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Splendor of Youth: Grandson of WWII fighter pilot gives presentation to Charles City history students

  • Hans Wronka shows a projected image of his grandfather, Lt. Loren E. Hintz pictured with another WWII fighter pilot, during a presentation at Charles City High School. Press photo by John Burbridge

  • Han Wronka, surviving grandson of WWII fighter pilot and Charles City native Loren Hintz, shows several Charles City students target maps used by pilots in the war as well as several items recovered from Hintz’s wreckage site, including (right-hand corner) a CO2 canister pierced by anti-aircraft fire preventing a would-be ejection from the cockpit Press photo by John Burbridge

By John Burbridge,

CHARLES CITY — At the tailend of his presentation to Charles City history students Friday morning in the school library, Hans Wronka read a poem written by his grandfather Loren Hintz, entitled “Youth.”

The free verse pays homage to the splendor of growing into manhood while being continually aroused by life’s mysteries and nuances and remaining optimistic about what awaits in the future.

When Hintz wrote that poem, war was on the horizon. Shortly after the farm boy graduated from the “old” Charles City High School, Hintz enlisted into the Army Air Force before World War II began.

Less than two weeks before the war ended in Europe, the war had already ended for Hintz as his single-seat P-47 Thunderbolt was shot down during a fire-bombing raid in and around Bologna, Italy.

Hintz was survived by his wife, Gertrude, and his 1½-year-old daughter, Gretchen — Wronka’s mother. Gertrude was also pregnant with the couple’s second child.

During the summer of 2016, Wronka and his family traveled to Italy to take part in an excavation project to unearth the remains of Hintz and his plane that were left at the crash site, a rural plot of land in Budrio, Italy.

The project, which was initiated by Italian amateur archaeologists and WWII history buffs Piero Fabbri and Marie Bonfini, was entitled “Finding Loren.”

Among the items recovered were the plane’s engine block, bone fragments verified to be that of the pilot, Loren’s dog tag and utility knife, and a CO2 canister that was pierced by anti-aircraft fire preventing an ejection from the cockpit.

During his stay in Italy, Wronka saw some of the wartime scars to the rural landscape that remain to this day. He also gained a deeper perspective of the devastating loss of life sustained by the other side.

“A group of nuns and 40 orphans took shelter underground here,” Wronka said while showing a presentation slide of a bomb-ruined convent in Bologna. German troops set up anti-aircraft guns in the convent’s tower, thus making it a target.

“When (the convent) got hit, it collapsed, killing everyone underground,” Wronka said. “All those children and nuns had no say in the war, but they got killed anyway.

“That happened on April 20 (1945). My grandfather was shot down on April 21. He may have been a part of that bombing raid, or he may not have been,” Wronka said. “Their job was to drop bombs on targets. You don’t always just get the bad guys as innocents also die. I’m sure that weighed on the conscious of my grandfather and his colleagues.”

Wronka, who was accompanied and assisted during the presentation by his wife, Reva, is from Duluth, Minnesota.

Last summer, the family came to Charles City with Fabbri, Bonfini and several other Italians who were instrumental in the “Finding Loren” project, including Aristide Chiesa, who as an 8-year-old witnessed Hintz’s crash and — incidentally — also lost his grandfather that day in the ensuing ground-battle crossfire.

Following clues deciphered by Floyd County Historical Museum collection technician Elaine Mead from a poem penned by Hintz’s boyhood friend, H. Clark Brown, the group was able to zero in on the boyhood home of Hintz located southwest of Charles City.

Wronka’s family had sought the site of the farmhouse during a previous visit to Charles City, but came up empty — as well as gas-tank empty.

Friday was the first presentation about the life and times of Loren Hintz given at Charles City High School. That day Hans and Reva were also due to give a presentation at New Hampton High School. After her husband’s death, Gertrude Hintz had become a prominent figure and educator in New Hampton.

“Here’s a picture of him before his first day of high school,” Wronka said while referencing a projected image of Loren when he was a schoolboy.

“He was about the same age as many of you are here, except he probably didn’t have a cellphone. But some of the issues facing the world back then are still around today.”

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