By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
On June 5, brothers Ed and Louis Folken of Anamosa experienced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: they flew to Washington, D.C., as part of the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight out of Cedar Rapids. The two brothers, along with another brother, Donald, all served in the Navy during World War II, all located at different places around the world.
Ed joined the service at the age of 21 in 1941. He served for six years, returning home the day after Christmas in 1946. Ed was an aviation machinist mate, third class. Louis was 17 when he enlisted in 1942. He served for three years and got out in March of 1946. Louis was a carpenter’s mate, third class.
Their brother Donald, the youngest of four boys, was drafted. Ed said Don was located in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans during the service, and served as a watertender on the ships, running the steam engines. Ed served in the Pacific in Guam, and Louis was stationed in North Africa.
“Mother didn’t know where any of us were,” said Ed of the boys being scattered around the world.
“It was tough on our folks, with all of us gone,” said Louis.
Their oldest brother tried to enlist, but Ed said he did not pass the physical.
After the boys enlisted, Ed started out in Florida, then Texas, Oregon, Hawaii and finally Guam. Louis trained in Illinois, Virginia, New York and eventually left for North Africa.
While Ed was in Guam, he recalled seeing his brother Don and a cousin, while their ships were broken down near the island.
“That was the only family I saw in four years,” said Ed.
One year, for Mother’s Day, Ed said he thought it would be a nice gesture to send his mother a Mother’s Day greeting via telegram. The Folkens grew up on a farm in Wayne Township here in Jones County. Ed said when she got the telegram, she was scared to read it, thinking the worst about her sons. Ed said he learned never to communicate back home through a telegram again.
The Folkens were very lucky in their years of service. None of them were ever injured; they did not see any combat while in the service.
“My wife tells me I was too ornery to get hurt,” joked Ed.
“We survived,” Louis said, looking back.
At the time, Ed was a single man; but Louis had a wife and young family at the time. After the war, Louis returned home to look for a job, because he said he had a family to support. He hauled grain for a while then went into carpentry work. Ed said he was able to be “wild, free and happy.” He returned to Corpus Christi, Texas, with some friends after the war.
“I enjoyed life for a while,” said Ed. After a few months, Ed came back to Iowa and worked as a farm hand. “I was a jack-of-all-trades,” he said.
Ed, who is now 92 years old, and Louis, 87, spent their war years apart, but are now next-door neighbors. Their experience together on the Honor Flight is something they will never forget. Louis has been to D.C. in the past in the 1940s, but this was his first time seeing the WWII Memorial, dedicated in honor of all WWII veterans.
“I didn’t even recognize Washington,” said Louis of the last time he was in our nation’s capital.
“It was a wonderful trip!” said Ed. At first, Ed wasn’t sure if he would be able to go on the trip due to his health, but he said he was well cared for on the trip. Ed’s son, Denny Folken, was his guardian on the flight. Louis’ son-in-law, Rick Paulson, was his guardian.
The brothers said it was touching, having so many people come up to them at the airports and all over D.C., shaking their hands and thanking them for their service to this country. One little girl asked to shake their hands and have her photo taken with them, along with her “Flat Stanley” travel companion.
“We were treated just as good as dignitaries,” exclaimed Ed of the trip. He said he pulled rank on the veterans while on the flight and sat in first-class. (Ed was traveling with an oxygen tank.)
Of seeing the WWII Memorial for the first time, Louis said, “What a deal for us to be recognized this way! So many boys died in the war.”
The Folkens enjoyed seeing the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. Ed said the sea of white gravestones at Arlington was unbelievable to see.
“It’s all so well cared for,” Ed remarked.
Louis said he never expected all the special treatment the veterans received while on the Honor Flight.
“It really gets to ‘ya,” he said, holding back tears.
PHOTOS: Top: Brothers and WWII veterans Louis Folken (left) and Ed Folken, take time for a photo at the WWII Memorial, with the Washington Monument in the distance. Bottom: The Folkens pose in front of the Iowa pillar at the World War II Memorial in D.C. Ed Folken and his son Denny Folken (left) and Louis Folken and his son-in-law Rick Paulson (right). (Photos submitted)