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Bradenton WWII Re-Enactor Lends Hand to History Video

World War II re-enactor John Thomas of Bradenton recently traveled to Crystal Beach to help with the filming of a video that teaches Pinellas County fourth-graders about history and a unique tree with ties to the war.

A tree in Crystal Beach, East Lake's Boot Ranch Shopping Center and a building in Old Downtown Palm Harbor all have something in common.

They are locations where Countryside High students taped scenes for a video that's being used by Pinellas County elementary school teachers to teach Pinellas County fourth-graders about North Pinellas county history.

Palm Harbor resident and Countryside High TV and film production teacher Carl Zimmermann supervised the video shoot. Countryside students Sarah Ellenwood, Caitlyn Lightle and Katie Bessell, ages 17, handled production duties during the shoot. And World War II reanactors, including John Thomas of Bradenton helped to bring history to life.

The Crystal Beach segment of the video focusses on World War II history and a very tall slash pine tree. The tree was used as an observation post during the war. Residents took turns climbing the tree to watch for enemy activity in the Gulf of Mexico. If activity was seen, residents radioed to military stationed at Egmont Key, letting them know they should mobilize. 

"It shows how Americans came together during the war. Everyone did their part," said WWII reenactor Thomas, 50, who traveled to Crystal Beach from Bradenton to participate in the shoot with fellow reenactor Mike Hochleutner, 25.

Some Pinellas County fourth-grade students got to play roles in the video. As part of the plot, the kids participate in a scavenger hunt that leads them to different North Pinellas county locations where they learn historical facts about the locations. Maya Kahli, 10, a student at Ridgecrest Elementary in Largo, and Palm Harbor Middle students Elyssa Warner, and Haylee Unger, ages 11, participated in the video shoot. 

The Crystal Beach video shoot attracted a crowd of onlookers. Libby and Jack Burke, who live in Palm Harbor, brought their 6-year-old granddaughter, Kennedy Cusak. The trio watched the action from their lawn chairs.

Historian Terry Fortner, of Palm Harbor, was excited about the video shoot. "It's nice because it gives attention to historic landmarks in Pinellas County," she said as the 170-year-old slash pine towered above her.

The students also taped at the Witch's Brew in Old Downtown Palm Harbor and spoke with owner Lesley Klein about the building's history.

Volunteers with the Palm Harbor Historical Society helped the students with historical aspects of the video.

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