Spring Hill man's documentary, 'In Their War,' preserves veterans' WWII stories

Matt Wilcox, 25, sifts through World War II-era letters he has collected during his research. Wilcox is creating a documentary based on veterans’ stories. The first segment of In Their War, a look at Pearl Harbor, airs Sunday.
Matt Wilcox, 25, sifts through World War II-era letters he has collected during his research. Wilcox is creating a documentary based on veterans’ stories. The first segment of In Their War, a look at Pearl Harbor, airs Sunday.
Published Dec. 4, 2014


In his dimly lit home office, Matt Wilcox pointed at the black and white pictures of naval ships and soldiers pasted to the black pages of a spiral-bound book. It belonged to his grandfather, who operated gyroscopes during World War II.

Wilcox, 25, has studied the war since he was a kid. He collects photos and letters, and decided a year ago to use them to create a documentary called In Their War. The movie's first segment, about the attack on Pearl Harbor 73 years ago, will premiere Sunday on local TV.

Wilcox says the sole purpose of the documentary is to preserve the stories of WWII veterans.

"I'm doing this for them," he said.

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Wilcox, who graduated from Springstead High School in 2008 and will graduate this month from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in history and religious studies, is the son of two retired teachers.

His mom taught fourth grade and remedial reading at a high school; his dad taught history. His dad's work sparked Wilcox's interest in the subject. So did his grandfathers. Both were drafted during WWII.

"I've tried to instill respect for what took place in the past, and the sacrifices that people in the past have made for us," said Wilcox's father, Don Wilcox, who taught history at Springstead for 32 years and in Pasco County for five years before that. "One of the ways I was able to do that so well with our son was (by telling) him about his grandfathers.

"I was so proud of my father," said Don Wilcox, whose father piloted a boat at Normandy in a scene akin to the landing depicted in Saving Private Ryan. His father's stories inspired Don Wilcox to study history.

Matt Wilcox never met his paternal grandfather, who also saw the Enola Gay take off on its mission to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

His maternal grandfather was on a ship in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered.

Matt Wilcox's interest in history deepened while he watched and discussed documentaries with his dad in grade school. When he was 13, his parents took him to the Brooksville Raid Re-enactment and bought him a uniform.

As a Civil War re-enactor, "I wound up jumping off boats and charging forts in Mobile, Ala.," Wilcox said. "An amphibious invasion. Saving Private Ryan, Civil War-style."

In high school, Wilcox studied wars. And he made a discovery.

Veterans "tell us things we don't read about in the history books," he said.

So Wilcox, who has filmed weddings and parties and created educational films since high school, decided to use the pictures and letters he had collected from WWII to create In Their War. He also interviewed veterans for the documentary.

"I was very, very impressed," Don Wilcox said of his son's decision to document the war. "I hope it instills (in viewers) a sense of respect and admiration for the men and women who fought that war and what they did for us."

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• • •

The film's first segment explains how and why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and to show there was more to the battle than most of us learned in school. It will air on Sunday, the anniversary of the attack, on Hernando County Government Broadcasting, Hernando Instructional Television and Pasco TV.

"Matt is extremely precise," said Rick Foti, video production manager at Hernando County Government Broadcasting. "He does an incredible job."

The film has no formal narration.

"The idea is to keep as much attention on the war itself, the imagery, the letters, the voices of radio broadcasts and the voices of the veterans themselves," Wilcox said.

The two men who appear in the segment of the film that airs Sunday live in Port Richey and New Port Richey and didn't just watch the United States enter WWII; they fought it in its entirety.

"The older generation knows because they lived through it," Foti said. "A lot of the younger generation don't look at the history that made this country what it is today. It should be something that people remember because this was on our soil."

Stories about the war will be lost if they aren't preserved, Wilcox said.

"Now's the time to do it," he said. "In the next 10 years, we won't have these guys."

What people can learn from their lives is invaluable, Wilcox said. They were hard-working, selfless and humble. Their stories unveil parts of the past worth studying.

"Until recently, you don't hear about the blood and the guts and the gore, and the sons that never came home (from Pearl Harbor)," he said.

He wants his film to portray that reality.

"I hope that people are entertained, that they learn something new and that they go out and do some research on their own," he said.

In the rest of the segments of In Their War, which Wilcox has yet to finish, he wants to preserve other WWII veterans' stories.

"There are hundreds of veterans in (Hernando and Pasco counties)," he said. "If they're willing to talk, I want to talk to them."

Contact Arleen Spenceley at or (727) 869-6235. Follow @ArleenSpenceley.