News Columns & Blogs

The making of a D-Day feature

They say that even if you like sausage, you might not want to watch it being made.

So, with that caution, I’d like to relate a little journalistic sausage.

When the 65th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy loomed, we at the Bradenton Herald wanted to do a story on our local D-Day veterans.

But so many have passed on, it’s difficult to find survivors. Even my friends who are extremely active in area veterans organizations, people like Steve Valley and Len Sirotzki, were challenged in helping find one.

Fortunately, we remembered that D-Day veteran Robert Douglas of Ellenton had been spotlighted at a neighborhood Memorial Day service in Ellenton. I wanted to know more about Mr. Douglas and gave him a call.

“Sure,” he said, agreeing to meet with me, “but you know I didn’t arrive at Normandy until five days after D-Day.”

No problem, I assured him. I wanted to know what he had seen, even if it was five days after the first wave of troops hit the beach, such was the epic scope of the largest invasion in history.

When I arrived at Robert’s house, I got a real surprise ... a very good surprise.

Sitting on a couch was Bob Kline, a Palma Sola native, and Navy veteran of D-Day.

Robert and Bob had become friends on the beaches of Normandy, 60 years after the invasion in 2004. They met at a reunion in France.

With a reporter headed his way, interested in D-Day experiences, Robert decided to invite his buddy over to help out.

Not only that, they each had scrapbooks full of photos and military documents, dog tags, military ribbons and more.

It was like hitting the lottery. Anyone who has ever been a reporter and experienced difficulty getting callbacks or lining up interviews knows how rare it can be to have everything fall together so easily.

These two gentlemen were generous in sharing what they had seen and done.

I couldn’t help but admire their gentle humor and mutual respect. You can get a sense of that by looking at a video posted at bradenton.com.

Sitting in their presence, I thought of my own father, who has been gone 22 years, his life shortened I’m sure by his experiences in World War II.

* * *

Sarasota National Cemetery, which opened in January, recently held its first Memorial Day service.

It’s a beautiful facility, and the neat rows of white grave markers, complete with names, branch of service, wartime service and more, will put a lump in anyone’s throat who visits there.

Well done, all who worked so hard to bring the cemetery to this area.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.

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