The movie/film rights to LEFT FOR DEAD AT NIJMEGEN are now available for the first time. With the book publication scheduled for early 2019 through Casemate Publishers, we are in a position to entertain offers and can execute an Option.
It was a dreary November, 1942 day in a math class at DeKalb, Illinois, High School. The protagonist, Gene Metcalfe, was waiting for Mr. Hoppe to finish entering everyone’s homework assignments. When he discovered Gene didn’t turn in his assignment he asked:
“Mr. Metcalfe, just how do you expect to graduate in June if you don’t do your homework?”
Gene’s response left Hoppe and his classmates speechless as he stood and announced he didn’t plan to graduate because he had joined the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment and was reporting for duty the next morning. He quickly left the room and began an absolutely amazing, at times spell-binding and always harrowing adventure.
About three years later Gene would find himself in a darkened Elks Club in DeKalb watching a few men playing cards. After a little time passed he realized one of the players was Mr. Hoppe who was, once again, his math teacher. Time passed and Hoppe paid him no attention until he lifted his playing cards to his nose and with his eyes peering out from behind them looked at Gene and asked: “Gene, did you do your homework tonight?” Gene, smiling broadly, replied: “Yes sir, I most certainly did.”
Movie ends on that note; as it actually happened.
In between the two events with Mr. Hoppe, Gene endured all manner of delays in achieving his graduation from Parachute School. In the process he missed the paratroop jumps in North Africa, Italy and D-Day as he didn’t arrive in England until June 6, 1944. About three and one half months later he was pulled from the hospital by an over-bearing sergeant who lacked the authorization to do so and was sent off on the first plane to drop its paratroopers at Nijmegen, Holland at the start of Operation Market Garden. Gene was officially listed as AWOL as a result of the sergeant’s action.
Once on the ground Gene found himself a key member the first combat patrol sent against the road bridge at Nijmegen. Along the trek to the bridge his patrol captured, and eliminated, a pair of elderly German soldiers. Shortly thereafter they found themselves facing a Tiger Tank which came within inches of Gene’s boots while playing a game of “pheasant hunting” with Gene’s patrol. A little while later Gene and his Lieutenant came face-to-face with a trigger happy German carrying a burp gun who emptied his entire clip at them, and missed. Finally, within blocks of the road bridge they encountered an entrenched German defense possessed with overwhelming firepower.
In the ensuing firefight Gene suffered a concussion and a blown-out eardrum when a shell from a German “88” exploded nearby, threw his body into the air and caused him to land, face-down, on the pavement. His best friend ran to the prone Gene, turned him over, realized blood was flowing from his right ear and left Gene for dead at Nijmegen.
Gene later regained consciousness to discover a German “SS” soldier poking a rifle into his stomach, trying to ascertain whether he was, in fact, dead. The German was as startled as Gene when Gene opened his eyes.
Gene was taken to a chamber deep in the recesses of a nearby castle, but not before nearly being executed by an infuriated German. In the bowels of the castle, surrounded by machine gun toting, black uniformed fanatics of the “SS” he was brought before Heinrich Himmler who, with the assistance of an interpreter, conducted an extended interrogation. When Himmler finished the interrogation he directed Gene to take a seat to his left on the plush, red shag-carpeted floor. As Himmler conducted business with a continuous stream of officers Gene found himself dining on polish sausages seeped in a vat of dark mustard, with a hearty brown bread and Belgium marmalade.
A few hours later a pair of “SS” drove him across the bridge in an open staff car and left him with a German medic. After surviving Allied artillery bombardments Gene would spend hours assisting the medic attending to the numerous German casualties. At one point he went to help a seriously wounded, youthful soldier, but when he placed his hand on the injured boy’s back to pick him up, his palm sank into a quagmire of blood and bone.
After surviving air attacks and more artillery bombardments he began an eight month stretch as a prisoner-of-war. At his first POW camp he braved menacing guards to carry a critically wounded paratrooper to the prison camp’s hospital despite the blaring air raid sirens. He wore his newly blood-soaked uniform for the remainder of the war. Decades later he would receive a phone call from the man he carried to the POW hospital, never before knowing if the man had lived.
He survived five days and nights locked in a railroad freight car with dozens of other paratroopers, several of whom perished due to the absence of food, water and medical care. The deadly train trip was the result of the cavalier action taken by a USAAF colonel who didn’t want paratroopers held in a Luftwaffe prisoner of war camp.
At Stalag VII-A he witnessed men killed all because they reached for discarded cigarettes. He watched in horror as German “SS” slaughtered Russian POW’s by the hundreds. He was held back from assisting when Jewish slave laborers were ruthlessly tossed from a passing truck, only to have no choice but to watch a guard shoot them, while another guard pointed a rifle at his head.
He worked as a slave laborer in Munich until he was transferred to a farm where he assumed the role of a farmhand and assistant brewmeister. When the opportunity to escape during a blistering air raid presented itself, Gene and two others ignored the falling bombs and ran off into a nearby forest to begin a trek to Switzerland and freedom.
His companions were killed and after days of no food, little water and exposure to the elements he was faced with the prospect of killing a German sentry with his bare hands in order to continue his escape. The sentry proved to be only one of a quick succession of obstacles resulting in his recapture and being thrown into a Munich prison. But not before he would encounter a beautiful young German woman on the train ride to the Munich prison who implored him to come and stay with her and her family the moment the war was over. She handed him her address.
In the Munich prison he met a French doctor who left Gene with the address of his villa in Paris. Weeks later, when Patton’s tanks appeared and blasted open the gates to his Stalag, he took advantage of the situation and decided to take a walk. He intended to visit Munich, first, then continue to Paris and stay with his doctor-friend.
On his walk he encountered a furious General Patton engaged in a stare-down with a dangerously exhausted tank commander, followed by running directly into a column of Germans being led by a Colonel who proved anxious to surrender. He turned down the Colonel’s surrender offer as Gene explained he had things to do and, instead, directed the Colonel to keep marching up the road and bivouac his men in a firehouse and wait until someone comes along to pick them up.
Eventually he reached Paris where he and the doctor had a very good time before Gene decided it was time to go home.
Contact Marcus A. Nannini at MarcusNannini@aol.com
copyright Marcus A. Nannini, 2017/18