An interview with Charles Hinz


Material Information

An interview with Charles Hinz
Physical Description:
29 minutes
Charles Hinz
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Panama Canal


General Note:
Interviewed by Sarah Blanc

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
PCM 041 Charles Hinz 7-7-2011
PCM 041
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Full Text
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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix 241 Pugh Hall PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 Phone 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when c onducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview transcripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SP OHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the original oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim document of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interview ee; subjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelling corrections SPOHP transcribers ref er to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


PCM 041 Interviewee: Charles Hinz Interviewer: Sarah Blanc Date: July 7, 2011 B: Hinz. H: Hinz. B: Hinz. Thank you. Mr. Hinz, would you care to start just by telling me some details about where you born and your early life growing up? H: Okay. My dad is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and things were tough in the early [19]20s after he got out of the Army. So, he reenlisted and was sent to Panama with the Coast Artillery. B: H: Charles. B: Okay. Sorry, continue. H: Yes. He met my future mother here in Panama at some kind of a social function, dance. They were married and I was born in the Republic of Panama. My mother Antilles Dutch. Bu boned and blue Republic of Panama, not in the Canal Zone, but in the Republic of Panama. The reason for that is, there was a group of American doctors who started this hotel in


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 2 Panama called the Hospital Panam. It was very popular with the Americans Dr. Harrick, Dr. James, Dr. Reeder, Dr. Runyan all Americans and exc ellent physicians, and surgeons where I went to school and grew up. B: What was going to school like there? H: Going to school was fun, elementary school and kindergarten and junior high and high school. The curriculum was very, very good and we got a good education. B: Was it a lot like U.S. education or was it very different? H: Oh, no. I imagine it was a lot like the U.S., because it was based on U.S. standards. B: Did it run sort H: It was only for members of the families who were working in the Canal Zone, but it was open to Panamanians also provided they paid tuition. B: So was it a small group of people that you were with through all t hose years, or did it constantly change? H: It was pretty static. We all went to elementary school together and then high school. Of course, there was some scattering in those times, but for the most part, yeah, we stayed together as a group.


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 3 B: When you c ame to the end of high school, what did you decide to do? H: I went into an apprenticeship. The canal always had an apprentice program, four years, and I became a sheet metal worker. I worked in the crafts for a few years, and then I had an opportunity to transfer to heavy construction and heavy equipment operations, which I did. I got a lot of on the job training in that, and B: Okay. So this was a private company that you were working with? H: No, it was the Pana ma Canal Company. B: Okay. So how does that differ from working for a private company? H: Well, it was all U.S. government. We were well taken care of. Some people say that we were pampered, and maybe we were. [Laughter] But it was a unique situation, bein g in the Canal Zone, the Panama Canal. Just this one strip of land was the Canal Zone, and the rest was Republic of Panama. B: You were still under those circumstances where the government owned your home and all of the different facilities around you? H: Yes, that was all U.S. government, except for concessions like barber shops, beauty shops, shoe repair shops, and things like this let out on a concession basis.


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 4 B: Can you tell me about some of the types of projects you were involved with through your work? H: Oh, well, we had all kinds of projects. When I was working as a sheet metal worker, we did a lot of stainless steel work for the hospitals and for the work. We had a wide variety of things to do. We were exposed to other crafts, like plumbing and welding and things like that. We got a very well rounded education in our particular craft. We did roofing work; I did a lot of work in roofing. And t avy equipment side of it, we did a lot of heavy construction and maintenance and repairs, even railroad systems, but not the main transitioning line; just the railroad network that went into some of these other divisions that were part of the Panama Canal table of organization. B: among people you worked with, where they wanted their working conditions to change for one reason or another? H: No, they were very happy with their working conditions, sure. B: Very satisfied. Was it ever dangerous work? H: Hazardous? In a way, crafts are, yes. Not to a great extent. They had a good was dangerous work.


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 5 B: Did your co workers change at all as people started to come in and out of the Canal Zone later on? H: Well, they had people retire and they had hired people from the States that would c ome in, yes. There was changes but they all fit in well. They all fit in well. We had a lot of Panamanians in the Panama Canal Company. For the most part, they were helpers and laborers and things like this, but as time went on and Panama became more involved in the operation of the canal, all these positions were opened up to Panamanians. They filled these slots. The way it stands now is well. A lot of people expected the canal to collapse when Panama took it over, B: What were some of the powerful political events that happened while you working? H: Well the most powerful was the riots of 1964. What sparked it all off was, even going back to 1959, the Panamanians said, hey, give us a brea partners in this. The United States controlled everything in the Canal Zone at that time. They said, let us participate in the running of the Canal; let us have some of the profits and make it a fifty fifty deal as far as the profits go. But th e United of the Panamanians. They felt that it was their right to have a say so in the operation of the canal because it was their territory. But the United States was


