Harmon Baldwin was still spry and adept at using a computer well into his 90s.
In the final years of his life, he sat down and wrote a pages-long recount of his life. Included in those pages was his time as a United States Navy lieutenant junior grade during World War II.
It was his daughter Cynthia Burkholder who encouraged him to write about his life so his story would live on with her and his grandchildren.
Baldwin died Dec. 11, 2022. He was 100.
His story will live on, preserved in those pages, for not only his family but also for the students in Kari Catanzaro’s history classes at Maconaquah High School. So will his World War II uniform.
Following her dad’s passing, Burkholder contacted the Miami County Historical Society about taking her dad’s uniform. They would, but had no place to display it. Burkholder was told to contact Maconaquah Community Schools.
“That really hit me because of dad’s profession being education and his first position was at Bunker Hill,” she said.
Baldwin was a teacher after the war and taught at Bunker Hill High School, where he also coached basketball and baseball.
Burkholder got in touch with Catanzaro, who was happy to take Baldwin’s uniform, adding it to her collection of historical artifacts.
She plans to use the uniform and Baldwin’s story in both her Indiana studies and United States history classes.
“This is history teacher gold,” Catanzaro said. “We will actually read his story. That’s a primary source. It brings it all to life.”
Baldwin, who was born outside of Peru, was a student at Butler University when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the US was thrust into the second World War.
Baldwin’s military draft classification allowed him to continue schooling. As a need for troops increased, Baldwin was reclassified. The reclassification would have had him drafted into the Army.
Instead, interested in a Navy officer training program, Baldwin enlisted with the military branch. Again, he was allowed to continue studying at Butler until he was needed. The decision seemed to weigh on Baldwin’s mind.
“Was I avoiding military service, seeking what I thought was best for me, or was that a selfish decision?” Baldwin pondered in his memoir. “I admit I was not ‘gung ho’ to become involved, but I was not a conscientious objector.”
Baldwin reported for boot camp July 1, 1943 at Indiana State College (now University) in Terre Haute.
Baldwin was on a ship off the coast of France on D-Day, the mission being to stop any German U-boats that tried to attack the invading forces.
He was later assigned to the USS Pillsbury. This is where he met Lt. Al David who had led a group of soldiers in capturing a U-boat. The group acted as a boarding party, taking not only German loot but secret codes, “thus changing the course of U-Boat warfare for the balance of the war,” Baldwin wrote.
Baldwin shared a cabin with David, who was awarded the Navy Cross, the highest honor in the Navy. He received the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Baldwin wrote highly of David, who became a dear friend.
“I rubbed shoulders with a World War II hero, and memories of that period remain with me.”
Catanzaro said the story has captivated the students she’s shared it with.
“The kids are fascinated by U-boats,” she said. “When I talk about U-boats, he’s going to be my story.”
Baldwin’s story, specifically his time at Bunker Hill High School, will also be mentioned when Catanzaro discusses school consolidation and the formation of modern day Maconaquah in her Indiana studies class.
Baldwin had a long career in public education, teaching throughout Indiana. He also served on the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, as well as the state school board association.
Burkholder is sure her father would enjoy knowing his uniform and story are educating students.
“I think he would be thrilled that it found a good home, because education meant so much to him,” she said. “I often I’m think I’m sorry I can’t tell him.”
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