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Ordnance Mate Waller: 1942

Ordnance Mate Waller: 1942

August 1942, Corpus Christi, Texas: "It's an intricate operation, installing a 30-caliber machine gun in a Navy PBY plane, but not too tricky for Jesse Rhodes Waller. He's a Georgia man who's been in the Navy 5-1/2 years. At the Naval Air Base he sees that the flying ships are kept in tip-top shape. Waller is an aviation ordnance mate." View full size. Kodachrome transparency by Howard Hollem.


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Stylish Safety

That heavy belt he's wearing has straps on either side for attaching to his gun mount, kept the gunner from being tossed around by the pilot's evasive maneuvers and steep banked turns. There were an awful lot of sharp and pointy parts on those highly functional military aircraft, I've got the scars to prove it.

High caliber photo but low caliber gun

By the time of this photo it was quite obvious to the U.S. military that a .30 caliber machine gun was inadequate for attacking enemy aircraft or, in the case of this PBY, for defense. Japanese fighters had guns as large as 20 millimeter (and sometimes bigger than that), and Japanese machine guns that fired .51 caliber (by our measure) came along during World War Two. Equipping U.S. fighters with as many as eight "fifties" created a fearsome opponent; other Allied aircraft were fitted with multiple guns of that size and cannon, too. Among heavy bombers, the aptly-named B-17 Flying Fortress eventually had thirteen .50 caliber guns. (My Uncle Andrew was a B-17 tail gunner.)
Here's a comparison of ammunition sizes.

Jesse Rhodes Waller

When I first looked at this picture I couldn't believe Jesse looked old enough to have been in the Navy 5-1/2 years by 1942. But I have known guys who kept their boyish faces well into the 30s, including a former college roommate who looked essentially the same 16 yrs after we got out of college.

So, the suggested birth date of September 1918 would have made Jesse almost 24 at the time this picture was taken and as he'd turned 18 in 1936, he'd have had time for 5-1/2 years in the Navy as well as the Great Depression to motivate him to join. Remember, that to most people in the US, WWII was not yet seen as inevitable in 1936. In fact, most in the US in the late 1930s strongly hoped to stay out of another war even if one did occur.

We have a believable age and a youthful model--great for an enlistment poster. As for the shoes, they are indeed buckle strap--I took the photo into my photo program and blew it up and lightened it enough to see the buckle on the foot that's still on the concrete. Likewise the toe area of the other shoe is too tapered to be a penny loafer.

As for the white socks, perhaps they were the absorbent type as we wear today, a real boon for an active man in hot leather shoes in the steamy August climate of Corpus Christi, TX.

While the goggles and helmet would not have been worn by a maintenance mechanic, there is an explanation for that, also. There are two companion pictures to this one showing Jesse "trying out" the newly installed machine gun and he has both the helmet and goggles on as you would expect. Here and here.

There's no evidence he actually fired the gun but he's got the right "look" for it in this other photo, I think.

There were many other photos taken of the base, other military and civilian personnel, and of Corpus Christi generally at the same time. Most are not color, but a surprising number for that time are.

One other item about him turned up in the small search I did: Two months after this picture was taken young Jesse and his wife had a baby girl they named Beverly Carolyn (or perhaps the other way around.) She could well be living today, as she'd only be about 66.

So the Jesse R Waller mentioned by another poster who passed away in Virginia in 1983 may very well be this man. The dates certainly fit.

Excellent photo and it could have made a powerful recruiting poster indeed.

penny loafers

Actually these are not penny loafers. He is wearing a pair of black buckle strap oxfords similar to an optional shoe that could be worn by army air force officers. I have not seen this shoe in black before but its probably something a naval aviator could have worn. Jesse is also wearing standard navy issue blue denim trousers and chambray work shirt along with a load carrying equipment belt.
The M-450 navy summer flight helmet(with added electric headphone receivers) and 6530 flying goggles is certainly not something he would be wearing to maintain an aircraft.

White socks?

White socks, penny loafers, flying helmet and goggles just to install a gun? Me thinks the photographer didn't know what the military worn when he dressed the "model".

[Jesse Waller was a Navy ordnance mate stationed at the Corpus Christi naval air base. The photo was posed as a study for a recruiting poster. - Dave]

Why is Jessie wearing pennie

Why is Jessie wearing pennie loafers?

[We might also ask why Jesse is wearing penny loafers.]

hide that one from the marketers...

... or they'll photoshop "the new fragrance by XYZ" on the side ;-(

That's one hell of a cool picture, right there!


This may be Jesse R. Waller born 22 Sep 1918 and died 16 Sep 1983 in Virginia. If so, he worked on railroads after the service.

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