A single interview inspired ambitious project on WWII
When I sat down with World War II veteran Jack Myers back in August, I had no idea where it would lead.
I initially called him because I wanted to do a story about the anniversary of the first atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan in August 1945.
I was told that the now 90-year-old had served on the USS Indianapolis, the ship that delivered the first atomic bomb to the Pacific island Tinian, where the B-29 Bomber, Enola Gay, was waiting to drop it on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.
“No. I didn’t serve on the Indianapolis,” Jack told me when I first called him. “I served on the Vincennes. We were part of the task group that escorted the Doolittle Raid.”
I have to admit, I was disappointed.
Not wanting to show that to Jack because I didn’t want to display any disrespect to his service, I scheduled an interview. I’m a history buff with a particular interest in WWII. Still, I had no clue what I would do with the story. After all, the 70th anniversary of the start of the war was months away, and the anniversary of that raid, which took place in April 1942, was further off than that.
Regardless, Sentinel photographer Chris Tomlinson and I went to his home.
We sat down in his living room to talk, and I turned on my digital recorder. Moments later, his wife, Wilma, and daughter, Diana, walked in, too. They started a recorder of their own, which I thought was odd.
As a political reporter, I’m used to media-distrusting politicians tape recording my interviews with them, usually so they can ensure I get their quotes right. Hmm, I thought. Did they not trust me?
As Jack talked about his experiences in the war, it wasn’t long before he got to the part where his ship sank during the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942. I remember looking up at him from my notes as he talked about being in the bloody water, and the sharks circling him and hundreds of other men. Tears were streaming down his cheeks as he spoke.
That’s when I realized it. In the nearly 70 years since, he had never told this story, not even to his wife and children.
When I left Jack’s home more than an hour later, an idea began to form in my head, and, as Copy Desk Chief Brian Harvey recently reminded me, when a reporter gets an idea, editors run screaming for the exits.
If Jack had never told this story before, how many others in the region had similar stories? And with the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor coming up, what better time to tell it?
My managing editor, Laurena Davis, could tell right away. I was charged.
I would interview as many veterans as I could, I told her, maybe for a story that could run on Dec. 7. Can I get two pages?
I asked our promotions department to craft an ad asking for veterans to come forward. And they did, in droves.
I got calls from dozens of people, actual veterans and family members of veterans, some of whom had long passed away.
My idea grew.
It quickly became clear that I couldn’t interview them all. If I had a year, maybe, but I only had three months. That’s when we settled on doing a handful, and creating a special web page to allow others, including family of deceased veterans, to tell those stories.
I starting pulling in help. First, photographer and videographer Gretel Daugherty, then graphic artist Robert Garcia.
We brought in copy editor Carrie Marfitano, who told me two pages wouldn’t be enough. It soon swelled to five, and she beautifully designed the special section that ran last Sunday.
Finally, we drafted our web guys, Daniel Humphries and Chris Froese.
History should never be forgotten.