WWII diary found in rubble goes to the writer's daughter, a Nicholasville woman

kward1@herald-leader.comApril 13, 2013 

John Banks was at work sorting wood and other recyclables from a demolition site on Monday when he came across a small black book, wet and covered in mud.

"I always try to grab books 'cause I read a lot," said Banks, who works for C&M Recycling in Garrard County. He put it aside and cleaned it off during his lunch break.

It turned out to be a diary kept by George Colvin Egnew during his time as a sailor stationed in Japan during World War II. On Saturday night, Banks presented the journal to Egnew's daughter Catherine Cole at her home in Nicholasville.

Cole was brought to tears by the book, which she had never known existed.

Egnew died at Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore in 2005, at age 85.

"My father never talked much about the war," Cole said. "I never knew him as writing things down."

Egnew and his wife, Geneva, were both born and raised in Oddville, outside Cynthiana. They had been married less than five years when Egnew was drafted into the Navy.

The cover of the diary is imprinted with the title "My Life in the Service," and Egnew wrote in it frequently between 1944 and 1946.

Cole grew misty-eyed as she read the inscription in the front: "To my Daddy from Linda Ray, Cynthiana, Ky."

"This is my mother's writing," Cole said.

Cole's sister, Linda, would have been a baby in 1944, when Cole's mother gave the diary to her husband as a gift; he would have been about 24. Cole's mother and sister have both died.

After his time in the service, George Egnew had a 32-year career working for an aluminum manufacturing company in Cynthiana and Carrollton.

Cole said her father never shared war stories, and she is eager to learn more about that chapter of his life.

"It's a part of him," she said of his diary. "It's so great to have a part of him."

Cole said she has no idea how the journal might have wound up in a pile of rubbish at a demolition site.

Banks said that the company he works for gets recyclables from all over the area. He suspects the book was in an old house that was demolished.

Cole said she is just thankful it found its way to her.

"It's nice to know there's people who care about other people's lives," she said.

After Banks found the book at work, he was drawn in by Egnew's tales of life aboard the USS LST 1034, a tank landing ship.

Banks said he spent each lunch break last week reading.

"I just couldn't wait to get back to work the next day and read some more of it," he said. "The guys, they'd say, 'What's going on now in the book?' It's real good reading."

Banks said his mother-in-law called WLEX-TV in hopes of finding Egnew's family. On Friday night, the station aired a story about Banks finding the journal.

Cole said her cousin saw the story and recognized Egnew as her uncle. She called Cole and the television station, which resulted in Banks delivering the book to Cole on Saturday night.

Banks and Cole sat on a loveseat, and as Cole pored over the pages Banks asked questions about the man he now feels as though he knows.

"Some of the things he seen and heard and was witness to, it's just amazing," he said.

Banks asked to see a picture of Egnew and said he plans to visit his grave in Cynthiana. (Banks also said he would like to meet Cole's brother, Ron Egnew, when he visits from Colorado.)

"I would love to have met him," Banks said.

He mentioned wistfully that he hadn't quite made it to the end of the book.

"We'll get you a copy," Cole said with a smile.

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service