Valley WWII veteran gets special ride in 1943 plane thanks to local charity

Posted at 7:21 PM, Dec 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-12 22:01:41-05

PHOENIX — A small plane, built in 1943, took off from Queen Creek on Wednesday. Its special passenger was even older than the aircraft.

The 1943 Fairchild PT-26 was built by the British as a World War II training plane.

"There’s maybe only 100 left in the world of this type," said Tony Anger, who owns one of them. One of his prized possessions also serves another purpose.

"This is my way to give back to the people that [served]," said Anger, who works full time as an American Airlines pilot.

Since starting his veteran's charity, 'Grounded No More, Veteran Flight Lift,' Anger has taken 275 veterans into the clouds.

"Today's a very special ride," Anger said.

His passenger Wednesday was World War II veteran Gene Metcalfe. Just days before his 96th birthday, Metcalfe had no idea he was going to be flying in a plane from WWII.

"I am really so honored and surprised," said the humble veteran.

Metcalfe was a paratrooper in 101st Airborne. He is grateful in a way that only a former Prisoner of War can be.

"In the evening you would say, I hope I see the sunrise. That’s your longevity. We accepted death," he said, reflecting back on his time in German captivity.

Metcalfe was captured after a jump over Holland in 1944. He said his scout team of 20 American soldiers ran into 1,000 Nazis.

He was a prisoner of war for eight months. His captor was Heinrich Himmler, the top Nazi leader who was the architect for the SS (Gestapo) and concentration camps.

Eventually Metcalfe and his fellow POW's were rescued.

"Patton’s 14th Armored [division] came in and blew off our front gate," Metcalfe explained.

When Metcalfe got home his remarkable life continued. He played football at USC, worked for Disney, was an accomplished professional artist, a teacher and even a rancher in Wyoming. He moved to Arizona 30 years ago though and now calls it home. After

Metcalfe returned from the war, he thought his days in 1940's aircrafts were over.

"I never used to land in them. I’ve been up in more planes than I landed in," he said, chuckling.

The 95-year-old only spent about 20 minutes in the air.

"I feel like I’m about 40 years old."

When he was in the little yellow plane though, the veteran said 1943 came rushing back.

"What did it feel like to be in this aircraft?" asked ABC15's Zach Crenshaw"Memories. It's all about memories."

Metcalfe is having a book published about him in 2019, it is called "Left for Dead at Nijmegen: The True Story of an American Paratrooper."