Recollections on Discovering my Father's World War II Diary - Doug Barnes

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Recollections on Discovering my Father's World War II Diary

Emblem Patch of 45th Division and C.J. Barnes sitting on jeep.
Thunderbird Patch of the 45th Division and CJ Barnes in France, 1944
(Photo: C. J. Barnes Collection)
After my father’s funeral in 1991, my mind was in a blur. Late that night I found myself rummaging through his belongings that were neatly organized in his attic desk. I found a tall and narrow black notebook that would fit neatly into a breast pocket. I opened the notebook and instantly recognized his back-sloping left-handed writing. I had discovered something he never shared with any of his family. It was his secret World War II diary (Barnes 1945). He had written the diary for my mother. Astounded by my find, I read the diary as if it was a page-turning novel. 

I also have written a fictional account based on history of my father's departure from the US with the 45th division on a Liberty Ship. This event took place at Newport News on June 4, 1943. 

The title of the Diary was Record of Service in the US Army. The 2005 version annotated and edited by Chris Barnes (Barnes 2005) is The World War II Diary of C. J. Barnes: An Account of Service in the 45th Division 171st Field Artillery Battalion March 21, 1942, to September 24, 1945.

Leaving the USA

My father had barely ever left Pennsylvania, let alone the country. In the attic, I had discovered his first-hand recollection of a time of dramatic change in his life and recollection of events that altered the course of history. He had only briefly talked about his war experiences with members of my family, so his diary contained new insights into his World War II experience for all of us.

During his basic training, due to a shortage of rifles for training, the army issued mops and brooms for simulated training, which is something hard to imagine today (figure 1). The joke among his friends in basic training was that they were going to pummel the enemy with broomsticks. Rifles finally did arrive in Fort Bragg and he was equipped with full military battle gear. He was still learning to be a soldier and was not yet ready for war.

World War II men in basic training, Fort Bragg, NC
Figure 1. Basic Training, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, July, 1942
(Photo: C. J. Barnes Collection)
His journey overseas started at Hampton Roads, Virginia on a Liberty Ship. As his ship started a journey towards war-torn Europe, he peered back at the USA and wrote, “The convoy formed and we set sail for an unknown destination. I was feeling very bad here as I was standing by the rail watching the shores of the good old USA disappear from view, leaving Helen behind with a baby to be born soon. It sure is a tough life.”

As he traveled over the Atlantic his ship had zig-zagged to avoid German submarines. The Liberty Ship was a floating bomb, packed with men, machines, and explosives to confront the German army during a time of world crisis. He was headed towards war and an unknown fate. At the time of his being deployed overseas, my mother was pregnant with my older brother Russ.

Landing in Sicily

Months later sitting near a beautiful beach in Sicily, my father wrote about his first war experience. Along with his fellow soldiers, he climbed over the side of his ship and got into a landing craft. As the craft headed towards the shores of Sicily, he ducked down as Axis aircraft strafed his boat. Great plums of water erupted all around him, but no one was hurt. After hitting the beach his unit consolidated its position, but was counterattacked on the next day. He took refuge in a foxhole with bullets whizzing by his head and kicking up sand. Later he reflected on his experience in a letter to my mother’s father. He wrote, “The second day (onshore) we were shelled out of position by German artillery, and the shells landed within a few feet of us. I can’t say I wasn’t scared as I sure did a little praying in that foxhole.”

After the landing and ensuing battle ended, he wrote, “There isn’t a darn thing pleasant about any of this life, but it’s something that has to be done, and the American soldiers certainly do their share…Sicily is a very pretty country, especially around the shoreline. The Mediterranean Sea is a sight to see, as it is about the deepest blue I have ever seen.”

My father, whose nickname was Barney, served in Europe in World War II from the conflict’s earliest days in 1943 to its end in 1945. The reason he was near the beach in Sicily was that the Allies had just opened up the first phase of their invasion of Europe called the Italian Campaign. He landed on the beach as part of the 45th division commanded by General George S. Patton.

Editing the Diary

After his return home, I was the happy consequence of his reunion with my mother and was among the first wave of baby boomers. Forty-five years later as part of mourning his passing, I transcribed his diary into a computer file in 1991. The project stayed as a raw transcript until 2002.

In 2002, my son Chris Barnes was required to write a paper for his Advanced Placement U.S. history class at Wilson High School in Washington, DC. For the paper, he was supposed to interview veterans about their war experiences. Chris asked his teacher if instead, he could do a rather unique project. He told his teacher that he had a diary of his grandfather’s World War II experience and asked him if he could do his paper on the diary (figure 2). Chris later said. “My deeper motivation in researching the war and preparing the paper, of course, was to get to know my grandfather better, as he had died when I was still quite young.”

World War II diary of CJ Barnes with handwriting
Figure 2. First Page of C. J. Barnes World War II Diary.
(Photo: C. J. Barnes Collection)
His teacher agreed to allow him to edit and annotate the diary in place of interviewing veterans. The process included adding passages from history and entering materials from his grandfather’s scrapbook. For the paper, Chris also interviewed me along with my brother Russ Barnes about our remembrances of what our father had said about his experience during the war.

