With a dragon tattoo climbing up his arm and American flags and sepia-toned photos of military men displayed on his office walls, you'd think John Bolender was a veteran.
"I couldn't pass the physical," said 59-year-old Bolender, who was kept out during the Vietnam era by a head operation he had as an infant.
But Bolender, who owns and rents miniwarehouses, has developed a strong connection to those in uniform, especially those who fought in World War II, like his father and uncle. He even had relatives who fought in the German army.
Bolender pays tribute to them in a big way, by collecting World War II memorabilia. In fortified rooms, he keeps countless guns, knives, ammunition, uniforms, money, photos, captured enemy flags and even rations that still include the canned meat, stick of gum and small pack of Camel smokes.
Now he has one of the best firsthand accounts of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.
About three years ago, a woman who answered a newspaper ad he runs periodically said she had a box of World War II photos she wanted to sell. Bolender won't discuss the terms of the sale, saying that he cared only about historical value.
Expecting a container the size of a shoebox, he was surprised to get two footlockers of photos.
Recently, he went through the photos more thoroughly and was surprised to find they were taken by Chief Petty Officer Clyde Daughtry, a 31-year-old Navy photographer who had a front row seat to history on Dec. 7, 1941. The woman Bolender bought them from was one of Daughtry's relatives.
In addition to the photos of smoke billowing from ships, the box also contained a journal. Daughtry was aboard the USS Argonne, a repair ship, when the Japanese attacked.
"About 07:55 I heard lots of unusual noises. Soon after some of the shipmates came down to the third deck to the photo lab and said we were being attacked by the (Japanese). I rushed up to the top side still thinking it was a sham battle, but when I got up to a porthole and saw a large splash going up about 100 feet, I was very much convinced," he wrote.
Daughtry recounted how he scrambled for his cameras. By the time he got to the top, enemy troops had sunk several battleships.
"They didn't only catch us with our pants down but with them off," he wrote. Many of the sailors had been out on leave the night before, a Saturday, and were sleeping in. Some rushed to man guns they'd never fired before.
In the air, Daughtry said, the Japanese "came so close to the ships that the running sailors on (the) top side of the ship … could see the (Japanese) laughing at them."
Daughtry, a native of Portal, Ga., also took 16mm footage of the attack. His original film was lost in the cleanup. According to a 1983 article from the Statesboro (Ga.) Herald, Daughtry spent years looking for his original film and seeking recognition for it. Forty-one years later, copies were located in classified files. After they were verified as Daughtry's, the Secretary of Navy gave official recognition while the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu obtained display copies credited to Daughtry.
It was a dream Daughtry thought would never come true.
"I called just about everyone I could think of who might know something about the films" the newspaper said Daughtry told some Georgia students in 1983. "I asked fellow naval men at conventions, and always watched for them in the theaters … . I had just about given up on ever finding the film or even copies."
Daughtry, who spent 27 years in the Navy and four years in the Marines, moved to Fort Myers in 1957, according to an obituary in the Fort Myers News-Press. He worked for the school district in inventory control and maintained a neighborhood sign that said "God is Love." He died in 1985.
His film was used in a national television special about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Bolender plans to use some of Daughtry's memorabilia at an upcoming event next month to benefit the World War II museum at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport.
He hasn't completely gone through it all but says one of his favorites is a 1938 photo of Daughtry in his summer uniform leaving a naval photo lab in Pensacola.
Would he consider selling any of his extensive collection?
No way, he says.
"I do this for historical value," he said. "I don't even want to talk about money."