Cromwell, IN native’s World War I diary shared in 'Fighting Hoosiers'

By Sheryl Prentice
via the Herald Republican newspaper (IN) web site 

A Cromwell native’s diary about living aboard a World War I battleship is included among the wartime stories in Fighting Hoosiers: Indiana in Two World Wars, a new book published by Indiana University Press.

Fighting Hoosiers coverGuy Burrell Connor grew up near Cromwell in Sparta Township before being drafted into the U.S. Navy. He kept a diary during his service, serving as a radio man aboard two battleships, the USS Pennsylvania and the USS New Hampshire.

The USS New Hampshire was a BB-25 battleship that entered World War I in April 1917 as primarily a training vessel for gunners and engine room personnel. She escorted convoys in late 1918, when Connor was aboard, and brought soldiers back to America from France after the war. The ship was sold for scrap in November 1923 after the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty reduced the size of the signers’ navies.

Author Dawn Bakken, associate editor at the 117-year-old “Indiana Magazine of History,” included excerpts from Connor’s diary along with the first-person accounts of six other Hoosiers who served in World War I and II.

Bakken said Connor’s diary from the last half of 1918 was first published in the history magazine in 1990 by editor Jeffrey Patrick. She did not know how Patrick obtained the diary, but said many families submitted diaries to the magazine over time.

Bakken found Connor’s words compelling.

“It’s such an interesting piece. People like first-person accounts,” Bakken said in a phone interview. “Diaries in wartime were fairly common, but forbidden, but soldiers kept them anyway.”

Fighting HoosiersConnor’s diary takes up 21 pages in the 200-page book. Bakken said Connor’s tone in the diary downplays the danger he was in. Connor notes that his ship encountered torpedoes, hurricanes and stealthy, battleship-hunting submarines, but he doesn’t say much about the fear he felt as he watched the ship’s crew succumb to the influenza epidemic of 1918.

“The diaries and memoirs have a matter-of-fact tone, but the experiences are terrifying,” Bakken said.

Connor’s diary is also remarkable for the glimpses into what technology was like in World War I. As a radio man, Connor describes the equipment and events on some of his watches aboard ship, but pages are missing that might reveal sensitive information such as the ship’s coordinates. He also describes the time-consuming process of “taking on coal.”

“Connor mentions the cleaning of the ship,” Bakken said. “And soot is everywhere.”

Read the entire article on the Herald Republican web site.

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