Second Lt. Art Folaros of Port Charlotte, Fla. went to Europe in 1944 and trained to fly a B-26 twin-engine Marauder attack-bomber nicknamed the “Widowmaker” to provide tactical air support for Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army.
Before he learned to fly, shortly after graduating from Officers Candidates School, Folaros attended Logistics School at Fort Meade, Va.
After graduation, he was assigned to aviation school at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where he took on “The Widowmaker” — the B-26 bomber. It received its moniker because many young aviators died at the controls of the hard to fly attack bomber.
He was assigned to the 320th Bomb Group, 9th Air Force, a B-26 squadron based in Braintree, 20 miles north of London, England.
“I went into combat and flew a few missions. Then I developed an inner ear disorder and was grounded,” he said. “I remained with my squadron as the logistics officer in charge of making sure we had the necessary gas and oil for the bombers.”
“On D-Day, the sky was full of our planes. I was disappointed because I wasn’t up there and couldn’t fly anymore,” Folaros said.
“Shortly after D-Day, I got orders to move into Normandy to help establish a B-26 base near Beauvais, France,” he said. “I was still a second lieutenant, but I was in charge of the logistics for the base.”
While the air base was being established, Folaros received orders to report to 9th Air Force Headquarters. A few days later, he was appointed assistant operations officer for the 9th.
Life for the young lieutenant changed radically shortly after the commanding general of the 9th Air Force’s son was shot down and killed in his P-38 “Lightning” fighter over France.
Part of Folaros’ responsibilities was to account for the dead airmen and send the information to Grave Registration so their bodies could be located.
“I suggested to my squadron commander that I be allowed to search for the general’s son’s P-38. At first he thought I was crazy, but he allowed me to give it a try and provided air transportation for me,” Folaros said.
“I spent days looking for the general’s kid. I finally found him two weeks later still sitting in the cockpit of his crashed fighter, dead. I called Grave Registration to have his remains picked up,” he recalled. “As I was getting the info on the dead aviator, a Frenchman approached me and told me about other grave sites in the area where American aviators were buried by the French. I collected this information, too.”
When he returned to headquarters, he told his squadron commander that it bothered him Grave Registration wasn’t doing a better job of finding the bodies of American aircrews.
He suggested he should get the Missing Air Crew Reports for the 9th Air Force and send their own people out looking for the bodies.
“‘I was told to write a staff study and my commander would send this suggestion to the commanding general,” Folaros said. “The next thing I knew, I became the Grave Registration operations officer for the 9th Air Force.
“I was on a mission. I even went into enemy territory on a few occasions looking for airmen’s bodies. I ended up in Plzen, Czechoslovakia, looking for a bomber full of dead airmen. Prague was 30 miles away. We got orders that Prague was going to be in the Russian occupation zone and we were to keep out,” he said.
He knew there was a crew of dead airmen who crashed near Prague, so Folaros decided to take a look, despite the Russian warning.
“We rolled into Prague in two Jeeps mounted with .50-caliber machine guns and small American flags flying from them,” he said. “I believe we may have been the first Americans to reach the city.”
The Czechs were friendly and delighted the Americans had arrived, despite their small numbers. Marshal Konev, the Russian commander, and his troops moved into Prague a short time later.
“The Russians were a most ferocious bunch of characters. They drove into the city on their tanks with their be-medaled officers in the forefront followed by their soldiers, who looked terrible,” he said.
“We went to a night club in Prague. While we were there, in walked three Russian officers with a female Russian officer who was a doctor. She was a blonde and the best-looking Russian gal I’d ever seen,” the 88-year-old former soldier explained with a smile.
“I said to a buddy, who spoke Russian, how do you say: ‘Can I have this dance?’ He told me and I walked up to her table and tried out my Russian on Lt. Natalia Boulenik. We danced,” Folaros said.
He invited the beautiful Russian doctor to sit at his table, which didn’t thrill the Russian officers with whom she arrived. To defuse the situation, he gave the Russians most of a pack of Chesterfields. That put smiles on their faces.
“When curfew time came at 11 p.m., I took Natalia back to her quarters at the field hospital. Before we parted, she invited me to her home in Kiev (Ukraine), and I told her if she was ever in the Boston area to visit me. That was the last time I ever saw her.”
Folaros was in Nuremberg, Germany, when the war in Europe ended in May 1945. He was promoted to captain after serving in the army of occupation for a few months.
A short time later, he returned home, got out of the Air Force and went into the Air Force Reserve. It wasn’t long before he was asked to re-up, which he did. He was appointed commander of a basic training company at Fort Lee, Va.
By 1949, Folaros was still a captain. Things got a bit dicey after he was assigned to military intelligence and sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Because he was of Greek origin and spoke the language, military intelligence recruited him to parachute into Greece at the start of the “Cold War” to find out what the Russians were up to there.
Before he could accomplish his mission, the Korean War broke out in June 1950. Folaros was reassigned to the 82nd Airborne and was about to be sent to Korea when he received special orders to join Gen. James Van Fleet back in Greece.
“The general told me I was to follow him around in Greece to listen, but speak no Greek,” he said. “Van Fleet wanted to find out what was going on because the Greeks were about to hold an election.”
The election was held, the Russians didn’t take over the country and nothing much happened.
In 1958, Folaros, who by this time was a major, was ordered to French Indochina. He ended up in Saigon as an advisor to the South Vietnam forces. He caught malaria while over there and was eventually sent back to the States to recover.
He served a tour in Germany beginning in 1959 as a lieutenant colonel and returned to the U.S. once more in 1962. He received a promotion to full colonel. He was about to be sent back to Vietnam in ’62 when he retired after 22 years in the military.
Folaros went to work as a civilian teacher at the Army’s Logistics School at Fort Lee, Va.
“‘Glad to have you. We have plenty of guys with all kinds of degrees but without any real experience,” the base commander told him.
For the next 18 years, Folaros worked as an instructor at the school. When he retired, he had 40 years in the military and as a civilian instructor.
He and his wife, Eva, now deceased, retired to Rotonda in 1982.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2007 and is republished with permission.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.
Click here to view the War Tales fan page on FaceBook.