A few years ago, Mike Short was on a remodeling job in an old vacant home in Akron's Kenmore area when he uncovered a personal treasure.
In a trash can was what looked like an old address book.
As he began to turn the pages, however, he realized he had something far more important: the World War II diary of a U.S. sailor who worked in the belly of Navy ships.
A jack of all trades — he likes to fix everything, from cars to houses — Short searched the house and uncovered seven volumes.
He took them home and found stories that captured his imagination.
''As soon as you start reading, you get hooked on what he is saying because you kind of get in his head,'' Short said.
What he had were the diaries of Bert Raymer, a Navy machinist's mate 2nd class.
Raymer and his wife, Helen, lived in the two-story home on 16th Street Southwest when he died in 1998 at the age of 78. It was after she died in 2007 that Short was working in the house.
''I noticed from the first time I opened these [diaries] that he really wanted somebody to read them,'' said Short, 40, of Akron.
On one page was a poem:
Yes it is not supposed to be
But when a man is on the sea
He hasn't much to do but write
So here's what I did each night
And in future days
I hope there will be
When I've left this rolling sea
The enclosed thoughts I wrote each night
Will make the path seem awful right
And if these days they shouldn't be
Well here's to those
Who will think of me.
Raymer was one of six children — five sons and one daughter — of Walter and Louise Raymer, according to his youngest brother, George, the only remaining sibling.
George Raymer, 81, of Akron, was in elementary school when his brother was in the Navy.
He said Bert graduated from Kenmore High School in 1938 as the Great Depression languished, and ''there were no jobs to be had.''
So Bert joined the Navy.
He said everybody in the family knew that his brother had kept diaries.
They knew that when he was on a ship, ''he would get in his hammock and he had a flashlight and he would enter a paragraph about every day,'' said the younger Raymer, a retired assistant vice president of university relations and director of university communications at the University of Akron.
''When he was alive, I looked at his books. He chronicled the things that happened. Things that were dramatic.''
His brother said Bert was creative, a magician who played drums and trumpet. After the war, he worked for Sun Rubber, then for the Akron Municipal Court clerk for many years.
Richard ''Dick'' Raymer, 63, of Clearwater, Fla., Bert Raymer's son, said he remembers his father had beautiful penmanship.
Life at sea
Dick Raymer said his father lived through very difficult times while at sea.
''They were out there wondering if at any second a torpedo could hit them, in daytime, nap time, or while they were sleeping,'' he said. ''It was always there.''
According to diary entries, Raymer served on the USS Merrimack, a tanker that provided oil to Navy ships in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters; the USS La Prade, a destroyer escort that served in the Pacific; and perhaps a third ship.
On July 18, 1943, he wrote, likely while on the Merrimack: ''Today the sea was beginning to get rough. There was a strong wind blowing from the southwest. We are now about 500 miles from Bermuda.''
In that same entry, he wrote of a rumor he and shipmates heard that an American had shot a German prisoner at close range on another U.S. ship.
''So you see the Germans are not the only heartless blood-thirsty people in the world,'' he wrote. ''Don't get me wrong. I'm not standing up for the German race. But that incident was uncalled for.''
Later, he wrote that his ship picked up a number of French survivors whose ship had been sunk. Records for the Merrimack show that while on the way to Casablanca, it helped rescue more than 100 sailors from a French tanker that had been sunk by a German submarine.
''The survivors slept well through the night,'' he wrote. ''At first glance, they look like all of us. They are wearing dungarees and our white hats. They sure do like the meals they are getting. They only got two meals a day on their ship. They were at 11 a.m. and at 5 p.m.''
Perhaps the experience with the Frenchmen intensified his fear of being followed by a submarine.
As a machinist's mate 2nd class, he might have worked in the engine room, said Bill Hendrix, a spokesman for the Navy Historical Center and a retired Navy captain. He said the work was hot, dirty, potentially dangerous and below deck.
So Raymer would have been buried in the bowels of the ship as it carried fuel for the task force that was moving through submarine-infested waters to invade Northern Africa, according to the history books.
''We are in a bad spot now and we have seven days yet to go,'' Raymer wrote. ''We are about 600 miles from Casablanca. I hope and pray that God will see us safely across. I have faith in him for I know he will. He saw us across and back five times before.''
The USS La Prade's travels were all in the Pacific theater, at one point escorting tankers that were providing fuel for a carrier task force destined for Okinawa.
He wrote of heading in August 1944 for Eniwetok, in the Marshall Islands, which the Americans took from the Japanese in February 1944.
''I pray God will protect us and see us safely to our destination,'' he wrote. ''The Marshalls are subject to air raids and bombings by the Japanese from the islands.''
He wrote of how uncomfortably warm it was for him on the job and said the heat was so intense that even his teeth were hot.
The diaries cover from October 1941, when he was in Argentina Bay, to his last entry, on July 10, 1945.
''They told me I was going home,'' he wrote. ''I still can't believe it and I am terribly happy.''
Short said he would like to see the seven volumes published so that Bert Raymer's wish to share his thoughts comes true.
''I really think and I feel that he wanted people to read this,'' he said.
Short has become enthralled with Raymer's diaries and has read some passages dozens of times.
''He put you in his head,'' he said.
''As soon as you start reading, you kind of get hooked. . . . It sucks you in.''
Short said that in some places, Raymer's handwriting is ''shaky,'' making him wonder the cause.
The story is inspirational, he said.
''Every day he thanked God and almost every day he talked about the ones he loved and that is what kept him. He said he was lucky he got picked to go.''
In August, Dick Raymer plans to visit Short in Akron and see his father's diaries.
Short said out of respect for Raymer, he plans to give the diaries to Dick Raymer, who is thrilled they have been found.
''His son touches my heart,'' Short said.
Still, the question remains: How did such a body of work get left behind after Helen Raymer died?
No one seems to have the answer.
''How they were left is a mystery,'' said his brother George.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or email@example.com.