George Folk was in the western Pacific, serving in the Navy on a submarine chaser when got word that World War II had officially ended.
He was ordered to escort a small convoy of ships to Japan, where they landed in a harbor with four large Navy battleships: the Iowa, the New Jersey, the Wisconsin and the Missouri, where the formal surrender documents had been signed a few days earlier, on Sept. 2, 1945.
All but the New Jersey had skinny red-and-white pennants running from the main mast to the stern. The homeward bound pennants were a message: the ships would be headed back to the U.S.
“It was really touching,” Folk said. “The guys were so happy to finally go home.”
Seventy-five years ago Wednesday, World War II officially ended with the victory over Japan. The war in Europe had ended a few months earlier in 1945.
Folk didn’t return to the U.S. until 1947 and didn’t have a chance to take part in the regular end-of-war festivities. But on Wednesday, the 94-year-old Macungie resident opened his door to find a celebration of World War II veterans, with flags, a trumpeter playing the Navy anthem, and a thank you mug and other swag.
“I’m overwhelmed by this wonderful tribute,” he said.
The Lehigh Valley chapter of the Battle of the Bulge Association put together a car caravan that stopped at the homes of eight area World War II veterans on Wednesday. Typically the group marks major occasions with a celebratory event, but with even the youngest World War II vets in their 90s, Meta Binder, the group’s secretary, decided to go for a more socially distanced event.
“Just to be with fellow WWII vets to be humble and reminisce, they enjoy it and we really have a lot of fun at our meetings,” Binder said. “I wanted to at least do something.”
Sharon Schell, of Lehigh Township, joined the caravan on Wednesday. Her father served in World War II and she wanted to be respectful to veterans’ sacrifices.
“With it being the 75th anniversary and COVID-19, we haven’t been able to honor the veterans in a normal fashion,” she said.
The group also stopped by the home of Bert Winzer, 98, of Lower Macungie Township. In 2015 received a Congressional Gold Medal for his service. He served in a unit that became known as the Devil’s Brigade, a nickname given by the Germans because the men used black shoe polish to darken their faces before nighttime raids. One of their key missions was memorialized in the 1968 film starring William Holden and Cliff Robertson.
He said Sept. 2 is a day of freedom.
Winzer was in a little town in southern France when he learned the war in Europe was over. He was relieved, but knew he still had some battle work ahead of him.
He said that the end of the war left the Allies as the conquerors.
“There is no winning in a war because the enemy loses their sons and daughters and the others, the British, Americans, we did lose our men and women. So my thinking is that there’s no real winner, we’re all losers.”
He recalled a moment in 1944, when he was hit with shrapnel.
He called it an international incident: German artillery fired from Italy into France, where it hit him, an American. Canadians administered first aid, and he was treated by a Russian-American Jewish doctor, he said.
The group of caravaners weren’t the only ones to thank the veterans. As they began to leave Folk’s house for the next veteran’s, a neighbor came over and introduced himself.
Saying he was proud to be Folk’s neighbor, he offered to help any time.
“I’ll remember that,” Folk said.
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