Prisoner of War Diaries

“Historical events of National importance are duly recorded by historians, but the personal and individual experiences that make up these events are too many times lost with the passing of time.” Gilbert Verney; Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc.; Bennington, N.H.; October 2, 1972

These words are found in the front of the published version of the diary that Hubert B. Gater wrote as a prisoner of war during the Second World War, but they apply to all personal narratives that remind us that great wars are not merely historical international events, but also made up of individual stories of trying to survive. The American Heritage Center has several diaries written by soldiers in POW camps during World War II.


A page from the diary of Hubert B. Gater.

A page from the diary of Hubert B. Gater.

“You are my enemy forever! Maybe I fight you again, sometime. In this inclosure the strong will live and the weak will die. If you attempt to escape you will be shot. Empty your pockets and place all you have on the ground in front of you.” – Jap major (commander) greeting the P.O.W.s at Camp O’Donnell, the first P.O.W. camp Hubert B. Gater was assigned to.

Hubert B. Gater (1912-1980) was stationed with the U.S. Army in the Philippines at the outbreak of World War II. Gater was caught in early April 1942 when the Japanese forces overpowered the remaining Allied forces on the islands of Bataan and Corregidor in the Philippines. In his diary, Gater tells of the last stand and how they were taken prisoners soon after. He tells his story of the infamous Bataan Death March in which thousands of prisoners died during a transfer from Saisaih Pt. and Mariveles to Camp O’Donnell. The deaths only increased after arrival at the camp. A diary entry from April 12th, 1942 states “For my group the march from Bataan was over. The march was over but close to four out of five of us would still die. War wounds, malaria, dysentery, beri beri, pellagra and especially malnutrition.”

The diary managed to survive the war because when Gater was transferred to Japan, he left the diary with some friends instructing them to bury it, knowing that the US forces would conduct a thorough search once they liberated the camp. Included in the Gater collection is a photocopy of the original diary, several printed copies of his Bataan diary, as well as correspondence related to the publishing of the diary. There are also news clipping related to the prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.


A page from the journal of Robert Kenneth Cook.

A page from the journal of Robert Kenneth Cook.

“In this hell-hole I hungered for food and “sweated out” the end of the war.” Last line of Robert Kenneth Cook’s description of a day at Stalag VII-A

A timeline from the diary of Robert Kenneth Cook describing his experience of the final days of World War II.

A timeline from the diary of Robert Kenneth Cook describing his experience of the final days of World War II.

Robert Kenneth Cook was a US flight navigator whose plane was shot down by the Germans in 1944. He spent his time as a POW in Stalag VII-A, Germany’s largest POW camp during World War II, and Stalag Luft III. Stalag Luft III is best known for the mass prisoner escape written about by Paul Brickhill in The Great Escape. Cook was a part of the escape effort, using his skills as a navigator and artist to draw maps for the escape. Cook’s diary is written in the form of a magazine with beautiful hand illustrations and unexpected entries such as recipes, lists of books he’s read in the camp and drawings of how soldiers dressed on a mission. He even allowed other prisoners to contribute to his “Kriegie Kronicle”, Kriegie being short for Kriegesgefangenen, the German for Prisoner of War. Several prisoners contributed poems about wishing to be free and for the war to end. One John J. Ellis provided an account of the mass evacuation of Stalag Luft III and the trip to Stalag VII-A in Bavaria describing the scarcity of food, cramped conditions on trains and the long marches in the freezing cold.

Cook’s diary differs from so many others in that it focuses less on the horrors of war and more on the attempts of creating some sense of normalcy in prison. It provides insight into how German POW camps were run from entries like “A Day at Stalag VII-A” and many drawings of the rooms, and things the prisoners used every day. The light tone can make one forget about the pain, discomfort and misery these soldiers were experiencing, but then one comes across an entry like this: “Nothing so lifts a soldier’s moral as getting a letter from home. And nothing so depresses him as reading it. BUT DEPRESS ME…SO HELP ME!!”

