Bringing the flag of his father to life

Bringing the flag of his father to life

TOLONO — Lin Warfel has the flag that draped his father's coffin from World War II. Later, he transported wounded solders himself in the Vietnam War era, and made a pilgrimage this summer to World War II's most famous battle site.

He and his family arrived in early June.

"A day spent at Omaha Beach is sobering. Over 10,000 American soldiers are buried there," Warfel said. "We were there on a chilly, rainy day, much like June 6, 1944. Walking along the rows of graves, I had to sit down several times, as I was overwhelmed with emotion."

He said he "walked the sands of Utah beach, wondering if any of those grains were there in 1944."

The trip to Normandy was a trip that Warfel had dreamed about for a long time:

"As on D-Day, we crossed during the night and arrived at the beaches as the sun came up.

"A French tour guide met us at the port, and we began Day One in Normandy at Utah Beach," where his father, Capt. Orville "Hank" Warfel and 34,000 other soldiers landed.

Hank Warfel was killed two months into the invasion, trying to help a wounded soldier.

He was first buried in Normandy, then was brought back to Camp Butler in Springfield.

The younger Warfel has had the flag that draped his coffin since 2000; before that, his mother had it. He also now has his father's Purple Heart.

Warfel, 76, "retraced my dad's final months during World War II, as he bivouacked in southeastern England for two months preparing for the invasion of Normandy, then his nearly two months in Normandy." A farmer, he felt like family in French dairy country.

The only son of a farmer whose land was south of Tolono, Hank Warfel went to the University of Illinois, and, like all UI male students, joined the ROTC. He was an agricultural education major.

"Pearl Harbor jerked us into the war," Lin Warfel said. His father went in January 1942 and was in England in April 1944, "with more war machines than had ever been built in history. Portland. Ore., built one troop ship a week."

On June 6, 1944, 100,000 American soldiers hit Utah and Omaha beaches, with another 100,000 soldiers from England, Canada, Scotland and other nations hitting three more beaches. Warfel is awed as he recites those numbers.

Thousands of ships were involved, as well as bombers and fighter planes. Paratroopers had been dropped behind German lines, to secure strategic roads and bridges.

Lin Warfel traveled to London on a Dreamliner, a Boeing 787.

"My dad went across on a troop ship — 536 miles per hour versus 30 knots," Warfel said.

He'd met a daughter and her husband at Heathrow, then took a bus to Portsmouth, where troops and an incredible amount of equipment disembarked to cross the English Channel.

American troops quickly overwhelmed the defenses on the beach, but encountered heavy resistance within a mile. Small fields with fences made from rocks with hedges grown up in them made excellent defensive positions. Roads were very narrow, lined with the fences, he said.

Advances expected to take days took weeks.

Decades later, the younger Warfel was a staff sergeant in the Air Force, an aeromedic from 1963 to 1969, both on active duty and reserve, on fixed-wing aircraft.

He never got to Vietnam but did transport the wounded on flights from Vietnam.

"I changed bandages on wounded soldiers, slapping bandages, morphine shots, so different back then from battlefield injuries today," he said.

Then a long, sad trip home.

"My crew got on in Japan and brought them back to the States. I was at Andrews (Air Force Base) sometimes, when other planes were unloading flag-covered caskets," he said. "One does not forget."

He said on "my trip to Normandy, the number of American flags flying from homes and businesses the week of June 6 was impressive — more American flags than here in Champaign on the Fourth of July."

The French remember how they were delivered from Hitler's rule.

"Americans are hailed as the liberators in Normandy. Local French with whom I spoke were all grateful ... still," Warfel said. "It takes very, very small persons to disrespect our flag."

He added, a "miserably poor understanding of history" obscures the sacrifices of World War II.

"Indeed, America is not perfect, and never will be. Humans just aren't. But the flag is symbolic of the dreams, and of the sacrifices," he said.

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tellingthetruth wrote on November 10, 2017 at 7:11 am

Amazing story, thank you Mr. Warfel for your service!  I will be sure to share this with my high school student. So important that we don't forget those who made this sacrifice for our country.