The website of Florida Veterans Programs and Projects, Inc.

The website of Florida Veterans Programs and Projects, Inc.

Florida Veterans Programs and Projects, Inc.

One never knows what will result from our dreams.

(How all of this got started)

It all started at 3:00 AM. The idea of filming and recording World War II veterans came to me out of a restless sleep. I usually don't dream much, I just sleep peacefully. That night (morning) was different. The previous day, I had been gathering biographical data about the veterans at Coquina Crossing, for a show Jack Wentz and I were doing. That must have been what precipitated the restless night. I realized the historic information about my neighbors was not known to others. I also realized that information would disappear as those veterans aged. Among the friends I had interviewed, one was a witness to the loading of the Atomic Bomb on the Enola Gay. Another helped blow up the Bridge at Ramagen. Others included a paratrooper who was part of the D-Day Invasion, and a soldier who fought against Rommel in North Africa. One of my neighbors toured Nagasaki after the A-Bomb destroyed it, and another was witness to General MacArthur signing the Peace Treaty to end the war. Being a former history teacher, I recognized this as serious stuff. First hand testimony is better than history books any day.

Thinking about their stories led me to the conclusion that these accounts of American History must be recorded. I made many calls to schools, libraries, and businesses to see if any of them would help me record this history. None were interested. I finally contacted WJCT TV in Jacksonville (the local PBS affiliate), and asked to speak to Michael Boylan, the President and CEO. To my surprise, I was put through to him directly. He was very receptive to my idea about filming the Coquina Crossing World War II veterans. He knew something I didn't know: Ken Burns was doing a 10 episode documentary on World War II. Mr. Boylan said he would like to use the recorded interviews to help promote the upcoming Ken Burns documentary. I immediately agreed and WJCT sent a film crew to Coquina Crossing. WJCT used several short clips of my neighbors in the promotion. A few months later they taped additional interviews and incorporated them into a one hour documentary entitled War Stories from the First Coast, which was broadcast locally.

Unfortnuately, not all of the veterans we interviewed were featured in the documentaries. I thought it would be a waste to allow those interviews to go unseen so I contacted Flagler College in St. Augustine and asked them if they would be interested in working with a small group of Coquina residents in editing down fourteen hours of testimony. The finished product, Serve & Protect had its premier at the Flagler College Auditorium, Veterans Day 2007, to a full house of almost 700 people. Serve & Protect was donated to the Library of Congress, the World War II Museum in New Orleans and to the World War II Historical Archive at Florida State University.

Along the way, we have joined with others to combine interests and expand our projects, yet it is surprising to realize that everything can be traced back to one restless night.

- Michael Rothfeld

The photo at the top of the page is titled Bob and Wally by Michael Rothfeld. This photo was selected as the First Prize winner in the 2008 Wounded Warrior Project photo contest in Jacksonville, FL. The photo is being re-interpreted as a painting.