‘Finding Loren’: A Milwaukee family's quest to find their father’s World War II crash site
First Lieutenant Loren Hintz of the Army Air Corps was based in Italy near the end of World War II. On April 21st, 1945, his P-47 fighter bomber was shot down and he was listed as missing in action until parts of the wreckage was later found and Hintz was declared dead.
Milwaukee writer Martin Hintz, Loren’s son, was not yet born when his father died. He was last featured on WUWM in 2016 when they recovered his father’s plane 70 years after the crash in an Italian farm field.
Martin Hintz passed in 2020, but his wife Pam Percy took it upon herself to produce and direct the documentary her late husband was working to make a reality.
Hintz had hired a cinematographer to film the excavation and the memorial celebration to document the moment for his family, but Percy says after Hintz saw the footage of the excavation, "that's when he decided that this had to be made into a movie."
The final documentary, “Finding Loren,” details the story of Loren Hintz’s life and the effort to find his plane and remains.
Percy admits that she has never made a film before, and unfortunately when her late husband died the movie hadn't truly begun outside of letters for support and grant applications. Fortunately, Hintz's sister Gretchen Wronka had all of their father's diaries, autobiography, letters and photographs.
"I read all 350 letters and the diary and everything, and then I compiled a timeline and then started using excerpts to create a script," says Percy. She made the film from start-to-finish in just nine months, getting it done by the one-year anniversary of her husband's death.
"It was day-in and day-out, back and forth, emails, Zooms. I'd send [my editor Claudia Looze] a script, she'd send me some footage, we'd discuss it, and it evolved. It was an exciting project to see this film come to being," says Percy.
Although she had never gotten to know Loren personally, nor did his children, Percy says she felt like she got to know him through his letters. Hintz was a man who loved life, was enthusiastic, positive and wanted to work hard to serve his country.
"I was just constantly amazed [at] what a kind person [Loren] was," says Percy. "He reminded me so much of Marty, he even used some of the same expressions Marty used ... so the DNA was pretty strong."
Percy hopes that through this documentary, Loren Hintz will live on outside of the Hintz and Wronka families. "And so will Marty... It's a story about Marty finding his father as well. There are a lot of stories that are going on in this. It's very touching, very moving," she says.
Hans Wronka, Martin Hintz’s nephew and Loren’s grandson, was central in the effort to find his grandfather's plane and remains.
“The beauty of the internet at the dawn of the internet age is really, in a lot of ways, what empowered me and my family and our friends to really be able to realize the success we had," Wronka notes.
Back in 2000, he took a trip to Carnegie library with his mother and grandmother to do a general search for P-47 Thunderbolts, the plane his grandfather went down in. The search lead them to message boards where veterans and families of those who served were trying to connect one another to more information.
"My mom and my grandmother put in a pretty basic inquiry: Has anybody heard of Lt. Loren Hintz, served in Italy? ... and I made a similar post that faded into the oblivion of the internet for about 12 years," Wronka explains.
In 2012, a man named Piero Fabbri replied to that inquiry. He's a pilot, flight instructor, World War II enthusiast and a member of a flying club outside of Bolonga, Italy. A fellow club member had a list of Missing Air Crew Reports, where Lt. Loren Hintz was listed. Through searching for the name "Hintz," Fabbri was able to track Wronka down in a matter of days.
"I still have that first email thread because it's always something fun to recall and still stirs the emotion," says Wronka.
A ton of research and work was done both stateside and in Italy during the four year period from Fabbri's first response to the excavation of the crash site in 2016.
Fabbri met with with locals that lived near the crash site to help track down the field and Wronka dug for more information from the National Archives Records Administration, the Library of Congress, and other government agencies.
"Quite a bit of work was done that ultimately led to the big 'ah-ha' moment where we were quite confident we had located the right site," notes Wronka. Everyone they worked with in Italy on this project were volunteers.
While the experience of traveling to Italy and finding his grandfather has been once in a lifetime for Wronka, the most meaningful part of his family's story is the relationships formed across two countries.
"The relationships that we have now, that we will have for generations to come, I think truly embodies the spirit of 'Finding Loren,'" he says.
This story was originally published on September 23, 2021. You can watch "Finding Loren" as a part of the Milwaukee Film Festival, in person at the Avalon Theater on April 29, or virtually through May 5.