Seventy five years after their World War II ordeal, Eugene (Gene) Metcalfe, 96, and his 97-year-old colleague, Ray Meade, were together again Aug. 16 to receive an assortment of medals for their bravery and valor.
American Legion Post 58 hosted the standing-room ceremony at which Metcalfe finally received the Purple Heart for injuries he received in the Dutch city of Nijmegen and several other awards. Several medals also were belatedly presented to Meade, of Oregon.
“This is truly what the American Legion is doing and should be doing more of. This is known as veterans taking care of veterans,” said Legion Commander John Weedo. “Both men left the Army more than 70 years ago without being recognized for their combat service.”
Metcalfe and Meade were members of Company C, Third Battalion, 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
Metcalfe left the Army in September 1945 after receiving only seven of 19 earned medals. In addition to the Purple Heart medal received Aug. 16, he received the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, Prisoner of War unit, Presidential Unit citation and French Legion of Honor.
Meade was awarded 13 of 18 medals due to him before he returned to civilian life in January 1946. The new medals bestowed upon him included the Bronze Star and Presidential Unit citation.
“This is much more than I expected,” Meade said.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Metcalfe added. “I wouldn’t believe this in 100 years, to have my family (and friends here).”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported that 496,777 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2018.
Marcus Nannini wrote Metcalfe's biography, “Left for Dead at Nijmegen: The True Story of an American Paratrooper in WWII.” He attended the ceremony with copies of the book for Metcalfe and Meade to autograph.
On Sept. 18, 1944, the unit was ordered to attack under Operation Market Garden outside Nijijanen.
Their patrol came under attack by Germans. Metcalfe did not hear the order to pull back and he continued firing at the Germans.
When Meade realized that Metcalfe did not hear the order to retreat, he pursued him, only to see a shell explode near Metcalfe and throw his body high in the air.
“I rolled him over and noticed blood coming from his right ear and assumed the worse,” Meade is quoted as saying in the book.
Believing that Metcalfe was dead, Meade fell back with the rest of the men in his patrol.
The Americans were unaware that Metcalfe had lived, was captured and imprisoned by the Germans until May 1945.