COVINGTON —“Write when you can.”
That was the mantra written over and over again in 600 letters between a local Covington family and their loved ones at war in World War II and the Korean conflict. That was also the mantra that Greenville resident and producer Diana Spitler took to title her documentary series focusing on these letters and honoring those veterans.
“I want the veterans to be recognized,” Spitler said. “By putting this out, people might think of them.”
The documentary series, which took eight years to produce, will focus on the local Covington family of Melvin and Bessie Adams. The Adams family had 10 kids, including seven boys and three girls. Each of the seven boys and the three husbands of the girls were veterans, serving during World War II or the Korean conflict.
“This documentary basically is about the ones who served during World War II,” Spitler said.
The documentary series came about after Spitler’s first documentary, which focused on Marion Adams, who is also Spitler’s uncle. Spitler explained that the Adams family was so impressed with that documentary, they came forward with letters they had saved that were sent back and forth between family members at home in the U.S. and their loved ones away at war.
Almost a decade later, Spitler is still visibly touched that the Adams family entrusted her with those letters. There were over 600 letters.
“So I had all these letters, so I decided I’ll just continue on and do more in depth,” Spitler said. “I’m giving viewers an opportunity to experience what it was like because they’re hearing the actual words that were said at the time it was happening.”
Examples include life after the Depression, what it was like when Pearl Harbor was bombed, the second World War, farm life in the 1940s, and the people known as the “greatest generation.”
Spitler organized the 600 letters. Taking the best of those letters, she then made a script for the documentary. It will include reenactments and interviews with some of the veterans.
“Two actors … were able to play their grandfathers and that meant a lot,” Spitler said.
The main focus of this documentary will be Marion, Dale, and Melvin Adams, all brothers. Marion Adams was a radioman on an LST, which was a Landing Ship, Tank (LST), or tank landing ship, and was a vessel that carried tanks, vehicles, troops, and other cargo during amphibious assaults. Dale Adams operated an aircraft carrier, and Melvin Adams flew cargo planes in the Army Air Force.
“His ship was at Normandy on D-Day,” Spitler said about Marion Adams. He also participated in the Allied invasion of southern France and the invasion at the island of Okinawa in the Pacific theatre in World War II.
The documentary also features other local veterans, including Emerson Branson. Branson was flying a Boeing B-17 during World War II when he was shot down over an orchard in France.
“Emerson Branson was shot down over France just before D-Day,” Spitler said. “They had a bombing mission, and the plane got hit.” Branson was then found by the French underground, who protected him until he was able to get back to the Allies’ territory.
“So he writes in his letters that he landed in an orchard,”Spitler said. “So we were looking for an orchard in order to film him.”
Spitler explained that when the production team found someone with an orchard, it turned out that the owner knew Branson.
“Emerson, when he was back in the Bradford-Covington area, he sold farm seed,” Spitler said. “So a lot of farmers knew him.”
The owner said he never knew that Branson was even in World War II, let alone shot down in enemy territory, as the Axis powers had control of France at that time.
“This guy was just flabbergasted,” Spitler said.
When it came time to film at that location, there was a small crowd of around a dozen people who knew Branson and wanted to watch the documentary get filmed.
“These people knew Emerson and just were amazed at what I had told them — what he had done — and was there to watch the filming,” Spitler said. “I thought that was kind of mind-boggling.”
Branson’s grandson, Linc Branson, plays his grandfather in the documentary reenactment. Linc Branson was allowed to sit inside of a bomber at the Champaign Aviation Museum during the filming.
“He got to experience what it was like in that small compartment of a bomber as a navigator … and the clothing and the big coats and floppy boots like his grandpa would have done,” Spitler said.
The process of creating the documentary included going to museums and historical sites to utilize for backgrounds in the reenactments, such as the Troy Historical Museum, Brukner Nature Center, Champaign Aviation Museum, Veterans Memorial Museum Foundation in Germantown, Garst Museum in Greenville, Arcanum Wayne Trail Society Museum, The Cardinal Center, Steam Threshers Reunion, Overfield Tavern, and more.
Spitler’s hope is that if people see this documentary, they will appreciate what veterans are still doing today.
“The purpose of this documentary is to keep alive the memory of what our veterans have done and are still doing for us,” Spitler said. “By watching this presentation about history, about a family’s struggle during the war, about what these boys did while in the service, maybe we will come away with an appreciation for the sacrifices they made to keep us free.”
On a personal level, Spitler explained that she felt a calling from her religious faith to do this project to commemorate these local veterans.
“I was commissioned by God to do this,” Spitler said. “He would send me the help I needed.”
Spitler’s cousin Kenny Adams, the son of Marion Adams, also inspired Spitler. Spitler explained that her cousin buys and own unique military vehicles, operated an amtrac in the Clint Eastwood movie “Flags of our Father,” and was instrumental in bringing an LST to Evansville, Ind. Kenny Adams also took the flag that his father had duing the Allied invasion of southern France back to that beach on the 70th anniversary in 2014.
Spitler explained that she received much help in this endeavor, including help from her “right hand man” Doug Drieling, her brother and World War II reenactor. Drieling did much of the filming for the documentary, contributed creative ideas, and built four ship sets inside his garage. Tim Robertson also designed a teleprompter used in the documentary, Jerry Pence of Greenville helped teach Spitler how to edit her documentary, and Joseph Helfrich narrated the documentary. Family and friends also contributed to the documentary.
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall