‘Perfect example of the greatest generation’ dies in David City
DAVID CITY — On his last day, Harold “Shorty” Heins asked his nurse how the Huskers were doing.
Already up 14-0, she told him.
“Well, that’s good,” he said. “I sure won’t have to worry about them.”
Before the game was over, the World War II veteran died in Butler County, where he lived for most of his 101 years.
He only went away for the war, a brutal few years he described to the Lincoln Journal Star in 2015.
“I can’t really talk about it, what people went through at the time,” he said. “People don’t know what suffering is.”
He remembered holing up in a barn during the Battle of the Bulge, nine soldiers trying to stay warm with five pairs of gloves and five pairs of good boots. They burned gasoline in a bean can to try to keep the cold away.
“You’d turn your back on it because it smoked so much.”
Even more than 70 years later, he said, the war was always moments away. He could still see the hollow faces at the concentration camp he’d helped free. Or he’d spot a can of beans and wieners at the grocery store, and recall so many meals he ate with the Army.
“He was a dandy,” said Bill Williams, who organizes veteran honor flights and took Heins to Washington, D.C., in 2008. “He’s the perfect example of the greatest generation. He steps up to serve his country, he helps liberate a concentration camp, he goes back and spends his life on the farm.”
Heins was already a 27-year-old father when he left for the war, and he and Ruby would have three more. He lost his wife of 53 years in 1994, but is survived by all of his children and their spouses: Beverly and Richard Bennett, Larry and Jeanette Heins, Dean and Connie Heins and Patricia and Albert Richert.
The 5-foot-6 Heins was sharp and strong, even after his 100th birthday, and would demonstrate his agility by doing pushups, sit-ups and toe-touches. But the last couple of weeks were hard, his daughter Beverly said, with his mind going back to a long time ago.
Still, when she visited her father Friday night at his retirement home in David City, he was restless.
“He said, ‘I just can’t sit here. I’ve got to do more exercising,’” she said. “So he stood up and touched his toes twice.”