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FARGO -- A 94-year-old Fargo man and World War II Army veteran will soon descend with extended family on a tiny town in the western Arizona desert for an overdue dedication.

In the early 1940s, Henry "Hank" Leintz trained with the 748th Tank Battalion at the remote Camp Bouse on a top-secret war weapon--a lighting device affixed to tanks that were designed to temporarily blind and confuse the enemy.

Of the six or seven tank battalions that trained on the highly classified project, the 748th is the only one without its own monument located off the dusty highway in Bouse.

Though family members made numerous trips there over the years for annual veterans services, no one noticed the omission until one of his sons picked up on it.

"His tank battalion deserves a plaque of its own," said Jon Leintz of St. Cloud, Minn., one of six children of Hank and Leota Leintz.

Jon decided to learn what he could about the battalion through research and talking to his dad, and he submitted the information to local history keepers.

On Oct. 3, a monument to the men of the 748th will be dedicated in Bouse, with Hank's name on the plaque.

"He wasn't a big war hero, he wasn't in any major battles," Jon said, "but every piece of every little battalion and division needs some type of remembrance."

When the family makes the trip in October, they'll be reminded that the row of monuments is quite simple--nothing more than a "wide spot in the highway."

That's not what's important, however.

"We're all there for Papa and his fallen comrades," said JoEllen Smith of Fargo, one of Hank's daughters. "It doesn't have to be fancy," she said.

Top-secret war weapon

Hank Leintz said his battalion was among the first to arrive at Camp Bouse in August 1943, about 120 miles northwest of Phoenix.

"We slept in tents, five people to a tent. We were right out in the middle of the desert," he said.

The mission of Camp Bouse was to train troops to use the British-developed Canal Defence Light or CDL.

The bright, rapidly flashing light would be attached to the tanks' modified turrets and aimed through a 2-inch wide slot with the intent of disorienting enemy troops as they approached. Everyone at camp referred to it as "the Gizmo."

"They were told they were being trained with a weapon that was going to change the course of the war," said John Bennett, vice president of the Bouse, Ariz., Chamber of Commerce.

Hank said he saw the weapon at work but knew nothing about it because he was a truck driver for the battalion.

"I hauled all the equipment, groceries and stuff. I was on the road most of the time I was there," Hank said in an interview last week.

All of the 9,000-plus troops who spent time at Camp Bouse were sworn to secrecy about the project. Soldiers weren't allowed to be transferred out of the camp, their movements were restricted and any soldier caught leaking information was guaranteed imprisonment.

As history would have it, the Gizmo didn't work how the military had hoped, causing it to be scrapped and the camp to be cleared.

While it was never tested in battle, the light system did get some use during the war for security and illumination.

"They used it when we crossed the Rhine--they lit up the river with it," Hank said.

All that's left of Camp Bouse today are several concrete building foundations and walkways, a large reservoir and stone markers left in the desert by units that were stationed there.

Recollections of war

Like many veterans, Hank Leintz wasn't one to talk much about his experiences at war. He began to open up, however, after visiting war memorials in Washington, D.C., as part of the Honor Flight program.

He remembers the good and the bad of World War II, in pretty vivid detail.

"I dream about it sometimes," Hank said.

He recalls the "smell of death" when liberating prison camps and the stormy, week-long approach to Utah Beach in Normandy, France, when he and his comrades were horribly seasick.

"On the seventh day, I looked out the porthole and I could see that the sky was full of planes," Hank said.

"This is gonna be the day," he thought to himself.

He fondly remembers the positives--among them, the reception that came sometime after the harrowing landing at Normandy.

"At first they held us back and went through the villages to see if there were any stragglers, and that was good duty because these French people, they were so happy," said Hank.

"They'd give you whatever they had, flowers, anything. It was really the best part of the war," he said.

He also chuckles when recalling a stash of liquor he came across while going through officers' quarters at a German army camp in France. He grabbed several bottles of expensive Hennessy cognac from the stash and hid them in his truck. When his unit was given orders to hold up and rest for a few days to wait for other troops to catch up, the cognac came out and he and his fellow soldiers "got comfortable."

History lesson

When Hank, his wife Leota and the rest of the entourage travel to Bouse in October for the monument dedication, they will have a toast with that same brand of cognac.

It will be made in tribute to three fellow truck drivers in his battalion with whom he kept in contact after the war.

"We were real close," Hank said. "They're all gone but me."

What started as a trip for just Hank and Jon will now be a huge family reunion and multigenerational history lesson, with children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and their families coming from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Kansas and Arizona--more than 30 people in all.

Instead of caravaning by car from Phoenix to Bouse, the family has rented a motorcoach for the group so everyone can hear "Papa" tell his stories along the way.

The town of Bouse will join in the celebration, as it takes great pride in its military history, and Hank's family members will soak up the recognition for their humble, 94-year-old patriarch.

Youngest son, Paul Leintz of Fargo, sums up his father this way.

"Dad's always been my hero."

Published by Robin Huebner - The Grand Forks Herald