In Florida, a D-Day veteran and friend to presidents turns 100
By PAUL GUZZO | Tampa Bay Times | Published: January 21, 2021
He has counted
“I never imagined I’d see 100 years,” Sayler said. “That thought never crossed my mind.”
But Sayler was quick to add that luck plays a role in the length of a person’s life.
“I could have been killed on D-Day,” he said.
So, judge a person by how they live their years, Sayler said, and not the number of years they live.
On his birthday, his family held a celebration they said was fitting of Sayler’s stature.
The first of two parades was held outside his home. Neighbors drove by and honked or walked by and screamed “Happy Birthday” as Sayler waved from his porch.
The second parade welcomed Sayler outside the
“It was humbling,” Sayler said. “It floored me, but I appreciated that so many people cared.”
Sayler was born in
“My dad was in the Army, so we moved a lot,” he said.
He believes the family was living in
“It had a rumble seat — one of those seats that was upside down in the trunk that you had to flip over,” he said. “They’d never make anything like that today.”
He was around 7 and living in
“We listened to Eddie Cantor,” Sayler said. “He was a comedian.”
And he was 10 and still in
“It was a wind-up phone,” he said.
It was also a “party line,” a phone circuit shared by multiple neighbors.
“We had a neighbor who would try to listen to all the calls,” Sayler laughed. “We could hear the rustling when she was listening.”
Asked how they communicated before phones, Sayler again laughed, “I have no idea. It does sound strange.”
Even stranger, he said, was what
“You’d never believe it, but there was no traffic,” he said. “Not many people lived there. It was an empty place back then.”
Soon after that move, Sayler enlisted in what was then known as the
During World War II, his father,
Sayler served as a P-38 fighter pilot who flew nearly 70 World War II combat missions, often escorting bombers. He was among those charged on D-Day with ensuring that German planes did not make it to the fight.
After the war, Sayler spent a month in
“Carried away with the view” from the mountain, Sayler said, he and a British officer grabbed a few of Hitler’s china plates from the dining room and tossed them into the valley below.
Sayler stayed with the military for another 12 years, rising to the rank of major general.
When Lindbergh was hired as a consultant assisting the
“He visited every
Sayler met his wife, Wyline Sayler, while stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia. He piloted the base’s private plane to Columbus to visit his sister. It was during their dinner that he spotted his future wife on a date with one of his friends.
“They didn’t date long after that,” he said.
Sayler and Wyline were married in 1947 and were together until she died in 2020.
The couple relocated to
“I didn’t know anything about the civilian life,” Sayler said. “Alvah said he would teach me.”
Sayler worked in the insurance industry, then helped found and then sell local banks, like the
But he made his name in politics as a state senator from 1966 to 1978.
But Sayler said he was also part of history as one of the senators who had to win two elections in a few-month period.
He won by nearly 8,000 votes, according to Tampa Bay Times archives, in his November 1966 bid to represent District 29. Soon after, Florida reapportioned its districts, placing Sayler in District 21. He ran and won again in March 1967, this time by 16,000 votes, according to Times archives. Among his endorsements was his former general and longtime friend President Eisenhower.
“His elections were never close because everybody loved him,” son
That position led to relationships with
His sons said Sayler grew close to Bush due to their shared war experiences but was friendliest with Reagan, whom their father twice helped win
“They would talk family and wives while on the campaign trail,”
His family deferred to Sayler when asked how he would like to be remembered.
“Will people remember me?” Sayler said. “I don’t know. Maybe if I live another 100 years? I’m going downhill now, although I’m not sure how fast. I’ll just keeping enjoying what I have left.”