1935-1943 Chronicle of World War 2 and the Coming-of-Age of a Pennsylvania Man from Geneva College Through Adulthood

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On offer are three manuscript diaries that form a remarkable chronicle of WWII through the eyes of an American workman, woven in with the coming-of-age journey of an everyman from his sophomore year at Geneva College through age 28. 

The author of the journals is John Francis Overholt (1915-2005). Born in Fredericktown, Pennsylvania to Thomas Hawkens and Helen (Hasting) Overholt, he lived in both Baden and Rochester, Pennsylvania, moving to Rochester, New York in 1942 for a job. John’s father was a grocer descended from a farming family. John graduated from Rochester High School and was referred to as a “brilliant man from Baden…a real friend…” in his senior yearbook. He married Louise McClelland in 1946. They had no children. 

The first journal is more of a scrapbook diary, with small illustrations and glued in imagery accompanying Overholt’s daily entries. In it, he recounts his entire sophomore year at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA, from September, 1935 to June, 1936. It is replete with details of college life – courses and studies, sports, and of course his social life. 

“I spent the night with Clark, my old pal. Instead of studying our eight chapters of Economics, we took our rest. We also saw a wonderful he-man picture “Call of the Wild” starring Clark Gable, Jack Oakie and Loretta Young” [Oct 22, 1935]. 

“A noted orator and member and director of the stock exchange gave us a very snappy and instructive talk this morning. He gave John D Rockerfeller’s statement concerning the question of how to be a success in life…” [Feb 18, 1936]. 

“Lecture today by representative of Byrd Antarctic Expedition & former Geneva student. Told how men wear wool to absorb body moisture ... A certain type of grass was placed in the ends of oversized shoes to absorb foot moisture…” [Apr 9, 1936]. 

His 2nd journal begins in September 1940 and continues until June 1943. He is working as a salesman for the Loose Wiles Biscuit Co., a baking company in Pittsburgh. However, his entries provide a running commentary on the events taking place in Europe. Almost every day, he notes something of the war raging overseas.

“This is the sixth day of a brutal bombing of London by 500 bombers of the Nazi’s”  [Sept 10, 1940]. 

“In the U.S school children returned to school in a country free from war, suffering and fear… [Sept 2, 1941]. 

“Japan attached the Hawaiian Islands at eight o’clock this morning. Fifteen hundred lives were lost the first day. The attack was started in Pearl Harbor” [Dec 7, 1941].

Entry after entry chronicles the events, as known to the public, of WWII. In June of 1942, he applies for and is hired by the Hawk Eye Division of Eastman Kodak Ltd in Rochester NY, quits his job in Pittsburgh and moves to New York.

“Gas rationing began today in Rochester…” [Aug 22, 1942]. 

“New York Times headlines – Roosevelt freezes Wages, Rents, Farm Prices, Names Justice Byrnes Economic Director, U.S. troops move down to new Aleutian Base” [Oct 4, 1942].

“...The City of Houston, Texas presented to the government tonight 25 million dollars for the building of the new cruiser Houston. This money was collected in 21 days through he sale of bonds to the citizens. This cruiser is to replace the former cruiser Houston which was sunk by the Japanese” [Dec 21, 1942].

His 3rd journal, which covers 1943 to 1945,  continues in the same vein. Almost daily recording of war news from all fronts interspersed with entries about notable sporting events such as baseball games, Kentucky Derby horse races and various social events with his future wife, Louise.

“Newspaper headline – Invasion! Yeah, British and Canadian troops landed and invaded Normandy in northwest France to make the greatest amphibious operation in history…” [June 6, 1944]. 

“The St. Louis Cardinals took the fifth game of the 1944 World Series from the St. Louis Browns by the score of 2 to 0…” [Oct 8, 1944]. 

For a historian, this is a superb collection that chronicles, on an almost daily basis, the progress of WWII as seen through the eyes of an American working man. This collection would be a fine addition for a private collection or a part of a larger collection dealing with the American experience of WWII at home.

The first journal covers 1935-36, the second 1940-43, and the third 1943-45. The binders that contain the diary pages are in good condition with some wear along the spines of the covers. The 1936-35 is comprised of lined, 3-ring paper on which the author has made his entries. The 2 journals from the 1940’s are larger and comprised of unlined, 2-ring paper. The pages are all in good condition. In some cases, individual pages have pulled away from the rings. Other pages have hole reinforcements to help secure them to the rings. Overall G. 

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