Recently, our friends at the Kenosha Museums transferred an extraordinary collection containing the personal effects of a World War I sailor. Included in the grouping are wartime diaries that provide a detailed account of John Isermann’s experiences. Follow the naval exploits of Isermann aboard the USS Tuscarora, a Coast Guard cutter-turned-US Navy Ship during WWI. Isermann’s diary entries provide an intimate look at Atlantic duty from 1917 to 1919.
Like us on Facebook
today to receive notifications when new entries are posted.
John Chester Aloysius Isermann enlisted on May 5, 1917, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Kenosha native was just shy of his twenty-second birthday when the United States entered World War I. His records show that he enlisted in Milwaukee where he was assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Tuscarora. His association with the Coast Guard was brief, however.
Isermann’s first diary entry is brief, but interesting. On his first day aboard the U.S.C.G. Tuscarora, he declines comment on his feelings, hopes, or fears. Instead, he notes something at least as important—his first meal.
When the crew of the Tuscarora received orders for the East Coast, Isermann visited his family in Kenosha and spent a final few days in Milwaukee before getting underway.
Aboard the Tuscarora, Isermann traveled ninety miles down the coast of Lake Michigan to Chicago, stopping along the way to drop some new recruits off at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. He would grow restless over the next three days in the Windy City as he waited for the Tuscarora to continue her journey to the East Coast.
As Isermann and the Tuscarora left Chicago and headed out onto Lake Michigan, he described rampant seasickness, perhaps exacerbated by rough weather.
Isermann named points of reference as the Tuscarora traveled up the west coast of Michigan and, finally, into Lake Huron. He also noted that the color of the Tuscarora would soon change from Coast Guard white to Navy grey.
Moving into Lake Huron, Isermann and the Tuscarora encounter more stormy weather and take refuge in an appropriately named bay.
Isermann and the Tuscarora continued their journey, entering the St. Claire River that separates the U.S. and Canada. While anchored at Detroit, he met a Canadian veteran of the fighting overseas.
While the Tuscarora continued to receive her new paint job at Detroit, Isermann crossed the St. Claire River to take his liberty in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Leaving Detroit and proceeding into Lake Erie, Isermann and the Tuscarora pass the site of a famous naval battle from the War of 1812.
As Isermann and the Tuscarora passed through the Welland Canal into Lake Ontario, he noted an interesting German plan to destroy the waterway earlier in the war.
Entering the St. Lawrence River, Isermann commented upon an abandoned castle that the Tuscarora passed.
Continuing on toward the East Coast, Isermann and the Tuscarora encounter a Russian warship.
Isermann noted that the mood aboard the Tuscarora changed as she entered the Atlantic, where German U-boats might be lurking.
As the Tuscarora continued toward the Atlantic past New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island, the ship sprung a leak.
The Tuscarora stopped in Nova Scotia, a mere six miles from the Atlantic, while the Isermann and the rest of the crew tried to wait out a large storm.
Isermann and the Tuscarora hit a rough patch as they finally reach the Atlantic Ocean.
At last, Isermann and the Tuscarora reach the East Coast of the United States, ending the first part of their journey.
Isermann's first diary closed soon after the Tuscarora's arrival on the East Coast. After his final entry, Isermann shared a poem that explores the differences between draftees and volunteers.
After the Tuscarora reached the East Coast, Isermann took a two month break from recording observations in a diary. At the end of the year, though, he began again by filling in some personal information at the start of a new diary.
Isermann began his second diary at the end of the year in 1917. He described the Tuscarora's role in assisting two other American ships out of trouble.
The year 1918 began very frigidly for Isermann and the Tuscarora, as they received special gear and helped ships stuck in ice.
Isermann and the Tuscarora spent three straight nights patrolling off the Rhode Island Coast.
Isermann and the Tuscarora stop at Cape Cod while patrolling the East Coast.
Isermann wrote about moving through ice that was up to a foot thick to rescue trapped vessels.
Isermann describes a difficult, two day mission to rescue a ship trapped in thick ice off the coast of Massachusetts.
Isermann wrote about living on short rations, supplemented with some wild ducks, while the Tuscarora continued patrolling the icy Atlantic. He also mentioned a dance he attended at which sailors were treated well--something Isermann felt was a rare occurrence.
