Record Herald Writer

Courtesy of the Weekly Record Herald; Printed 6.24.12

MIAMI COUNTY – Writer/director Diana Spitler’s first documentary, “World War II on an LST,” was a declaration of her passion for World War II. It’s a one-hour documentary told using diaries, military records, letters, photos and interviews. What’s an LST? Although some called it Large Slow Targets, it actually stands for Landing Ship Tanks. They were created to support amphibious operations and used in World War II to transport troops, tanks, and other equipment directly onto the shore.
Spitler has been working on World War II stories since 2005. It all started when she met Tom Dorris, a veteran in Greenville, whose stories piqued her interest. He was a member of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. While Spitler was working in Greenville, Dorris had come to her office with a zoning issue.
“I was inspired that this man who did spectacular things in the war was an ordinary citizen living amongst us,” Spitler said.
She originally planned to just do an interview with Dorris, but when she realized he and her Uncle Marion Adams had both been on Utah Beach, Normandy in 1944, she knew she had to do something more.
Unfortunately, due to the health of Dorris and other extenuating circumstances, the two never got together for an interview. Dorris eventually moved to Circleville, where he lives today. Spitler decided to go full steam ahead with her Uncle Marion and produced the LST documentary.
When the Adams family of rural Miami County saw the documentary, they were delighted and offered Spitler 600 letters that inspired her to start work on “Write When You Can.” Her research started in 2008 and the filming, which began in 2011, continues to this day. It’s a documentary with reenactments focusing on her three uncles, Dale, Marion and Melvin Adams, and their experiences in the war. Spitler actually had five uncles who served in World War II, but the other two entered the service near the end of the war, so there isn’t much of them in the documentary.
She began filming the reenactments this year. The third installment occurred in Versailles last week. Spitler explained she wanted to recreate how an event may have happened in August 1944 when a Miami County native, Emerson Branson, rejoined the Allies after he had been protected by the French underground.
“Emerson was an Air Force navigator,” Spitler said, “and his bomber went down after being hit by flak during a bombing raid on railroad yards at Versailles, France a few days before D-day. He was kept hidden from the Germans until Paris was liberated two months later.”
“We know of the events from letters that Emerson had smuggled out through a French lady who befriended him while he was being hidden,” she continued.
While the city of Versailles celebrated Poultry Days, a war was raging just blocks away. Set up on a corner parking lot, Spitler used a mural of a French streetscape painted on an adjacent building as a backdrop for the filming. Complete with tanks, army transports and a medical truck, Spitler said the filming went well.
In the documentary, the re-enactor portraying Emerson is Linc Branson, his grandson.
Doug Drieling, Spitler’s brother, was behind the camera and has been working on both of these projects with her. He lives near Ludlow Falls and is employed at Dapp in Tipp City. Drieling helps with the script, scene creations, filming, and props.
Also in the film is Harry Busse of West Milton, playing an American soldier. Spitler’s niece, Caileigh Spitler of West Milton, is also in the film and will be playing the part of the French woman who helps Emerson. Portraying a Paris citizen is Berni Crumb of Union. Her husband, Steve, is actually with the 101st Airborne re-enactors.
After the filming, Spitler said, “I am compelled to tell this story of life during World War II through the very words of those who lived it. As citizens of this free country, we must remember and appreciate the sacrifices all veterans make for us – whether they served during World War II, in Vietnam, or in today’s conflicts.”
Spitler is grateful for all the help she has received, and invites the public to join her on this project.
“My vision is becoming reality because of volunteer help from my family, friends and local communities. It is our privilege to be working towards this remembrance and preserving this small piece of American history. I welcome any assistance the public might offer — whether it be a military looking location, private film/photos, or volunteers,” she said.
Contact Diana Spitler by email at or by phone at (574) 850-9825. She hopes to have “Write When You Can” completed in time for the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014.