com or 419-724-6050.