Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bible Belonging to Downed WWII Pilot Returned to His Family After 71 Years

I recently had the rewarding experience of tracking down the nephew of an American aviator who was killed in WWII and returning a New Testament that was presented to the pilot by his church in 1942.

The Terryville (Connecticut) Congregational Church presented the pocket-size New Testament (see photos below) to Lt. Earle Gilbert Metcalf in June 1942. Lt. Metcalf flew B-24 Liberator bombers in the 703rd Squadron, 445th Bomb Group, 8th Army Air Corps. He and his crew went missing and were presumed dead when their bomber, “Billy Babe #427523,” disappeared over the North Sea on Feb. 2, 1944.

The bodies of Lt. Metcalf and his crew were never recovered. He is honored with monuments in the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in England, and the Hillside Cemetery in Terryville.
Marker in memory of Lt. Metcalf in Terryville, CT.

In April of this year, I noticed the Bible while looking at World War II items on eBay. While I generally focus on postcards, this item piqued my interest. I bought the Bible and, with a little internet research, located Lt. Metcalf’s nephew and namesake, Earle Robert (Rob) Metcalf of Waunakee, Wisconsin, and gave him the Bible.

No one knows for sure where the Bible has been for the past 70 years. Rob Metcalf says it might have been inadvertently left in the family home in Connecticut when Lt. Metcalf’s parents moved out or, more likely, Lt. Metcalf passed it along to a comrade whose family eventually disposed of it.

Rob Metcalf has done a great deal of research on his uncle. Lt. Metcalf’s unit was commanded by the actor Jimmy Stewart, who served in the Army Air Corps during the war. Lt. Metcalf and his crew flew a bomber named “Nine Yanks and a Jerk” from the United States to Britain via South America and Africa. Rob Metcalf’s research indicates Stewart sometimes flew that aircraft. Read more about Jimmy Stewart's service here

The story of the 703rd Squadron is told in the book, “A Reason to Live,” by John Harold Robinson (1921-2011), who was a Staff Sergeant in the unit. Robinson shared a hut with Earl Doggett, who was a member of Lt. Metcalf’s crew. One of Doggett's relatives has a blog that includes photos of Lt. Metcalf and his crew.

These pocket New Testaments were common during WWII. They included a message from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some had a metal cover and were called "Heart Shield Bibles."

A very similar case of a WWII Bible being returned to the family occurred in England a few months ago. Read about it here

The person who sold me the Bible said he got it from a veteran in Maine who collected WWII Bibles. He had several other, similar Bibles for sale, but so far I've been unable to find any family members of the men whose names appear in them. But maybe if I keep searching . . .

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