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 6 very inf wanted to fly the flag over the Canal Zone, and that was really the turning point. has bases overseas in T urkey and all these foreign countries Germany the flag of the host country always flew next to the American flag on the bases. This would have been so simple to carry out, say, hey sure, you can fly the flag next what sparked it off. B: Did you get to witness these riots? H: Yes, I was right there. B: Do you have any vivid memories, or was it mostly just chaotic? H: They called in the U.S. troops; we were n ever in any physical danger, because we stayed away from th em People were killed and some of our G.I.s were killed and all unnecessary in my opinion. All they would have had to do was agree to fly the flag. B: As someone who was living there at the time and kind of seeing where everybody was coming from, did you have a hard time discussing it with people really get into it that much with people? H:


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 7 B: Okay. Did your family have any sort of str ong feelings about it? H: Yeah, well, we were all very unhappy about it. My wife is a Panamanian, and feel about it? But it was a sad situation; nobody could feel happy about it. B: Yeah. So your kids grew up in Panama as well? H: Yeah, they grew up in the Canal Zone. B: Okay. Would you say they had a similar upbringing to you, the same type of school experien ce and all that? H: Yes, yes, yes. Right. B: What do they think about their lives growing up there? Because they live here now, right? H: B: Good. And they were born in the hospit al there? H: Yes, they were born on the Atlantic side because we were living on the Atlantic side at the time. B: What are their names and what years were they born? H: Carl, he was born in [19]61, and Heidi was born in [19]64.


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 8 B: You had young kids when all of the political chaos was going on. It was probably very frustrating. H: Yeah. B: Do you remember any other moments politically that came after that, whether aftermath or much later? H: Well, there were a lot of changes after that. The treaty went th rough as a result of that. The treaty eventually went through in [19]77, and they incorporated Panamanian policemen into the Canal Zone police, and eventually they turned over the courts and the hospital eventually went to Panama. The military took over th e hospital first, and then everything eventually went to Panama. B: Over a couple decades? H: Yeah, in [19]79, [19]77, yeah. B: Was there any sort of backlash from the Americans when that happened or was it mostly accepted? H: No. A lot of Americans were very unhappy about the treat y about giving up the Canal. President Reagan himself said, hey, the canal is ours. We bought it, we like, on a lease basically. A l ot of Americans sti ll harbor bitterness over that, over giving up


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 9 to come. There had to be a treaty; maybe not the treaty we got, but there should have been a treaty. They needed a treaty. B: I jus t had a follow up question for you about the treaty. Did this affect your job in any way, the treaty? H: No. When the canal was turned over to Panama, I was carried on in my position at the canal past my mandatory retirement, which would have been my mandatory retirement date under the U.S. system. But I retired from the U.S. government and then was immediately pick ed up by the Panamanian government in the same position, same rate of pay. So it was a good deal for me. B: live there? H: No, you have to give up your quarters, because the quarters are all U.S. government qua rters. B: Did most people have a similar arrangement where once they retire in the U.S., then they are able to get employment in Panama? H: Some of them stayed with the canal, s ome of them. A lot of them left. Some of them took early retirement when they saw what was coming. B: How many years did you work for the company again?


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 10 H: Fifty five, and then I had two years military on top of that. B: Beforehand? H: Mm hm. B: What was your job in the military? H: I just was drafted during the Korean War I was just a private. [Laughter] B: Did you have to go to Korea? H: No. The war in Korea ended when we were in basic training. B: H: B: So where was your training for Korea? H: In Fort Dix, New Je rsey. B: So that was just a brief period of time where you were uprooted from that area? H: soon as I got out of the service, I went back to work for the canal. B: How long did your parents live in Panama for? H: My dad retired in 1955. He worked for the canal thirty one years.


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 11 B: Did he move when he retired? H: Yes. B: In Panama? H: No, he went to the States. B: To the States. Okay. What finally inspired you to retire? H: [ Laughter] I had just had enough. I felt I had worked long enough. I would have stayed a little longer, but my wife had a knee replacement and I had to be with her to take care of her. So I retired. B: What did your wife do in Panama? H: She was very active home downtown in Panama. She was very involved in garden clubs and flower ill very active in that, both the old B: H: Yeah, same home. B:


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 12 H: Well she started when I became back to the Pacific side in 1984. when she started with that particular home. But when we were on the Atlantic side, she was involved in philanthropic work also. B: Okay. So tell me about your life now in Panama. H: ttle beach house up the coast a ways, and we spend about every other weekend up there. I stay busy. B: Do you have family visit? H: Yeah, the kids. Our son comes down at Christmas, and o ur daughter comes down when she can. She live s in San Antonio, and she works for the U.S. Marsha l l there. Our son lives right here in Orlando, and he works for a publishing company. B: What do you think is important for people to know about your experienc es in the Panama Canal Zone? H: nothing earth shattering. B: especially if you did it for so long.


