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From formal to weird, Navy photographer's WWII images offer glimpses of USS Bunker Hill life

Four sailors pose for a joke photo with watermelon slices in a photo lab room on the Navy aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill during World War II. One of the men has a photo processing tray on his lap while sitting on a counter. The undated photo was taken or collected by Navy photographer Guy Cox.

STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

By DREW C. WILSON | The Wilson Times via AP | Published: June 25, 2019

WILSON, N.C.  — Navy photographer Guy Cox captured sailors of USS Bunker Hill at work and posing for group shots during World War II, but his work also displays an unusual affection for humorous and everyday moments.

"Unit photographers, ship photographers, aviation photographers, their collections are extremely important," said Matthew Peek, military collection archivist for special collections at the State Archives of North Carolina. "A lot of times, there are two types of photographs that they do. They do the official photographs for their job. In Guy Cox's case, it was aerial reconnaissance photography and official photos aboard his Navy ship. But there is also the humorous side and the friend side and the average person on the ship or Army camp. Those are the photos we get to see less."

The State Archives of North Carolina has honored Cox by digitizing more than 400 photographs the lensman took aboard the Bunker Hill from 1943-45.

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Guy Offley Cox was well known in Wilson for his work with Raines & Cox Photographers and partner Charlie Raines. Collectively, the two men shot more than 40,000 portraits and other images document life in Wilson County.

Cox's work as a Navy photographer and aerial reconnaissance photographer is the focus of the state archives' effort to preserve the Guy O. Cox papers, which are composed of correspondence, service records, photographic prints, negatives, training notebooks, flight logbooks, ship newsletters, newspaper clippings and artifacts associated with Cox's Navy career.

Peek said the collection came to the state after Cox's daughter, Lynda Dixon, donated the works. Dixon had also donated the Raines & Cox photographic collections from Wilson to the state.

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Cox was born Nov. 19, 1922, in Wilson, got his first camera at 8 and became interested in photography when he was 12. As a teen, he delivered The Wilson Daily Times. Cox graduated from Charles L. Coon High School and went to work in 1939 at Carolina Photo Finishers in Wilson, where he worked until 1942. Cox worked as a freelance photographer for the Times through high school before enlisting in the Navy on June 13, 1942.

Cox was a unit photographer aboard the aircraft carrier Bunker Hill, Peek said. After a shakedown cruise in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, the carrier went straight to the Pacific Theater, Peek said.

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Peek said what set Cox and other military photographers apart was the detailed descriptions they provided with each picture.

"It gives context to a whole group's service, whether it's a ship or an Air Force bomb group or an Army company, it is important because these photographs are not in the National Archives," Peek said.

"These are the personal copies of the photographer. In many cases, the photographs that Guy Cox had were ones that were actually used to be printed in the ship's newsletter. We have these original prints that were part of the life of the ship."

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Cox had a dual role aboard the Bunker Hill.

"He did aerial reconnaissance. They printed negatives and took images of enemy positions. He risked his life in the air and then got on the ship and took photos all around the ship of the average person," Peek said. "Some of the men he photographed were killed later on in 1945 during the Japanese kamikaze attacks and that are the last photographs that anybody is going to have."

"On a Navy aircraft carrier or ship, there are probably four to six photographers per ship and if two or three of them keep their photographs around and they don't get lost over time, that's very few. The rarity of it for historical purposes is significant," Peek said.

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The Bunker Hill was among the ships heavily damaged in Japanese kamikaze attacks.

"The photographs that Cox has, some of them show some of the ones that were in the magazines or in the ship's newsletter show the rescue operations of getting the men off the ship after the attack," Peek said. "But most of his photographs are from 1943-44. They show the life the ship, the fun, the duty, the duty stations, the men landing aircraft, the men taking the photographs, the men below deck eating, the men joking around. It's the complete view of a ship before everything hit the fan the next year and I think that's a really significant piece of history."

Cox died on March 11, 2015.

Keith Barnes, a friend and student of Cox's work, said Cox was proud of his time in the service.

"He did not mind talking about it," Barnes said. "He just had countless stories. Sometimes he would get emotional. He would get tears. I think it affected him a lot when he made friends that ended up getting killed."

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Barnes said Wilsonians will be fascinated with the collection and see a side of the man they might not have known.

"Most of them probably don't know anything about this. It will be a surprise. To me, it's mind-boggling," Barnes said. "It's more than just good pictures. What a terrific life this man had and we going to be the ones to benefit. It's a treasure."

Photos from the collection

You can view hundreds of images from the Guy Cox collection here, but here are a few other highlights.

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Navy photographer Guy Cox stands behind a Mitchell 35mm motion picture camera during World War II in this 1943 photo.
STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

This image shows the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill in the Pacific during World War II.
GUY O. COX PAPERS/STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

Robert J. Slattery of Beverly, Mass., and Louis J. Olah of Aurora, Ill., pose for a portrait aboard the Navy aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill during World War II. The photograph taken or collected by Navy photographer Guy Cox.
GUY O. COX PAPERS/STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

Chief Photographer’s Mate Ray C. Sharkey poses for a joke photo sitting on a chair below deck in his underwear, wearing aviator’s headgear and uninflated life vest, using a knife to stab a portrait of himself. The photograph, taken while he was serving on the Navy aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill during World War II, was taken or collected by Navy photographer Guy Cox.
GUY O. COX PAPERS/STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

Sailors talk and smoke while they gather around a cake aboard the USS Bunker Hill during World War II in this photograph taken or collected by Navy photographer Guy Cox.
GUY O. COX PAPERS/STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

This snapshot shows Navy photographer Guy Cox sleeping on the floor of a Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber airplane somewhere in the South Pacific in 1943 during World War II.
GUY O. COX PAPERS/STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

Sailor Al Floyd, nicknamed “Hot Foot," tap dances as a ship band plays aboard the USS Bunker Hill in May of 1944. The sheet of metal was placed on the deck to improve the sound of Floyd’s tap-dancing shoes. Floyd's rank was not recorded in the photo caption.
GUY O. COX PAPERS/STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

Lt. Shailer Cummings uses signal paddles to communicate with an aircraft coming into land on the deck of the Navy aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill in 1943. This photo is believed to have been taken, or was collected by, Navy photographer Guy Cox.
GUY O. COX PAPERS/STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

This aerial photograph that shows a Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber flying over the water in the Pacific Theater during World War II was taken from another plane. It is thought that the aircraft carrier below the airplane is the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill.
GUY O. COX PAPERS/STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

Sailors dressed up in costumes as "King Neptune and his court" posed on the deck of the USS Bunker Hill during a Crossing the Line ceremony in 1944. This photo was taken or collected by Navy photographer Guy Cox.
GUY O. COX PAPERS/STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

Members of the photograph laboratory crew of the USS Bunker Hill, wearing only boxer shorts, sit down at a makeshift table made from a trash can and board, playing cards in the laboratory below deck during World War II.
GUY O. COX/STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

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