By SARA ARTHURS
Decades after Carl and Charles Gierke served in the military, they traveled together to Washington, D.C. to see the monuments honoring veterans like them.
The Findlay brothers flew to Washington last week along with Flag City Honor Flight. The Findlay-based hub of the national nonprofit organization flies veterans free of charge to Washington to see the war memorials in their honor. Each veteran is accompanied by a guardian, who is asked to make a donation, and whose job is to attend to any of the veteran’s needs while traveling. Carl’s guardian was his son, Robert. Charles’ was his daughter, Cindy.
Carl is 93 — and will be 94 in January. Charles is 88.
“He’s older than I am,” Charles pointed out.
He said they must have “good genes”.
Carl served in the Army in the 602nd Gun Battalion during World War II. Their role was to “shoot the airplanes down” in Europe.
He went to England, France, Belgium and Germany, and was in the Battle of the Bulge.
He was 18 when he joined the Army, going first to Virginia for training.
Charles was about 23 when he joined the Army.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” he said.
He served during the Korean War era. He was sent to Alaska, where they were set up near Anchorage, “for the Russians” — that is, in case anything happened on that front.
Charles learned to ski in Alaska. He also experienced temperatures of 50 degrees below zero.
“It’s layers of clothing,” he said, of how to manage this. “…You got air pockets in there.”
Carl left with the rank of T-5 corporal. Charles was a corporal, and was in the Reserves afterward.
Both brothers made good friends in the service, and kept in touch with some, although many have since died.
They both went on to careers after the Army, and raised families.
Charles recently retired after 21 years doing part-time maintenance at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library. He previously worked for Marathon Petroleum for 36 years. He’d also worked at The Courier, printing inserts.
Carl worked at several places including a fertilizer company, building houses, Autolite and Woodward Lumber Company, as well as Hercules Tire and Rubber Co. and Trautman Trailer Sales.
Charles has been married 58 years to Alma, and they have three children. Carl and Helen have two sons, three grandsons and three great-grandchildren. One of their great-grandchildren is serving in the Navy.
Helen said for 25 years she and Carl were “full-time RVers,” taking their RV all over the country. They often spent winters in Arizona, then summers in Findlay. They have visited all 50 states.
The Honor Flight trip, though, was special for both brothers.
Going together meant they could talk to each other, Charles said. They sat alongside each other on the plane.
Robert said, about serving as a guardian, “It was all about him… And I wanted to keep these two together as much as possible.”
Charles had visited Washington years earlier. So had Carl, but he hadn’t seen the World War II memorial, which opened in 2004.
“I’ve been wanting him to go for years,” Helen said.
But she said he wouldn’t go if she couldn’t.
Finally, Carl said, family “twisted my arm.” (Robert acknowledged putting pressure on his father to go.) Charles’ daughter, Tammy, said her father wanted to defer a chance to go on the trip to those who had served in combat.
Charles said he didn’t serve in battle although “Every serviceman has a certain job to do.”
But Robert said they were approached at the Hancock County Fair this year, and encouraged to sign up. Once he did, Carl said he was “really impressed” with the World War II memorial.
“It was really very impressive… I broke down quite a bit,” Carl said.
Charles was particularly impressed by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Cindy said the trip was “very memorable” and it was a blessing both brothers got to go. They came across good weather, and “everything was wonderful,” she said.
Charles said, “They fed us well.”
This included sweets.
“I’m a cookie monster, really… I do like cookies,” Charles said.
Helen said the flight’s organizers, who talked to the veterans beforehand, did a great job of putting it together and were “right on the ball… Our hats off to them.”
Over and over, the brothers said how grateful they were for how they were treated. Charles said they were “treated like gold” throughout.
“They thought they were celebrities,” Helen said.
After arriving back at Grand Aire Hangar in Toledo, the veterans were treated to a welcome home ceremony, complete with mail call.
Those present waved flags, and the veterans were paraded into the ceremony. Family were present, although they didn’t know they were coming, Helen said.
Carl said he saw his other son, and grandson, and wondered why they hadn’t brought his wife.
Then they turned the veterans around in their wheelchairs.
“Then I spotted her,” he said, pointing at Helen. “…She came running out, gave me a big hug.” He was teary as he recalled this. The couple will celebrate their 73rd anniversary in February.
Helen said at the welcome home there were “a lot of tears”.
Robert said bagpipes played, and people were eager to shake the veterans’ hands. Each veteran received a homemade lap quilt.
It took about an hour to unload the plane, as many of the veterans were in wheelchairs.
Both brothers were in wheelchairs during the flight.
Carl is dealing with health issues. But, he said, he can still fit into his Army uniform — and he offered to demonstrate.
Carl also still has his dog tags, and Charles has a lot of his Army memorabilia.
Charles said the mail call at the welcome home was “really amazing”.
It mimicked the way mail call was held in the service — they would holler each veteran’s name to let them know they had mail. Area scouts handed the mail out.
Children in school had written letters. Many of Charles’ former library coworkers sent notes in, too.
Carl said he was grateful to the school children for writing.
“My one grandson wrote us a beautiful letter,” he said.
One letter he received from a young child said “God bless you. Have a good trip.”
And a Vanlue High School freshman wrote, “Your service helped to make our country safe.”
“Oh, some of them are so precious,” Helen said of the letters.
Robert said Honor Flight was a 23-hour day. He set his alarm for 3 a.m., and went to bed just after 2.
But Tammy said her father stayed up even later, as he was still “wound up” after the trip.
“I couldn’t shut him up,” Helen said of Carl.
The Courier interviewed the family on Monday, six days after the trip. In that time, Charles “hasn’t stopped talking about it,” Tammy said.