Five women tell their military stories in documentary made by students.
Kacee Bonilla-Martinez, 1st Sgt. at Sarasota Military Academy, learned from the best while interviewing female wartime veterans from as far back as World War II.
“(The women’s) stories are valuable, and each one is different,” said Bonilla-Martinez of the stories she heard over the yearlong process of creating the 18-minute film called “Heroines in Arms Serving Proudly.”
They served in such places as ordnance factories, radar stations, homefront military offices and in a Vietnam medical facility.
Five women gave interviews for the service project: Amy Schlaf, Miriam Zelin, Wendy Hobson, Mary Bailes and Marg Goundie.
In addition to Bonilla-Martinez, cadets Daniel Hernandez, Hannah Phillips, Genesis Wesley, Nicole Fic and Quinn Selby-Gomez also took part in the production.
SMA Capt. Ebony Mackey, who teaches American history at the school, said it was like stepping back in time.
“It was a cool experience because we were sitting and talking with people involved, not reading it in a textbook,” said Mackey. “It kept amazing me that these ladies’ minds were so intact. They didn’t miss a beat. It was like a relay race, where one of them would say something that would trigger another one’s memory. It was amazing.”
The cadets and teachers got the idea from Phyllis DiBlasi, who is the volunteer advocate for female veterans of WWII. Mackey and SMA Capt. Jennifer Vanston were in charge of overseeing the cadets engage with the vets.
“I thought of it as a learning experience for the cadets,” Vanston said. “These were the first women to serve at a time when it wasn’t normal.”
Zelin told the filmmakers about her combat boots, which she kept nearby at all times during her service at a radar station in World War II.
When Zelin died this year, Mackey and Vanston attended her funeral. Zelin’s boots were there at the service with them.
“Those boots were her most cherished possession,” said Mackey. “For her, it brought back a time in her life where she was strong. She was a strong woman for her daughters and her sons.”
While these women may have paved the way for the young cadets and even the teachers for SMA, the cadets and the teachers say the veterans didn’t see it that way.
“They didn’t refer to their time in the service as ever being treated poorly,” said Vanston. “They saw it as a chance to prove they could do a job as well as anyone else and as an opportunity to serve their country.”
Hobson also passed away since the making of the film.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Vanston. “These amazing women aren't the only ones that have served our country here in Sarasota.”
This article was corrected to represent the correct name and titles of the teachers overseeing the project, as well as clarifying direct quotes.