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Sunday, April 22 Opinion

Hines Sight / Tribute to a courageous dad on D-Day anniversary

Seventy years ago today, more than 150,000 troops in the Allied Forces landed on the coast of France in what is known as D-Day.

My father was one of them.

John Stephen Hines was a 5-foot-10-inch, 150-pound 18-year-old when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. A tool-and-die maker apprentice, he was a scrawny kid just out of high school when his country called.

A private, first class, he was assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery automatic weapon battalion, and after basic training, he left New York on Jan. 19, 1944, and arrived in England about 10 days later.

On June 6, 1944, he and his unit sailed to Omaha Beach.

Like many men of his generation -- termed the Greatest Generation, and for good reason -- Dad didn't talk much about his time in the military, let alone provide any details on D-Day or other campaigns in which he was involved.

I've pieced together most of the history from research about his battalion on the Internet and from a scrapbook my aunt compiled for her brother during World War II. (The scrapbook now is in my nephew's possession, to be shared with his three sons when they are old enough to understand their great-grandfather's contributions.)

In that scrapbook is a May 22, 1945, letter Dad wrote from Germany to his family back home. Apparently, he hadn't been able to correspond with them for some time.

He wrote, "We were supposed to land on the beach near St. Laurent Sur Mer. We landed on the famous Omaha Beach that you probably heard of. We were supposed to land two hours after H-Hour (6:10). We came in eight hours late. Omaha Beach was the toughest beach of them all."

The rest of the letter talks about what he saw in other parts of Europe, explanation about souvenirs he shipped home and a longing to be discharged.

We all knew it was off-limits to question Dad about his service, but one day in 1998, shortly after the release of the movie "Saving Private Ryan," I summoned the nerve to ask him about Omaha Beach.

Without hesitation, he told me the landing was chaotic as the Allied Forces were ambushed by the enemy. He said the first 30 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan," in which the invasion is graphically depicted, is exactly how he remembered it.

I was in awe of this gentle man, who entered military service a shy teenager and came home a man.

I've read that the battalion's efforts were heroic, yet dangerous. In a May 10, 1945, letter from Brig. Gen. E.W. Timberlake to the soldiers, he explained that the battalion landed on the "strongly defended and heavily fortified Omaha Beach ... and in absence of aerial targets immediately employed its fire units in close support of assaulting infantry by neutralizing hostile ... mortars and small arms fire in clearing the beach heights and opening the beach exits." The battalion had 20 percent personnel and 41 percent material casualties. They were sustained, he wrote, "without impairing the blazing courage and aggressiveness of this hard bitten battalion. Having fought its way into previously designated AAA positions, the battalion proceeded to establish an impregnable AAA defense of its sector of the beach head."

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My father also saw battles in other parts of France, as well as in Belgium, Holland and Germany. Timberlake wrote that the battalion was "among the first to reach the Rhine and set up an invulnerable defense of the Remagen Bridge against the concentrated suicidal attacks of the Luftwaffe," the German air force.

"During the European campaigns, the 467th AAA AW Battalion had 151 aerial engagements, destroying 14 hostile planes; had 60 ground engagements, destroying innumerable armored and motor vehicles, killing over 150 enemy troops and capturing 350 supermen," wrote Timberlake.

I discovered in my research that there is a plaque at Omaha Beach commemorating the battalion's achievements and dedicated by the surviving members of the unit.

Dad was proud of his service, even though he kept quiet about it, and proud of being an American citizen. Every time he passed an American flag, he saluted.

For his military service, my father was given the Good Conduct Medal, Victory Medal and European African Middle Eastern Theater Campaign Ribbon with Bronze Service Arrowhead.

And my lifelong respect.

Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at hinessight@hotmail.com. She also can be followed @patricia_hines on Twitter.