Ohio - Andrew Michael Foltin waited 69 years to experience his next
airborne operation. Now, a day with active paratroopers elated the
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
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
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.”
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.
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)
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
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