Bertrand (Sinker) Robinson and Eugene Metcalfe never met during their imprisonment in the Nazi POW Stalag 7A in Moosberg, Germany.
Years later, their paths crossed through Robinson’s son, Tim, who moved to Fountain Hills and had become friends with Metcalfe.
Jack Fedor, founder of the Warbirds Unlimited Foundation, facilitated their meeting after he learned of Robinson’s military experiences at Fountain Hills Barber Shop.
“He (Tim) mentioned that his father had been shot down during the war…It’s like peeling an onion,” said Fedor, who salutes World War II veterans by telling their stories and posting their photos to ensure that their contributions are not forgotten.
It is estimated that fewer than 600,000 World War II veterans are surviving. The “Greatest Generation” is losing approximately 350 individuals daily.
The elder Robinson was an aerial turret gunner with the 15th Air Force. The B-24 Liberator bomber had departed Italy on a mission to Hungary on March 8, 1945. He was not seriously wounded but did suffer a broken arm from bailing out. When he was taken prisoner, his parachute had been punctured by 15 bullet holes.
His parents were notified March 26, 1945 that Robinson and his crew failed to return to the base.
He was among the 65,000 prisoners liberated April 29, 1945 by the 103rd Army liberation team. After a week in France and picking up wounded in Southampton, England, Robinson headed to the U.S.
Years later, a historian in his hometown of Burlington, Iowa, taped an interview with Robinson about his wartime experiences. The Warbirds Unlimited Foundation has a copy available for public viewing.
Tim never watched the video until earlier this year, some 10 years after his father’s death.
It was not until then that he learned about his dad’s military career. He had distinguished himself while on a bombing run over Munich. Two bombs hung up in the racks while the remainder hurtled toward their target. The bombs broke through their shackles and crashed through the bomb bay doors.
Robinson and two others descended into the bomb bay and attempted to fix the doors. After a half hour during which he was suspended in 18,000 feet of open air, they wired closed the doors and the plane continued its mission.
On another occasion, he was called upon to wire the bay doors closed with chicken wire.
Robinson received a Purple Heart, Presidential Citation, Air Medal and two oak leaf clusters.
In the video interview, he recalled two close calls during a 45-day trip in a boxcar filled with 16 American prisoners enroute to the Moosberg camp.
He regarded himself fortunate for being captured at the end of the war. Prisoners received Red Cross care packages and “had a good place to sleep.”
The happiest day of his life was being liberated, he said.
“You’ll never know our feelings when we saw the American flag flying,” Robinson said on the video. “Veterans never talked about what they did in the war. Who would believe it?
“They saw things that no 18- or 19-year-old person should ever have to see. They have done things that no 18- or 19-year-old should have to experience.”
A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, Eugene (Gene) Metcalfe was dropped behind German enemy lines in Operation Market Garden in Holland on Sept. 17, 1944.
He was captured the next day 45 miles behind the enemy line. He lost his hearing when an explosion damaged his eardrum.
He spent nine months in the same POW camp where Robinson was imprisoned. For the last two years, Metcalfe has been writing a book, “Left for Dead at Nijmegen.” It is scheduled to be released next month.
Metcalfe, a town resident for 30 years, was briefly employed as a Walt Disney animator after the war. He felt his creativity was stymied so he returned to college and became an art teacher and basketball, baseball and football coach.
The friendship between Metcalfe and Tim Robinson developed over a beer and relating to World War II experiences.