SJSU professor releases WWII DVD

by Feb 9, 2005 12:00 am

Most movie premieres feature young stars dressed in designer gowns and the obligatory glitz and glamour, but the premiere of the documentary "The Jeeter Bug" featured stars of different kind – American World War II heroes.

Electricity filled the lobby before the film started as the 11 men that crash-landed on the island of Iwo Jima 60 years ago circulated among family and friends.

Grace Provenzano, San Jose State University assistant professor in the school of journalism and mass communications, produced the film with her husband, John Cannon.

Josh Springer of KCSM, San Mateo's public broadcast radio station, also helped in the development of the half-hour documentary, which is now available on DVD.

"This is a great story," Springer said to the audience of well over 200. "And stories have the potential to preserve the past."

The film includes footage from a crew member's 8 mm Brownie camera, recent interviews, and photographs.

With a professional development grant from SJSU, Provenzano began work on the story in November 2002, Provenzano said.

"This is a human-interest story, and of great historical interest," Provenzano said.

Provenzano said she was immediately interested when crew member John Weller brought the story to her.

Weller, the navigator of the B-24 plane, the Jeeter Bug, said the story is about, "heroism and lifelong friendship."

On March 12, 1945, the Jeeter Bug, led by pilot Lieutenant Frank Jeeter, was forced to land in the middle of a battle between United States and Japanese soldiers.

The crew was on a bombing mission to Chi Chi Jima, an island about 50 miles away from Iwo Jima.

They received heavy enemy fire, destroying two of their engines. The crew could not make it back to their base, so they decided to land on Iwo Jima.

"We were just a bunch of fly boys on the ground with the ground troops," Weller said.

U.S. ground troops had to set off flashers and call a cease-fire to allow the Jeeter Bug to find the landing strip in the darkness of night.

Most of the troops didn't know what was happening, said John Farritor, a marine stationed on Iwo Jima.

When the plane came into view, Japanese troops began firing, and the crew was forced to spend the night in the plane loaded with over 1,000 gallons of gasoline, Weller said.

A ground trooper said if the enemies hit the fuel tanks, the crew "wouldn't even know what hit (them)," Weller said.

Bob Larson, who at 23 was the oldest man in the crew, led the repair of the plane, and soon, the men returned to their base in Guam.

Two days later, the crew was in the air again, on another mission.

"War gave me a better appreciation of life," Larson said.

Seven of the 11 crew members are still alive today, and six attended the premiere, flanked by wives, sons, daughters, friends and cousins, bright-eyed and full of proud smiles for their heroes.

Pat Filice, younger sister of the late Ray Fritter, was only five when her "big brother" flew in the Jeeter Bug.

"He would not talk about (the war)," Filice said. "He was pulled out of high school to go to war."

The young men, aged 19 to 23, saw many of their friends die during the war.

"Those men looked much older than their age (in the old footage and photos)," said Provenzano. "I guess war does that to you."

"Each man in this crew, at one time, saved my life," Weller said.

"The Jeeter Bug" is one of many fascinating and courageous stories of World War II; the uniqueness of this documentary is that the story is actually being told.

KCSM will air the documentary Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

"I think (the film) is important in making people aware of that time in history," Provenzano said. "It's amazing that many of these men are still alive to tell their story, and still living fulfilling lives."

They flew in from all over the United States to watch the premiere, Provenzano said.

" 'The Jeeter Bug' is representative of a generation; the courage and humbleness they had is something our generation can learn from," she said.

With the 60th anniversary of D-Day quickly approaching on February 19th and about one month before the anniversary of the Jeeter Bug's emergency landing, Provenzano said she hopes "The Jeeter Bug" will receive airtime from other PBS stations nationwide.

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