The Kriegie Kronicle ends with Cook writing about impatiently waiting to return homeafter the end of the War. Eventually, he returned to his home in Wyoming and was a student at the University of Wyoming for a time.

A page from the diary of Robert Kenneth Cook, the "Kriegie Kronicle".

A page from the diary of Robert Kenneth Cook, the “Kriegie Kronicle”.


“I have been speculating on the great moment [of being freed] around here. I can’t imagine the reaction. Freedom simply means too much to us for our minds to comprehend it.” Page 4 of Wilbur Brice O’Brien’s POW diary

A page from the diary of Brice O'Brien.

A page from the diary of Brice O’Brien.

Wilbur Brice O’Brien was enlisted in 1941 and served in the U.S. Army Force as a pilot. His plane was shot down near Lyon, France in 1944. He was free for a short time, but was then captured in an underground camp in civilian clothing. He was initially told he would be executed, but was then transported to Stalag Luft I in Germany where he spent eleven months as a Prisoner of War.

The collection contains materials relating to O’Brien’s P.O.W. experience and legal career including a diary and letters sent by O’Brien to his wife as a P.O.W. His diary is written as directly addressing his wife. Entries show the frustration that P.O.W.s felt after the European armistice when they were waiting to be freed and also waiting to be returned home. O’Brien wrote many postcards to his wife and for the most part received no responses. The most heartbreaking entries are when he keeps asking his wife to send a picture of their three year old child because he is struggling to imagine what she would look like after so long. After World War II, O’Brien worked as an attorney and in the collection are documents about the coal industry adjusting to the threat of nuclear energy overtaking coal.

-Chido Muchemwa, Graduate Assistant

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Mining in Southern Africa

Copper Belt, Cu refinery Ndola. Image from the Thomas C. Denton papers, American Heritage Center.

Copper Belt, Cu refinery Ndola. Image from the Thomas C. Denton papers, American Heritage Center.

The American Heritage Center is proud of its mining collections that cover mining industry records from all over the world and give an interesting view into the evolution of mining over the years. These collections often also give an interesting view into life around the mine. Through the Frank A. Ayer and Thomas C. Denton Collections, one gets a view into mining in Southern Africa from the 1930’s through to the 1960’s.

Rhodesia Ferrochrome Plant at Gwelo, Rhodesian Alloys. Image from the Thomas C. Denton papers, American Heritage Center.

Rhodesia Ferrochrome Plant at Gwelo, Rhodesian Alloys. Image from the Thomas C. Denton papers, American Heritage Center.

Frank A. Ayer (1886-1976) was a 1911 graduate of the Columbia school of engineering and specialized in copper mining. His collection includes papers from his mining career Ayer was general manager of the Roan Antelope Copper Mines, Ltd. in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from 1933-1941. Included in his collection are the British South Africa Company Directors’ Report and Accounts (1932-39) with map of Rhodesia and surrounding areas and BSAC interests in those areas as well the Annual Reports from 1930 to 1939 for Mufulira Mine. The Mufulira Copper Mines LTD Employee Representative Committee Minutes (8 April 1937 – September 1940) familiarize with the things that concerned the native workers at that time such as ventilation of their square huts, whether to ban or not native hawkers in the townships and the overcrowding in single quarters. Of anecdotal value are the newspaper clippings about a leopard spotted on the highway, a venomous snake found in a car and several lion maulings in surrounding areas in Northern Rhodesia.

Salisbury natives watching shovel in foundation excavation. Image from the Thomas C. Denton papers, American Heritage Center.

Salisbury natives watching shovel in foundation excavation. Image from the Thomas C. Denton papers, American Heritage Center.