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 1 3 H: Yeah, right. They gave me a good send off. I must say that the Panamanian management treated me first class. They treated me royally. Of course I got along well with them; I speak fluent Spanish and I fit right in with them. B: Yeah. You could pret ty much identify as Panamanian, having lived there for so long. H: Well, I am. I carry a dual citizenship. I have Panamanian citizenship also. That was because the dictator we had, General Torrijos, he said, hey, anybody born in the Canal Zone is automatically a Panamanian because the Canal Zone really belongs to Panama even though the United States runs it. When the kids came home for the summer vacations, those kids that were attending college in the States, customs gav e them a bad time, immigration. They said, hey, where are well then you and the United States approved it, they had no choice that anybody born in Panama was considered a Panamanian citizen. B: Panama does have a history of dictators. Did that make you sort of uneasy, just historically? H: Not at all. I wish we had him back. [Laughter]


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 14 B: Did you still catch wind of a lot of American propaganda against them while you H: Oh, Noriega? Yeah. Well, Noriega was involved in a lot of illegal things. He ha d a he just shot himself in the foot. He deserved to be taken down. But no, life under Torrijos was not bad at all. Neither was like under Noriega. You just minded your own business and nobody bothered you. I knew officers in the Panama National Guard and I got along well with them. And so no. T o answer your question, no. There was no problem with it, under Torrijos or Noriega. Maybe the politicians had problems, but not the run of the mill person. B: Most of the people that you knew living in the Panama Canal Zone, did they work with you or did they have other jobs? H: I knew a lot of employees in Panama Canal Company, sure, through my work. People in other divisions and yeah, a lot of people. B: m your life there that we should have on record? H: merit... [Laughter]


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 15 B: Panama? Did you get to vote in any of the elections there? H: regulation that U.S. citizens cannot vote in the pr esidential elections of a foreign country. So I just stayed away from the vot ing. B: But you would have been able to, not as a U.S. citizen, but as a Panamanian citizen? H: Yes, right, exactly. B: There would be no problem? H: Yeah. B: H: ed just the way it was. [Laughter] B: Wow, a H: B: Exactly. H: ht now.


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 16 B: about it. H: We had a lot of interesting projects: the locks B: You can tell me more about them. H: To do maintenance work on the valves and the culverts and things like that, people come down from th spectacular to see the empty chambers. The Panama Canal is quite a unique undertaking, and t he digging of the canal and the design, especially, because it was designed way back there at the turn of the century and still operating. B: H: Yeah. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked at the Panama Canal, and spend m B: Yeah. It sounds like a wonderful life there. H: Yeah, it was a good life. The beaches are nice and a good outdoor life. And we had the climates and no natural disasters like hurricanes or tornadoe s or B:


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 17 H: back type of life. Sorry. B: are going to be way different there from here, but is it because life in Panama is completely different, or was it just a matter of the times going on? Like a grocery store trip in Panama is obviously a completely different experience than the United States. H: Well, back then, it was, I guess, but now Panama has grocery stores that compare with grocery stores in the States. back to bein government housing. But they changed that and then they started paying for electricity. We had a limit we could g et free electricity from, and then above that limit you had to pay for it. Everybody tried their best to keep below the maximum implemented that because they wanted people that came down from the States to be able to go back to the States and visit their families and not get into a rut down here. B: H: We had that free trip, and hospital care was very good. We had a good medical sys tem. There were a lot of little perks like that.


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 18 B: When the U.S. controlled your rent and all of those things, was it similar when you had to get food? Did you use actual currency to purchase your food? H: Yes. B: But the grocer was run by the United States? H: then, like I say, gradually the Panamanians started to become absorbed into the pilots that tak e the ships through the canal. They still have a few Americans on the pilot force. Other than that, maybe a few engineers but the American presence is just a fraction of what it used to be. It used to be totally America n but B: What are the feelings now when you talk to people, especially Panamanians, that were around when all of the riots were going on? H: ore. B: What about schools and education? Is it something that they teach about and is there a really strong emphasis on these events?


PCM 041; Hinz; Page 19 H: to those views, too. B: Should I wrap this up? H: Sure. B: here with Charles Hinz. [END OF INTERVIEW] Transcribed by: Jessica Tayl or November 15, 2013 Audit Edited by: Liz Gray, January 29, 2014