News Columns & Blogs

Face to face with real-life history

Journalism is history in a hurry.

Not sure who coined that phrase, but it certainly reflects what we do in the newsroom.

We don’t typically have a year or two to write or research our stories, like an academic or historian would in writing a book. Rather, we have an hour, a day, a week or maybe, if we’re lucky, a couple of weeks.

But sometimes in our daily reporting we come face to face with honest-to-goodness real history.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune last week in meeting Arthur Leenerman, one of only 61 survivors still living from the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

The crew of 1,196 had delivered critical parts to the island of Tinian for the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima.

After that mission, the Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Only 316 were still alive when rescue ships arrived in waters teeming with sharks.

I met Mr. Leenerman, now 85, at the Veteran Affairs’ newly opened Bradenton-based Outpatient Clinic, 5520 S. R. 64 E.

He’s a gentle man, not too proud to be seen with his wife’s pocketbook in his lap as he made a repair while waiting in the lobby to have a blood sample taken. He was open, friendly and kind.

A day later, I was witness to a discussion on more recent history. District supervisors at Lakewood Ranch heard a proposal from Gene Sweeney about erecting a memorial to victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to members of America’s armed forces who have fallen in battle.

The centerpiece of the memorial would be a 12-foot, 2-ton box beam from Tower Number One of the World Trade Center.

The proposal sparked an interesting discussion about where the memorial should be located and whether members of the military slain in battle and innocent civilians who were murdered should be jointly included on one monument.

There’s no disagreement that the atrocity of 9/11 should never be forgotten. Nor should the sacrifices of America’s fighting men and women. But there is disagreement over where and how.

That discussion will continue next month.

On a lighter note, retired journalist Woody Wardlow used old newspaper clippings and other sources to put together a history of the 50th anniversary of DeSoto Open, an event played at what is today Palm-Aire.

It’s a fascinating read from 1960, full of legendary names like Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Gary Player and Ken Venturi.

If you missed it, check out Friday’s Neighbors section.

If journalism is history in a hurry, it’s history that keeps on giving.