Thomas Chadbourne Denton (1899-1975) worked extensively in the mining industry and his slides are from his time at the U.S. Bureau of Mines where he served as the Bureau’s African specialist in the Foreign Minerals Division. The collection contains slides taken by Denton between 1957 and 1961 on several trips to Africa. Whilst the collection contains many pictures of mines and mine scenes in different African countries including South Africa, Namibia, Rhodesia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone it is doubly interesting for its pictures of general scenes in Africa. Denton often took pictures of his road journeys to and from the mines and this leads to an interesting group of pictures of things that range from the then-recently completed Kariba Dam and Power station, Kruger National Park, the Elisabethville Airport in the Belgian Congo and Cecil John Rhodes’ grave. Also included are pictures of native housing and community centers at mines in Rhodesia, Mozambique and South West Africa

-Chido Muchemwa, Graduate Assistant

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In Memoriam: Dick Moore, September 12, 1925 – September 7, 2015

From the Dick Moore papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

From the Dick Moore papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

Born John Richard Moore, Jr., “Dickie” made his silver screen debut at eleven months old when he portrayed the infant Francois Villon (fifteenth-century poet and scoundrel) in the silent film The Beloved Rogue (1927). Cast for his resemblance to the actor John Barrymore (who portrayed the adult Villon), Moore stole the scene—and women’s hearts—when he gazed delightedly into the face of his adoring screen mother. His striking features and quiet countenance made him a star in high demand during Hollywood’s transition from silent film to “talkies.” By the time Hal Roach cast him to play six-year-old Dickie in eight Our Gang comedy shorts (1932-1933), Moore was a veteran actor with more than twenty films to his credit. He continued to act through adolescence and early adulthood, appearing in more than one hundred films, most famously perhaps as the young man who gave Shirley Temple her first on-screen, romantic kiss in the teen-flick Miss Annie Rooney (1942).

From the Dick Moore papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

From the Dick Moore papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

Like many entertainers, Moore answered the nation’s World War II call to duty. During the war, he honed his writing as a correspondent for the Army’s Stars and Stripes newspaper. After the war he went to college on the G.I. Bill and earned a degree in journalism. In 1966, Moore drew on both his writing talent and acting experience when he established his public relations firm Dick Moore and Associates in New York City. His firm’s clients included the Actor’s Equity Association, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), and various other entertainment organizations. In 1997 Moore was awarded the prestigious George Heller Memorial Award for outstanding service to the acting profession.

Dick Moore passed away just days before his ninetieth birthday on September 7, 2015.

The Dick Moore Collection at the American Heritage Center primarily contains material from Moore’s 1984 book, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (but don’t have sex or take the car), a book about the common experiences of his fellow veteran child actors. This material consists primarily of interview transcripts and audiocassette recordings, publicity stills, a manuscript proposal, and chapter drafts. The collection also contains scrapbook clippings of Moore’s young acting career, audiocassette and reel-to-reel recordings of various performances by other actors, and a 16 mm copy of The Boy and the Eagle (1949), an Oscar-nominated film produced and narrated by Moore.

Dick Moore met entertainer Jane Powell in 1981 while researching his book on child actors. They married in 1988 and remained so until his recent death. The American Heritage Center also holds the Jane Powell Collection.

—Jennifer Robin Terry, University of California, Berkeley

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Americans on Mt. Everest

Two members of the 1963 expedition on Mt. Everest.

Two members of the 1963 expedition on Mt. Everest. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Daniel E. Doody papers.

In 1963, 19 Americans, 32 Sherpas, and 909 porters set out to climb Mount Everest. The first successful assault on the summit had occurred just 10 years before under the command of Englishman Sir Edmund Hillary, but no American had ever reached the top. Neither had any Russian or Chinese expedition. So there were shades of Cold War rivalry when Norman Dyrenfurth put together his trek under the sponsorship of the National Geographic Society.

