A local man on a quest with his family embarking on a 5,200 mile journey that was a decade in the making. It was a discovery that crossed continents, bridged generations and united two nations. It was the quest to find Lt. Loren Hintz that stretched from Northwest Arkansas to Italy.
It was a hazy morning on April 21, 1945 when First Lt. Loren Hintz flew over the picturesque fields near Bologne, Italy. He was a member of the 79th Fighter Group, flying a P-47 Thunderbolt. It was his 66th mission of World War II and it would be his last. “German soldiers were firing machine guns from a dugout and I saw the plane catching fire and then crashing to the ground” said Ernesto Macferri who back in 1945 was a young Italian boy enduring the horrors of the war.
For 71 years the wreckage of that Lt. Hintz’s plane remained encased in the Italian soil he lost his life defending. That was until 4 months ago. Bentonville resident, Daniel Hintz, was there with his family on July 23, 2016. His family’s 12 year search for his Grandfather led them to a farm field where with the help of the Italian government, volunteers and aviation enthusiasts. “An Iowan farm boy who fought in WWII met his end in an Italian farm field. There’s a certain sense of poetry to that in that moment” said Daniel Hintz.
Daniel’s aunt, Gretchen Wronka, was just 15 months old when her father was killed. She stood in amazement watching the Italian workers gently retrieve the wreckage from the dig site they had meticulously mapped out. “She was washing this thing as tenderly as if you were washing a baby or something very precious. She held up in her hand and gave it to me. It was the other dog tag but this dog tag was completely legible; my father’s name and the serial number” said Wronka.
Martin Hintz was born several months after his father died. He stood next to his son, Daniel while the archeologists unearthed each discovery. “Each piece has to be marked they have to know exactly what it is, just to keep track of it and the same now with the remnants of my Dad’s body which I saw and I said ‘Dad Hi.'” said Martin Hintz.
A village of Italians turned out to watch, to celebrate the American who never left. A mother bringing her young children to the Hintz family to say thank you for their freedom. “That was one of the most emotional moments because that’s when I realized this was one guy, but he represents all of the Americans” said Wronka. “That was probably one of the more overwhelming moments for the families everybody was quiet and they played taps and brought us the flag” said Daniel Hintz.
After searching and celebrating and solemn ceremony, the Hintz family quietly returned to the dig site once everyone else had gone. “We came back in the morning and they had put a little cross. They tied sticks together, put that down there and had a picture of my Dad there and a rose. You know it’s really an emotional thing” said Martin Hintz.
The remains of Lt. Hintz are on their way home for DNA analysis and confirmation and then the family hopes they’ll be returning to Italy to lay their Grandfather to rest where they know he’d want to remain.
Click here for the complete story on Lt. Hintz as collected by Aircorps Aviation who helped the Hintz family find Lt. Hintz and document their journey.