Pasco County paratrooper inspired by D-Day to join the Army attends 80th anniversary events: ‘I am not a hero’

A 98-year-old WWII vet from Pasco County, who joined the Army after watching footage of D-Day in a movie theater is among veterans from the Bay Area attending D-Day anniversary memorial events. 

June 6, 1944, signaled the beginning of the end of World War II with the D-Day invasion. 

That was the moment the U.S. entered the Allied battle against Hitler's German forces with a massive invasion on the northern shores of France, turning the tide in a matter of days.

Among those from the Bay Area who made this trip to commemorate the 80th Anniversary is Hector Hita. A few months shy of his 98th birthday, Hita was a paratrooper who made 39 jumps during the war, mainly in the Pacific region. But it was the events on D-Day that inspired him to serve.

Born in Puerto Rico, he always loved what America represented, especially in the summer of 1944. While visiting his grandfather in New York, they went to the movies -- and back then, movie theaters gave updates on the war before the featured attractions.

READ: D-Day 2024: Bay Area veterans travel to Normandy for 80th anniversary

"They showed footage of the invasion and reported how we had heavy losses, but our soldiers didn't give up and kept fighting," he said passionately.

That's the moment his patriotic heart awakened. He went straight to the Army recruiting office the next day and signed up.

"When I saw those young kids struggling but determined, I said, ‘I want to be one of those.’ That's the reason I joined the Army," he told FOX 13's Mark Wilson, who is traveling in France with him and about two dozen other veterans to the D-Day anniversary memorial events.

READ: D-Day veterans return to Normandy for 80th anniversary, share memories and messages for future generations

Hita did have one request from Wilson before he sat down for their interview: he insisted on wearing his uniform. That's how devoted he is to his country.

His service was eventful. The day he joined the Army, they were asking for volunteers to be paratroopers.

"I raised my hand, and I didn't know what a paratrooper was. I just came from Puerto Rico, so I could hardly speak English," he said with a chuckle.

Before he knew it, he was leaping out of C-47s over the Philippines, where the Japanese were waiting for him.

READ: Tampa veterans fly to France ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations

Hita made 39 jumps and one in particular will remain with him forever, as will a particular knife. It was a gift his comrade, his friend, gave him as he lay dying from a Japanese bullet.

"He took the knife, and he gave it to me. Then he died right in my hands," Hita said. "He gave me his knife right before he died."

While Hita is looking forward to walking the sandy beaches of Normandy to reflect on his role and the many others across the globe who changed the course of European history, there's one four-letter word he doesn't want to hear.

READ: Army veteran turns young lives around at Pasco County school

"I am not a hero. A hero is the one who died that tried to do their best and got killed," he said with a tear in his eye. "I'm lucky that I could run."

A prideful life with no regrets and a love of country thicker than the wool that covers his heart.

"I'm glad I went and fought for this country. I love America. I love this country," Hita shared. "If I got to go back again, I'd do it. Believe me."

Hita still jumps. He completed his 50th jump on his 95th birthday, and he promises it's not his last.

Click here to learn more about D-Day.

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