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WWII Vet Experiences Next Airborne Operation 69 Years Later
by U.S. Army Master Sgt. David Johnson - August 20, 2015

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Andrew Michael Foltin, 91 years old, shown here in his Army uniform in 1944.COLUMBUS, Ohio - Andrew Michael Foltin waited 69 years to experience his next airborne operation. Now, a day with active paratroopers elated the 91-year-old paratrooper.

Since a stroke in earlier in 2014, Foltin speaks only a little, but nods his head and does expatiate on subjects when he feels the need to explain things. However, on Sept. 24, 2014 ... Foltin was almost too excited to say anything when invited to watch two Army Reserve units conduct an airborne jump in greater Columbus. The circumstances were unexpected and so were the memories that the event likely conjured.

Almost seven decades had passed since then Army Pvt. Andrew Foltin cut a striking figure as a paratrooper and gliderist with the 2nd Battalion, 187th Glider Infantry Regiment, 11th Airborne Division. In the early months of 1945, he had taken part in three airborne missions in the Philippines. One mission, according to Foltin's niece, Lynette Sopko, was routine, one was amphibious and the third jump resulted in a serious injury as the paratroopers were ambushed by the enemy when they landed on the drop zone.

Foltin witnessed his best friend killed immediately, as many of his comrades were wounded or killed. Wounded himself, Foltin would later wake up in an Army hospital in Texas, where he remained for three months.

Coincidentally, Foltin's brother, John Folton, also served in the Army in World War II.

“In those days,” said Sopko, “the Army spelled names like they sounded. They put Folton with an ‘o' on my Dad's uniform and records. He just left his name as Folton ever since, for the rest of his life until he passed away in 2008.”

Sopko learned about Foltin's days as a paratrooper from her father.

“We knew he was a paratrooper, but he never talked much about it,” said Sopko. “My dad told me about the final mission and how Uncle Andy lost so many of his friends.”

Foltin was discharged on April 13, 1945, after serving honorably in World War II. Returning home to Cleveland where he worked hard all his life in blue-collar jobs, Foltin never married. He also never forgot those days with the 11th Airborne Division, either.

Sixty-nine long years passed. Still, Foltin longed to be a part of an airborne jump again.

Foltin had a stroke in 1994 and was hospitalized in a VA hospital for three years. In 1997, he came to live with his brother and family in Parma, Ohio. Finally, the back pain from years of hard work and airborne jumps caught up with Foltin, prompting a visit to the hospital, where he met Army Captain Justin Stafford, a physician's assistant at University Hospitals Parma Medical Center in Parma, Ohio.

“He came into the emergency room with back pain,” said Stafford. “Mr. Foltin's niece, Lynette, stated she surmises the pain was generated from his airborne jumps a long time ago.”

Immediately, Stafford inquired into Foltin's airborne jumps.

“I told him that I, too, am a paratrooper,” said Stafford, a member of the 412th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), based in Columbus, Ohio.

The two paratroopers struck up a conversation about airborne operations while Stafford was treating Foltin's back pain. It was then that Sopko mentioned to Stafford if it was possible for her uncle to participate in a tandem parachute jump for his 90th birthday. However, she and her family learned how hard that would be physically on him, and were advised against it.

“I knew it was very important for him,” said Sopko, “to see an airborne operation again; to relive those paratrooper memories he has.”

Instead, Stafford suggested Foltin attend an airborne jump with the 412th and a plan was hatched. Stafford worked out details of the jump with Sgt. 1st Class Paul Schweikert, jumpmaster of the 346th Psychological Operations Company (Airborne) out of Whitehall, Ohio.

On Sept. 24, 2014 ... Foltin got his wish. He saw paratroopers again — live in action — for the first time since 1945. Active members of the 412th and 346th conversed with Foltin throughout the day. Foltin also met the flight crew from the 440th Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit based in Pope Army Airfield in North Carolina.

Left to right: Capt. Justin Stafford, Andrew Foltin, and the Executive Officer of 412th, Maj. Josef Freer, a jumpmaster, pose with the World War II paratrooper before the joint night jump for the 346th Psychological Operations Company and the 412th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) on Sept 24, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. David Johnson)
Left to right: Capt. Justin Stafford, Andrew Foltin, and the Executive Officer of 412th, Maj. Josef Freer, a jumpmaster, pose with the World War II paratrooper before the joint night jump for the 346th Psychological Operations Company and the 412th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) on Sept 24, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. David Johnson)

Before the jump, Stafford arranged for Foltin to visit the 412th to receive a certificate and a plaque, presented to him while his family watched. Foltin nodded with excitement during the presentation. Sopko is unaware if Foltin ever received any awards or recognition while he was in the Army.

After the special ceremony, the afternoon light traded with evening twilight as the combined 346th and 412th element prepared from the night jump.

Near dusk, Foltin watched 30 jumpers descend in the darkness at Don Scott Airfield, Ohio State Airport. Because of chemical lights attached to the paratroopers' ankles, he could see them land on the soft grass of the drop zone.

Then the final stick of jumpers deplaned as the last streams of light shone off the C-130 Hercules. Following with his eyes, Foltin looked past the shadows. Perhaps he thought of the war and a time when he had helped shoulder a weight shared by so many other Soldiers. He didn't say.

“We need to focus on remembrance and maintain,” said Stafford. “We remember what they did for us and for our country, and for that, we are grateful. We also need to ensure that veterans like Mr. Foltin know that we — the current generation of paratroopers — are continuing in their footsteps. They set the standard for us to follow. We will work hard to maintain their legacy and tell others about them.”

Foltin and his family left Don Scott Airfield late in the evening, a very happy group indeed. He will show his plaque to the students at Greenbriar Middle School in Parma, where he has been invited for Veterans Day, 2014. The students, including great niece Nadia Sopko and great nephew, Roman Sopko, will lead the school's recognition of Pvt. Andrew Foltin, 69 years after his last jump.

By U.S. Army Master Sgt. David Johnson
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2015

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