Dyrenfurth was a Swiss-born naturalized American and an extraordinary administrator. His careful preparation work ensured that money and sponsorship was in place to support such an ambitious climb. Among the team he assembled were Jake Breitenbach, a climbing guide from Wyoming’s Grand Teton; Daniel Doody, who was designated the expedition cinematographer; and Luther Jerstad, a climbing guide on Mount Rainier. Of the four, only Jerstad actually reached the summit. Dyrenfurth apparently did not attempt a final ascent, and Doody developed thrombophlebitis, which confined him to base camp. Jake Breitenbach was killed on March 23 by the collapse of an ice wall. His body was recovered by a Japanese expedition in 1969. Five others on the expedition also reached the summit. They were James Whittaker, Nawang Gombu, Tom Hornbein, Willi Unsoeld, and Barry Bishop.

The American Heritage Center contains papers, photographs, and audio recordings of Norman Dyrenfurth, Jake Breitenbach, Daniel Doody, and Luther Jerstad.

For more information about the 1963 American Everest Expedition, see The Vast Unknown, by Broughton Coburn (Crown Publishers, 2013)

-D. Claudia Thompson, Processing Manager

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Fremont County Films Show Arapahoe and Shoshone Events, Community Gatherings, and Family Moments–Now Online!

The University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center (AHC) has digitized and made accessible online 16 films from the Harry S. Harnsberger motion pictures and audiotapes #1987.

Harry S. Harnsberger came to Wyoming in 1907 and settled in Fremont County, where his mother was engaged in drilling for oil on Sage Creek. The teenage Harnsberger made friends among the Shoshone and Arapaho and observed many aspects of life on the Wind River Reservation. After the depression of 1910 he went East and graduated from Georgetown Law School in 1914. He returned to Lander, Wyoming, and served as the County and Prosecuting Attorney in 1930-1942. In 1950 he became Wyoming’s Attorney General, and in 1953 he was appointed a Justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court. He became Chief Justice In 1967.

The collection contains motion pictures and audio reels created by Harry S. Harnsberger. Topics include the One-Shot Antelope Hunt in Fremont County, Wyoming; Arapaho and Shoshone sun dances; parades and celebrations in Lander, Wyoming; Yellowstone Park; and Cheyenne Frontier Days. Also included is a manuscript by Harnsberger about Fremont County, Wyoming.

Links to digitized items and additional information about the Harry S. Harnsberger motion pictures and audiotapes can be found in the on-line finding aid at: http://rmoa.unm.edu/docviewer.php?docId=wyu-ah01987.xml

–Jamie Greene, Digital Programs Department

 

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U.S. Information Agent’s Papers Shed Light on U.S. Propaganda Strategy in S.E. Asia

Lloyd Burlingham was a United States Foreign Service information officer. He was born in Manila, Philippines, around 1911. He graduated from the University of Rochester in 1952 and then studied at Columbia University’s Russian Institute. From 1955 to 1956, he was a research assistant for American University, contributing to books on Cambodia, Laos, and Iran. He joined the United States Information Service (later the United States Information Agency) in 1957 where he worked until 1970. During his government service, he was stationed in Thailand and worked in Buenos Aires and Saigon as well. He served as director of public information for the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, 1961-1965. He died in Perry, New York.

The Lloyd Burlingham collection contains documents created by the United States Information Agency to advance its mission of presenting the United States in a positive way to foreign countries during the Cold War. Also included are research materials about Southeast Asia, SEATO (the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization), China, Russia, Argentina, and elsewhere. Materials include correspondence, newspapers and clippings, periodicals relating to foreign relations, internal memos, press releases, informal field notebooks, and government reports. There are materials that provide insight into the political and military situation in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and a small series of propaganda materials used against the United States in countries like Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam in the 1960s. There is some material in Thai and Russian languages. There are also reports and papers dealing with Soviet influence in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

The AHC is home to a number of Cold War-era collections; for a preview of collections in this subject area, you might be interested in our subject guide, available here.

–Pechet Men, AHC Processing Intern

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The AHC will be closed August 10th, 2015

The American Heritage Center will be closed for research visits on Monday, August 10th, due to a staff retreat. We will reopen at 8am on Tuesday, August 11th.  We apologize for any inconvenience, but look forward to assisting you with your research needs when we reopen.

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