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Local man travels to Italy to learn about war hero dad

Posted: 9:55 PM, Aug 03, 2016
Updated: 2016-08-03 23:31:11-04

His father died a war hero before he was even born. More than 70 years later, he had the chance of a lifetime - to learn more about the dad he never met.

His story proves that sometimes you have to go beyond where you ever dreamed to get closer to who you are and where you came from.

At the heart of digging and searching in the small town near Bologna, Italy is a man from Milwaukee.

"The whole idea was, let's try to find Loren. As a family," Martin Hintz says.

Hintz has never been closer to his father, Loren, than at the excavation site - thousands of miles from home.

"We got out there at four in the morning, and they started digging and digging and scraping. They had it all plotted it out because they had gone over it with the ground radar.  Within 20 minutes or even less, they found one of the machine guns from the plane," Hintz says.

Martin never met his dad. He only knew him through photos, letters, and diary entries left behind. Loren, a 27-year-old Army pilot, was shot down over Italy just weeks before the end of World War II.

Martin was born less than two months later. Thanks to a volunteer project led by Italian military historians and archeologists, pieces of Loren's uniform, his dog tags, and the fighter jet he flew have finally been uncovered.

"Each piece has to be marked. They have to know exactly what it is and just to keep track of it - same now with the remnants of my dad's body, which I saw, and I said 'Dad, hi.'"

The project made news in Italy. People came from all over to watch, and to thank Martin personally. His father represented one of many who made the ultimate sacrifice to free Europe from Hitler's control.

"We had came back in the morning and they had put a little cross of tied sticks. They had a picture of my dad there... and a rose.  It's really an emotional thing, to actually see that. And the outpouring of people's appreciation everywhere we'd go," he says.

When it was all over, the community presented an American flag to Martin and his sister. Both were able to return home with some priceless artifacts, and the memory of that moment they've been waiting for their whole lives.

"71 years...my sister and I finally met our father."