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Two US WWII veterans given Dutch military award 75 years after helping to liberate Holland

Gene Metcalfe, a World War II veteran and former POW, salutes the crowd after being awarded the Military Order of William in Groesbeek, Netherlands, Sept. 18, 2019. Sitting at right is Richard Blankenship who accepted the award on behalf of his late father, Robert C. Blankenship.

ETHAN VALETSKI/U.S. ARMY

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 20, 2019

Dutch paratroopers jumped onto an old World War II battleground this week to present a Dutch military award to an American veteran and the son of another who helped liberate the Netherlands from Nazi Germany.

Army WWII veterans Gene Metcalfe and Robert C. Blankenship, who themselves parachuted into Groesbeek, Netherlands, 75 years ago, were recognized Wednesday with the Orange Lanyard of the Military Order of William.

Blankenship’s son Richard accepted the award for his father, who died of a heart attack in 1970.

The men were serving with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division when they dropped into the Groesbeek region as part of Operation Market Garden on September 17, 1944. The campaign eventually led to the liberation of Dutch cities from Nazi German occupation.

“It is a lot more pleasurable than it was 75 years ago,” Metcalfe was quoted as saying in a U.S. Army account of the event. “The Dutch people are just so grateful. It’s just like coming home.”

Metcalfe, who was 22 years old at the time, was wounded by an enemy artillery round during a firefight with a German tank division, and was taken as a prisoner of war.

“This is beyond anything I could have imagined. Seventy-five years ago, they don’t even know you’re alive and now everyone wants to get to know you and show their appreciation,” he said.

Robert Blankenship, on the other hand, had been in the first boat of an assault wave to cross the Waal River during a daring daylight operation to take back enemy territory.

“As the next set of boats was preparing to land, an enemy machine gun opened fire from their left flank, wounding several men and pinning down the larger landing,” the Army account stated.

Robert Blankenship crossed 100 yards of open terrain, getting to within 50 yards of the machine gun. He took aim with his rifle and killed the four-man crew.

He then tackled a nearby German sniper, knocking him unconscious with his fists.

His actions earned him the Silver Star in December 1944.

“We really didn’t know much about his story as kids growing up,” his son said. “He never talked about his time in the war, not until the final few years before he passed.”

The Orange Lanyard award was pinned onto Metcalfe’s coat and Richard Blankenship was given the award in a small display case.

news@stripes.com

Dutch musicians of the 11th Airmobile Brigade, play during the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden and the presentation of the Military Order of William to WWII veterans in Groesbeek, the Netherlands on Sept. 18, 2019.
ETHAN VALETSKI/U.S. ARMY

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