About a year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and with Europe embroiled in war, Congress instated the country’s first peace-time draft for all eligible men between the ages of 21 and 45.
One of the names selected was Bill Metcalf, who was drafted in April 1941. “I wasn’t disturbed by it or anything, because war was inevitable,” Metcalf said, later adding, “It was such a routine thing during those years.”
He began basic training in Texas two months later, and it was there he learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was off base with a small group of privates when military police arrived to bring them back to base to share the news.
“It certainly meant war,” he said. “Pearl Harbor was in American possession.
He requested to go to officer candidate school shortly after. He liked leadership and knew he was qualified for the position thanks to the cadet program he participated in while attending high school in Washington, D.C.
After graduating from officer school in 1942, he was stationed in Panama for more than a year before heading to North Africa. From there, he shipped to Italy and spent the remainder of the war in Europe.
Specific battles and experiences don’t stand out from his recollections of his time fighting with the 17th Airborne Division. “It was just what I had to do at the time,” Metcalf said.
He remembers crossing the Rhine from Italy on a glider and crash landing. From there, he helped capture Berlin, which contributed to the war’s end. “It wasn’t real bloody,” Metcalf said of taking Berlin. “By that time Germans were just about ready to surrender. They knew it was over.”
After more than four years of service without a chance to see his family, Metcalf welcomed the capture of Berlin. “I was pretty happy about it because it meant the end of the war and of course getting back home,” he said.
He returned to Washington & Lee University for his law degree after the war and spent 22 years as a special agent with the FBI before practicing as an attorney in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Jackie, married in 1946 and had four children. The couple retired to Bedford in 1989 before moving to Lynchburg in 1995.
As an officer, he commanded a company of soldiers involved with infantry, tanks and anti-aircraft artillery. “It was quite a bit of pressure because I certainly wanted to have a small, if any, loss of life,” he said. “We were very fortunate.”
He described the war as a dangerous experience. “It was bloody and fierce,” he said. “The Germans were pretty good soldiers, too.”
Mr. Metcalf passed away on Aug. 21, 2014. He was 96.
Remember Those Who Served
The Greatest Generations Foundation