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by Cary J. Hahn · December 7th, 2011


His obituary was first published in a Fargo, North Dakota newspaper during World War II. "It was a bit premature. They had to retract that", said Bruno Rinas when talking to the Marion Times two years ago.

Born in North Dakata in 1919, he survived 44 months imprisoned by the Japanese in POW forced labor camps, got married, had four children, went to Iowa State and taught at Marion High School from 1952 to 1983. Bruno Rinas lived many lives in his 92 years. He passed away last Thursday (Dec. 1st) at a care center in Coralville.

Bruno lived a full life until the end, taking part in the October 18th Honor Flight from Cedar Rapids to see the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.

Two years ago he was invited to New Orleans and attended the opening of the Pacific wing of the National World War II Museum.

The Marion Times interviewed him before the trip and he said about surviving World War II, "You had to reframe your world. My mother had some contribution there. She was a gourmet cook, and once she fixed something pretty plain and she said, 'I hope the day doesn't come when this looks good to you.' I never knew it would come to that."

After the war he would teach his children not to waste food. He said he learned that people really don't need to eat as much as they do, and thought that's why he could still get into his uniform in 2009, if he still had it.

When he went into the service, Rinas (pronounced ree-nis) weighed 180 pounds. He lost 60 pounds in captivity, and when he was discharged from the army, he was rated at 100 percent disability. He thinks what got him through it all was his attitude.

"It was as much hell for them as us," he said. He didn't like to rehash the war and only talked about it when asked.

In November 2009, the retired Marion High School math teacher was honored as one of the last living survivors of the Bataan Death March at the dedication and grand opening of the Pacific wing of the World War II Museum in New Orleans. In May of that year he was one of 74 surviving Bataan Death March veterans who attended the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor convention in San Antonio, Tex., which was the last reunion to be organized by the survivors; their descendents overseeing any future meetings.

At the reunion, 64 years after the war's end, the survivors received an in-person apology for their treatment by the Japanese ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki. While some survivors did not accept his apology Rinas did, shaking Fujisaki's hand and telling him thank you in Japanese, which he learned a bit of in captivity.

Although accepting, Rinas called it a "diminished" apology, since General Douglas MacArthur and the American government signed off on any war reparations by the Japanese government so peace could be quickly reestablished after the war. Rinas said former Dutch, British and Australian prisoners were given $25,000 and flown to Japan with their families as part of an apology.

"The Emperor was not a good host," he said. "The reason I survived was because I was a work horse. They fed us enough to keep us alive to build air bases. They nicknamed me the caribou, the beast of burden, because I was strong. They had respect for my strength. Consequently, they worked me harder."

In April 1942 he was at Iba Field on Luzon, in the Philippines, when the Japanese overran the island.

"They had us stack our rifles, which were junk any way," he said. "[They were] Enfield rifles left over from the Spanish American war. It was a pretty hectic day. The Japs bombed the gasoline dumps on [April 8]. We lost about 10 percent of the squadron that day. When I saw the dead -- some of it is better forgotten. No way I can tell you. The stench of that day, cleaning up bloated bodies in the hot Philippine sun. You never really forget. I couldn't liken it to anything."

Rinas survived in captivity while others did not. He suffered malnutrition, but he said that, as a farm boy, he knew if you boiled the maggots in the rice the prisoners were fed, they'd become protein. It got him through while others couldn't stand to eat it and died.

"You had to reframe your world," he said.

After finally being rescued by American troops, he was sent back home to the Midwest for treatment at Shick General Army Hospital in Clinton. He met a kitchen worker there, Fran, who would become his wife, which is how he wound up in Iowa. Rinas went to Iowa State to get his degree in vocational agriculture on the G.I. Bill, and later earned his masters degree in chemistry, physics and math. He taught at Marion High School for 31 years, retiring in 1983.

Rinas married his wife, Fran, on December 27, 1945, in Cando, N.D. She passed away four years ago. They had four children: Barbara, Joe, Linda and Mark, who passed away in 2005. Joe is a former Linn County Supervisor, while Linda Livingston is pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Marion.

Rinas' grandson is nationally known actor Ron Livingston of Marion, who joined his grandfather and his uncle Joe in Louisiana, where Ron introduced Rinas to actor Tom Hanks, a museum supporter and a co-producer of the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers," in which Livingston starred as 101st Airborne Captain Lewis Nixon in the European theatre.

Asked about his grandson's role in the series, Rinas said with a smile on his face, "He did a good job. But the real sound of the war was noisier than that."

He didn't talk much about his war experiences until asked. Bruno was more interested in talking about his family and the many students he taught, treasuring 30 years of correspondence from former students and their success in life.
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