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The State Archives of North Carolina has honored Wilson native Guy Cox by digitizing more than 400 photographs the lensman took aboard the USS Bunker Hill from 1943-45 during World War II.
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.
Matthew Peek, military collection archivist for special collections at the State Archives of North Carolina, said the collection came to the state after Cox’s daughter, Lynda Dixon, donated the works. Dixon had also donated the Raines and Cox photographic collections from Wilson to the state.
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.
Guy Cox was a unit photographer aboard the aircraft carrier, Peek said.
After a shakedown cruise in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, the Bunker Hill went straight to the Pacific Theater, Peek said.
“Unit photographers, ship photographers, aviation photographers, their collections are extremely important,” Peek said. “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.”
Peek said what set Cox and other military photographers apart was the detailed descriptions Cox 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.”
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.
The Bunker Hill was among those 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 Cox friend and student of his life’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.”
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.”
The collection and other materials about Cox and his life in the Navy can be viewed online at the state archives’ Flickr page via the shortened link https://bit.ly/2XKLKxN.