The Herald Bulletin

May 10, 2014

Don McAllister: Interviews with soldiers create priceless memories


The Herald Bulletin

---- — Every day starts a new story, and most are full of memories to savor and share.

I remember the night I was invited to watch the Jenness family record their music. It wasn’t like the movies. Instrumentals and vocals were recorded separately and mixed to make the finished songs. I was reminded of this process when our friend Dick Whitaker told me that the Discovery Network had come to his home to record his account of the Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill on Okinawa in WWII.

The Discovery crew pulled into Dick’s suburban neighborhood in a big semi. Out jumped a crew who covered the outside windows of Dick’s house. Then they laid a camera dolly track from his front door to the living room where we interviewed Dick in 2006. Just before the grueling 12-hour session began, the director looked into the camera and said, “I see a flicker.” The crew scrambled to cover the windows from the inside to vanquish the foul flicker.

This was to be part of “Against the Odds,” a series that would appear on the American Heroes (formerly Military) Channel. The night Dick’s part of the series premiered I sent Dick an email: “You looked good Dick, but I thought I saw a flicker.” We have a long standing tradition of giving our hero a hard time. Dick’s reply was humbling: “Don, my interview with you and Hershel stands out as the best. It's the one I will 'hand down.' I owe you big time! Privileged and very fortunate to know you, Don. Semper fi, Dick.”

Dick also knighted us as honorary members of his 29th Marines based on the interviews we’ve done with the men of the 6th Marine across the country. This was no small honor.

Some of our best memories come from these interviews. These include John Speheger, who struggled with lung problems for four hours, determined to document the ordeal of Okinawa and Carl Sproatt, wounded so badly he was put on the dead pile.

There were magnificent gentlemen like Jack Rice, Bob Sherer, Bill Twigger, Marv Skeath, Harvey Anderson, and Frank Mack. Dick Whitaker owns our respect. There were the hospitality men: Glenn Moore, Buzzy Fox, and John Albanese; the truly good ole boys, Delmer Asbury, and Jim White; the fun and comfortable visits with Carmine Polo, Ken Wells, and O.B. Aasland; and the sharp Marine salute Vince Matthews gave us from his porch as we drove away. How can one put a price on those memories?

They were rambunctious boys with funny stories of their youth, but John Speheger put it all in perspective with these words: “There was a moment in the battle when the firing stopped and all was still. That’s when we heard it. It was like a giant moaning, but it wasn’t a moan. It was the drone of thousands of flies hovering over the battlefield dead.”

These men are my personal heroes, deeply etched in my mind, my heart, and my story.

Don McAllister directs the National Veteran’s Historical Archive. His column appears the second Sunday of each month. He can be reached at nvha01@hotmail.com and www.nvharchive.org.