Isermann described another mission to rescue two ships from the ice, and the relief he felt upon reaching safe harbor in Newport.
After missing out on liberty with the starboard watch one night, Isermann laments being transferred to the port watch and missing liberty for a second night in a row.
Isermann described the increased security necessary while guarding munitions on bridge watch.
With the Tuscarora continuing to operate out of Rhode Island, Isermann described several more missions to rescue ships trapped in the ice, including one from the Caribbean.
Isermann mentioned a tragic event that left 13 Americans dead.
Isermann wrote about the Tuscarora continuing its mission of rescuing ice bound ships, and also visiting Torpedo Station, site of a recent explosion that killed 13 men.
Continuing down the East Coast, Isermann and the Tuscarora escort a ship to the historic Delaware Breakwater.
After noting his promotion to first class, and the raise in pay that accompanied it, Isermann described seeing several US warships as well as transports waiting to take troops to the war in France.
With the Tuscarora operation out of Norfolk, Virginia, Isermann is unable to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city.
Isermann and the Tuscarora depart the warmer climes of Virginia to return to chilly Newport, Rhode Island.
As the crew of the Tuscarora settled back into its routine in Newport, Isermann lamented his "luck" in missing out on a party to celebrate Washington's birthday.
Isermann correctly predicted that the Tuscarora was about to leave Newport when liberty was only granted till midnight. The next day they left for New London.
Isermann described repairs being made to the Tuscarora.
As the Tuscarora made way for South Carolina, Isermann experienced his first bout of seasickness.
The Tuscarora arrived at Charleston, and Isermann commented upon the diversity of the southern city.
On their way back to Rhode Island, Isermann and the Tuscarora receive a distress call near Long Island and rescue over 130 people from a wrecked ship.
Isermann wrote about the Tuscarora rescuing the U.S.S. Don Juan de Austria, a ship with both an interesting name and an interesting history.
After several days of excitement, Isermann and the Tuscarora settled in for resupplying and some recuperation.
While the Tuscarora underwent some repairs at the docks in Noank, Connecticut, Isermann enjoyed a couple of dances at the nearby small town of Mystic.
Isermann and the Tuscarora dock in New London and get ready for a new mission.
After a long winter rescuing ships that were trapped in ice, Isermann and the Tuscarora head south for the Bermuda Islands.
The capital of Bermuda makes a favorable impression on Isermann.
On special liberty in Bermuda, Isermann managed to find some good Wisconsin beer.
In these entries, Isermann conveyed both the boredom that sometimes accompanied Navy duty as well as an activity to battle said boredom.
Isermann and the Tuscarora made a stop in Cuba on their return from Bermuda, giving the sailors time to visit the island and enjoy some recreation.
Leaving Cuba, Isermann and the Tuscarora encountered smooth seas on their way to Florida.
As the Tuscarora stopped in Florida to take on two prisoners, Isermann wrote about seeing a famous inventor.
The Tuscarora reached Charleston, where Isermann witnessed a drunk driving accident and some intense weather to the north.
Isermann and the Tuscarora encountered a historic ship at Charleston.
Isermann was able to visit a friend on shore while the Tuscarora took on coal and fresh water.
Isermann remarks on the ship anchored next to the Tuscarora at Norfolk, Virginia.
Isermann noted that his term of enlistment had ended. Is this the end of his adventure aboard the Tuscarora?
Isermann had nothing of interest to report as the Tuscarora returned to Newport, Rhode Island.
Assisting two ships on the way, Isermann and the Tuscarora return to New London, Connecticut.
Isermann and the Tuscarora take on coal and fresh water.
Isermann watched almost twenty fellow sailors leave the Tuscarora for good and two dozen new recruits come aboard.
Isermann and the Tuscarora began a return trip to Bermuda as part of a large convoy.
As the Tuscarora headed south toward the Caribbean, Isermann wrote about the measures taken when enemy submarines were reported nearby.
Arriving in Bermuda, Isermann and the crew of the Tuscarora interact with British sailors, "limeys," by taking on a damaged submarine and drinking beer in their canteen.