Holabird AdvocateProviding all the news we see fit to print since 2002!
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
VOL. V Issue 7E
A Flying Leatherneck
Don Hinkle proudly served as a Marine paratrooper in WWII, but his big test came on the blood-soaked ground of Iwo Jima
Written by Ozzie Roberts/Photo by Earnie Grafton
of the San Diego Union-Tribune
Amid a deafening cacophony of high-powered gunfire and artillery booms, black smoke engulfed Cpl. Don Hinkle and boatloads of other frantically debarking Marines.
Through the dark, the 29-year-old squad leader, who was “Pops” to many of the young guys in his troop, clearly saw the Higgins Boat, roaring in behind his, suddenly take a hit, explode and disappear.
He knew there were no survivors.
This was Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.
Pops, a crack shot from Brookings, S.D., who at 90 is one of the oldest surviving Marine paratroopers, was a jumper for much of his four-year career that began in 1942.
But at Iwo, he was leading his boys on an amphibious and ground action. It was part of the third invasion wave at one of the beaches on the north side of the eight-square-mile plot called “the island of the demons.”
In 36 days of fighting, some 27,823 men – 22,000 Japanese, 5,823 Americans – would be killed; 19,264 Americans, including “Pops,” would be wounded.
Yet he tells you today, in his familiar straightforward way, he never feared he wouldn't make it through. “I'm a survivor,” he says.
On May 26, Don “Pops” Hinkle, who now lives with LaRayne in a comfortable ranch-style home on a hill in Bonita, became a nonagenarian and marked his status as one the oldest of nearly 500 known surviving Marine paratroopers.
The special parachute regiment grew out of a training school and operated from 1940 to 1944, when it was disbanded.
And the greatest irony for Don has always been that he made more than 30 jumps in two years as a Marine paratrooper, but, like nearly all of the 5,000 to 6,000 others in the regiment, he never parachuted in combat.
And his most harrowing war experience – Iwo – came while he was on a ground troop assignment.
“I was first attracted to jumping because of (a sense of) adventure and because the paratroopers were getting an extra $50 a month pay,” he recalls with a grin. “Eventually, I came to love being a paratrooper. But there was just no need for Marine paratroopers in the Pacific.”
Don tells you he took a lot of memorable and meaningful lessons from his war experience. But his time in service was not the sum total of the life of this father of six, grandfather of 11 and great-grandfather of nine. Neither was his 25-year career in civil service, most of which was as assistant fire chief at Rheam Field, a helicopter base in Imperial Beach.
He became complete, Don tells you, when he and LaRayne, the kid sister of that rowdy bunch of Brown brothers, with whom he used to pal in South Dakota, finally looked at each other and realized they were a perfect match.
LaRayne was 15 when that happened on her folks' farm in Oneida; Don was 23. And five years later, they were married.
“He had good manners, and I thought he was a nice, stable guy,” says LaRayne, who, at 81, retains a youthful spirit, and, like her husband, remains active and fit.
“He wanted to be a rancher – he had plans to buy one in South Dakota. I just knew that he and I would be together forever.”
“LaRayne always seemed more mature than all the rest of the girls around,” Don adds.
Postwar, the Hinkles rode the ups and the downs as a team. They ran a farm for a while, and they operated a mom-and-pop service station, all in South Dakota. And when those endeavors eventually failed, he did carpentry and built houses. He started a career in civil service in 1953, transferring to San Diego in 1957. Meanwhile, his wife mostly concentrated on raising the large brood they'd always wanted.
Today, folks living around the Hinkle home in Bonita recognize the congenial couple as gentle, family-oriented people who would do whatever they could to help anyone in need.
They call Don, who still wears a trademark Stetson from his home state, “the mayor of the hill.”
But every so often, especially around February and March, the old soldier recalls cruel Iwo and that sniper's bullet that shot through the meaty part of his right thigh.
He refused to put in for a Purple Heart, not only because the flesh wound was minor and because he didn't want to worry LaRayne, but because the bullet went on to strike and kill a first lieutenant.
The newly arrived lieutenant had angrily refused to heed Don's counsel about trying to avoid drawing the attention of the assassins, who were hidden all over the island, with standing orders to kill American officers.
The lessons from that incident, Don says, remain reward enough. They still help keep him focused on what's really important in life.
The Hinkles say Don's military career ended after the war, when LaRayne considered that Don never got to see their first child until she was 8 months old. “It's either the Marines or me,” LaRayne said.
Don Hinkle, who was wounded in the fighting after the bloody Marine invasion of Iwo Jima during World War II, turned 90 on May 26 and is one of the nation's oldest surviving Marine paratroopers. He has been married to his wife, LaRayne, for 62 years.
Don and his wife were born and reared in South Dakota and moved to San Diego in 1957, where Don served as assistant fire chief at a helicopter base in Imperial Beach until he retired in 1978. He and LaRayne have 26 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Plus, he adds, he had to get back to his beloved LaRayne, his new wife; their first-born baby; and their huge extended clan. Family has always been his sustaining source of life, the former farm boy says.
Ponderosa Pool Provides Cool
With temps going up toward the 3 digit neighborhood, air conditioning can get pretty spendy. But at the Ponderosa, the new swimming pool can cool one off in a hurry. Unlike the pool in Highmore, it is not heated. That cool water sure does feel refreshing. Not right away though. When Jerry Hinkle told his dad that the water in the pool was cold, Harold Hinkle called his oldest son a candy ass. Of course, Jerry spent more time in the pool than Harold, so all of us here at the Holabird Advocate are wondering when he will take a dip.
Paris Comes Clean
Hotel heirhead Paris Hilton has publicly admitted that her "reality" show "The Simple Life" was anything but. In fact, she claimed it was all fake. Of course, all of us here at the Holabird Advocate knew all along that it was a sham, just like everything else about Paris.
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