The historical passages that were added to the diary entries included details of six major military actions that Barney mentions in the diary. These come mostly from published texts on World War II. However, they also include some less-well-known divisional history materials published at the end of the war that came from his World War II scrapbook. In addition, he placed some photographs and letters from the scrapbook in chronological order to provide context for the diary entries.

This current version is slightly revised from Chris Barnes’s original history class project. Chris was invited in May 2005 to do a presentation of his grandfather’s war experience at a veteran's celebration of Victory in Europe (VE) day in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Paul Wolman, an economic historian, graciously volunteered to work with Chris to professionally edit his original paper in preparation for his presentation.

Service Summary of C. J. Barnes

Clayton Junior Barnes entered the army in 1942. Know by his nickname “Barney,” he served with distinction at or near the front lines for the duration of the war, as a clerk with the 45th Division, 171st Field Artillery Battalion. Starting in North Africa and ending in 1945 in Germany (figure 3), he participated in some of the U.S. Army’s most important engagements in the European Theater of Operations including major invasions.

C. J. Barnes sitting in front of German signpost, World War II
Figure 3. C.J. Barnes and Murphy in Pfalzburg, on the Road to Germany.
(Photo: C. J. Barnes Collection)
Barney witnessed and took part in the invasion of Sicily and the battles of Salerno and Anzio, in Italy; the invasions of southern France and Germany; and the liberation of the concentration camp at Dachau, near Munich, Germany. Although the war took place on several fronts in Europe and in the Pacific, his division was involved in some of the heaviest fighting by American troops—some 511 days of combat covering thousands of miles. His artillery battalion fired more than a million rounds in combined operations, from July 10, 1943, until the war ended on May 9, 1945. Over the course of his service, he participated in several amphibious assaults, served under General George Patton, was promoted from private to technical sergeant, and received the bronze star.

Personal Life and the War

The war was a period of great change for Barney at a personal level. Barney’s mother, a strict Calvinist Presbyterian, did not want her son to go into the military, and in deference to her, he did not enlist. But he went readily when drafted. In Chris’s interview with me, I commented that apart from military service, my father lived just about his whole life in his hometown of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. He went to South Union High School and married Helen Cluss, whose father, O. C. Cluss, owned a lumber business. They met in high school and married just before the start of World War II. Barney entered the army out of a sense of duty for his country—even though his upbringing disposed him against war—and came away from it with a deeper understanding of why the Allies had to defeat the Axis powers.

Barney wrote the diary primarily for his wife, Helen. In addition to documenting his thoughts about home and family—particularly the birth of his first child, Russell Lee Barnes, in 1943—the brief entries closely track his military experiences during World War II.

Like many soldiers and sometimes because of the censors, he was reticent about putting pen to paper about the specific horrors and hardships of his service. But the cumulative effect of the narrative does give a strong feeling of the experiences and motivations of the writer. It is the story of a soldier yearning to be home with his new family, but knowing he had an important duty to perform for his country in a time great need and historical importance.

The diary documents Barney’s difficult journey from his first battle experience in Sicily in March 22 1943 to the end of the war in Munich, Germany where his division liberated the concentration camp Dachau near Munich in April, 1945 (figure 4). Along the way his division was constantly on the front lines fighting one battle after another for 2 years, which was very unusual even during World War II.

C. J. Barnes holding War Ends sign during World War II
Figure 4. C. J. Barnes Celebrating Victory in Europe, Munich, 1945
(Source: Right image from “45th Division News”; left photo from collection of C. J. Barnes.)

One Small Part in a World-Changing Victory

Dwight Eisenhower in his Victory Order after the surrender of the German military told the troops that, ““Your accomplishments at sea, in the air, on the ground and in the field of supply, have astonished the world…you have achieved a perfection in unification of air, ground and naval power that will stand as a model in our time.” (Eisenhower 1945)

Barney’s journey was but a very tiny part of World War II. In today’s terms, this big picture of World War II might be characterized as made up of many tiny pixels. There are many untold stories like Barney’s. Sharing the details of his experience can give people some feeling of what he, as an individual American soldier, thought and felt about one of the greatest struggles of our times.


Barnes, Clayton J. 1945. Record of Service in the U. S. Army, 1942-1945. Personal Diary of C. J. Barnes, Uniontown, Pa.

Barnes, Christopher, ed. 2005. The World War II Diary of C. J. Barnes: An Account of Service in the 45th Division 171st Field Artillery Battalion March 21, 1942, to September 24, 1945. Presentation and Paper Prepared for Victory in Europe Day Celebration, Uniontown, Pa.
Eisenhower, Dwight. 1945. “Victory Order of the Day.” Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force Memo. May 8, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, New York, Accessed 2019.


  1. Doug, this was a powerful story about your father in WW2. Thanks for transcribing his diary and filling in the details for us. What an long distance he traveled and all on the front lines! Amazing that he survived all these battles. Carla

  2. Just re-read this post and wanted to mention that I grew up in Elizabeth Township Pa -- just a few miles north (on Rt 51) of Uniontown. Went to camp there at Jumonville as a kid. Great story. Enjoyed it a 2nd time.