LABELLE – Veteran William Harold Rentz, Harold as he’s known to friends and family, served his country for 25 years before retiring in 1973.
Rentz was born in Jacksonville on July 6, 1931. His father would drive from Jacksonville, pick up cattle from the Lykes Brothers in Devils Garden, take them back to Jacksonville to be slaughtered then drive the processed meat back to the sugar mill in Clewiston. In late 1945 after the end of World War II, his father moved the family to Immokalee and started farming.
Rentz realized early on what he wanted to do – serve his country. His uncles, who had served in World War II had set the example. As a kid, he collected airplane models, one of his favorites being a P-51 plane he carved himself. He never thought about serving in any other branch but the United States Air Force (USAF).
Rentz’s career starting in July 1948, when he turned 17. He had gone to the recruitment center in Fort Myers and spoke to the recruiter there and that recruiter showed up at his house on his 17 birthday seeking Rentz’s parents permission to induct him into the Air Force.
Once he was signed up, Rentz made his way to LaBelle from Immokalee, where he went to Flora & Ella’s and caught a Greyhound bus to Miami Military Induction Center. He spent a few days there with 29 other new recruits taking tests and giving a physical. Rentz was one of six who qualified for the Air Force and he was sent on to basic training at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. The other 23 were sent into the Army. Rentz spent 13 weeks at basic where he qualified as an expert in rifle shooting.
After basic, he was shipped to Chanute Air Force Base (AFB) in Rantoul, Ill. to attend aircraft maintenance school. About 50 to 60 men from basic training were sent to the school but the next class would not start for several months. Base personnel interviewed the recruits and assigned them to different areas on the base, most of them ended up with KP Duty in the mess halls.
“I was the last guy interviewed. The sergeant asked me if I would like to ride around in a little red jeep. I said ‘yes’ and was assigned to the base fire department,” Rentz said. He was then trained in both structural fire fighting and crash fire rescue. In his 25 years with the USAF, he ended up doing every job in the fire service such as engineer pump operator, fire prevention, rescue, crew chief, station captain and fire chief.
From Chanute AFB, Rentz was sent to Okinawa at the start of the Korean War, he served there for 21 months at Kadena AFB. He was sent from there to Shaw AFB in South Carolina where he was stationed until his enlistment was up in 1952.
When his enlistment was up in 1952 he left the AF and returned to his hometown of Immokalee where he helped his parents with the family farm. He immediately joined the AF Reserve out of Ft Myers, the training for this reserve group was done in Ft Myers and at Miami International airport.
Rentz realized that farming wasn’t for him and at the start of the Cold War, he applied for active duty. Three to four months went by without any word from the AF, so he went to work for an air research company in Phoenix, Ariz. He was there for only a short time, when he got a letter from the President of the United States requesting he return to active duty.
After reenlisting he was sent to Charleston AFB in South Carolina. In late 1958 he was sent to Sculthorpe AFB in England, from there he was sent to Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Washington, while there the AF sent him on several special assignments to Toul Rosieres Air Base in France for 6 months, Johnston Island, in the North Pacific Ocean and Washington DC. Rentz was on Johnston Island for the last of the above ground nuclear tests.
From October 1964 to December 1968, he was sent on special assignments, eventually being sent back to Kadena AFB on Okinawa. In 1969 he was sent to Torrejon Air Base in Madrid, Spain. Rentz finished his AF career at Minot AFB in North Dakota when he retired in 1973.
Upon his return home this time, Rentz moved from Immokalee to LaBelle and found out retirement just wasn’t for him. He ended up going to work as a “trainee” at Page Field Airport. He was hired as a trainee but was soon promoted to the second in command and took over training of new recruits. He worked there until 1986 making it a total 38 years in crash, fire and rescue, he never had a second job throughout his career.
Rentz has five sons with his first wife Sylvia Thomas. The couple divorced in LaBelle. He also has two step children from his second marriage to Mary Patricia Rentz. Mary taught kindergarten in LaBelle for 13 years and was well known in the community.