South Jeffco resident Dean Hinds had a nostalgic surprise waiting for him when he sat down for breakfast on Veterans Day at MorningStar Senior Living — a wasp-waisted, dark-green Army jacket, a relic he had not seen since tucking it away in a trunk when he returned home from Germany after World War II.
His son in law, Bob Jones, had discovered the jacket in his home just days before, and was eager to reunite the garment with its owner.
“He hasn’t seen it since World War II. It stinks so bad of mothballs (that I) stuffed it full of Bounce fabric-softener sheets,” Jones said.
Jones, with eyes welling, held up the jacket and asked his father-in-law to try it on. The younger man embraced the 88-year-old veteran, thanking him for his service in a war that claimed between 50 million and 70 million lives.
Hinds, a former railroad worker, applied his craft overseas, moving supplies across Europe. When the war ended, he helped transport concentration-camp victims away from the horrific Holocaust sites, where at least 6 million Jews and others perished.
“I was working for Santa Fe Railroad before they came along and drafted me. … We were hauling supplies here in the U.S. to our troops,” Hinds said. “We formed two railroad battalions. … We ran the railroads and all the supplies as the Army moved forward into Germany.”
Though elated with the war’s end, Hinds’ heart sunk when he saw the faces emerging from concentration camps.
“When the war ended, we began hauling those people who were displaced … back to their homes. We had them in open gondolas,” he said. “Everything that they owned was on their backs.”
After being deployed for 27 months, Hinds returned home to his wife, Raynelle, and attended college. The couple raised two daughters — with Hinds supporting the family as a watchmaker, and Raynelle as a ceramics painter.
‘Anything that flew, I was interested in’
For Morningstar resident and Air Force veteran Gene LaRosa, the day was an occasion to reflect on his service during the war as well. The 90-year-old Oregon native, who spent his childhood and later his career fascinated with aviation, trained fighter pilots in Amarillo, Texas.
“Anything that flew, I was interested in,” he said of his childhood love of aircraft, models of which he and his friends built from any scraps of material they could find.
His eyesight kept him from being eligible for deployment, though he nonetheless applied for combat service four times. He was denied every time, he said, but he still looks back on his service with immense pride.
“I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I already had a private license,” he said, noting that he entered the Air Force in 1943. “They thought I’d be more important as an instructor in the Air Corps. … Somebody had to do it.”
LaRosa, who trained countless combat-bound pilots during his Air Force years, never lost his love of flying. After the war, he went to work for Canoga Park, Calif.-based Rocketdyne, a rocket-engine firm later acquired by Boeing and Pratt & Whitney. LaRosa worked his way up during a time when many young people could attain career success without formal education, as an engineer.
“I never had a college education, but I had common sense,” he said. “I went in as a technician, and I came out as an engineer.”