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Danny the Driller: 1942

August 1942. "Nashville, Tennessee. Vultee Aircraft Company. Drilling holes for rivets in a fuselage on a sub-assembly line." In other words, doing prep work for Rosie. Photo by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.

August 1942. "Nashville, Tennessee. Vultee Aircraft Company. Drilling holes for rivets in a fuselage on a sub-assembly line." In other words, doing prep work for Rosie. Photo by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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A miracle!

This photo is of my dad, John M. Graves, of Whites Creek, Tennessee. Daddy graduated from Joelton High School in 1940. He worked on the family farm and then got a job at the Vultee plant in Nashville. He worked there until late 1942 when he shipped out with the Merchant Marines. He was on a Liberty ship called the Pio Pico which transported materiel to North Africa, Corsica, Sicily, and Italy. After that voyage he came back to Nashville briefly, then signed up for another voyage in the Pacific near the end of the war. He ported in Iwo Jima, Saipan, New Caledonia, and other Pacific islands. He left the maritime service in 1946, moved back home, married my mom, and started a family. I was born in 1954 and Daddy passed away at the young age of 40 in 1962. I have his seaman's papers, as well as his letters home, W-2 forms from Vultee, and more.

His time at Vultee was always a bit of an unknown to me, and of course I never had the chance to hear about his experiences. As I've been working on my genealogy over the years, questions about his job at Vultee came to me often but I never made much effort to find out more. Last week I sat down, did a simple web search for "Vultee plant Nashville", selected "images" for my search results, and saw this photo. I looked at it long and hard, in astonishment. There's no doubt whatsoever that it's Daddy. He didn't wear glasses, but undoubtedly these were issued as eye protection. I'm surprised at how muscular he looks here. Hard work has a way of doing that to a young man. I still cannot believe that he happened to be in the right place at the right time when the photographer came through that day, that the photo was in the archives all these years, that Shorpy picked it up, and that finding it was so easy. Truly a miracle, and I treasure this photo more than you can imagine.

What kept him out?

He could have easily served pre-war and decided that he simply did not wish to re-enlist or participate in the war or could have been wounded and medically discharged in 1941-42.

As a child my father hunted with an old man who was around 20 when the war started and simply chose not to enlist... no one ever came looking for him as his number was never called.

Change ahead?

Dec 7, 1941, my dad was a welder in a shipyard, a job I would think would be war essential. Two months later he enlisted in the Marines. You can never tell what will happen.

Let's Not Assume

I doubt the guy is feeling unmanned by his job - he's old enough to know better. Fire-eater that I was at 22, by 30 I would have been more than happy if somebody else had volunteered to get shot at.

[Voluntary enlistment ended in 1942. - Dave]

Dave, believe your numbers are off.

Check this out.

Also want to keep in mind the numbers who were drafted/volunteered but were killed, invalided out for sickness/wounds, and who were discharged for other reasons. So the percentage of draft-age men who weren't serving is smaller than might be thought.

[I used numbers from the National World War 2 Museum. If we use the 16 million figure, that means less than a third of the 50 million registered for the draft actually served, with maybe 1 in 4 serving at any given time -- all of those millions weren't serving simultaneously. So young men working in factories weren't some sort of anomaly -- they were far more likely to be doing that than serving in the military. - Dave]

Needed at home

Many, many men fought the war at home in factories, shipyards and on the farm. In Peoria, where I grew up, Caterpillar and Keystone Steel and Wire shifted full tilt into war production, with Cat making Sherman tanks. Pabst Brewery and Hiram Walker Distillery both switched their vats to penicillin production. Boys graduating from high school were exempt from the draft if they were going straight into a war production related job, as above, or many other areas such as transportation/barge traffic or mining.

My dad was a 43 year old single music teacher. He got drafted.

Poor nutrition?

At the start of World War II large numbers of recruits were rejected for health reasons due to poverty-related poor nutrition. Don't forget, this was on the heels of the Depression.

After the war the Federal Student Lunch Program was instituted to provide free or reduced cost lunches to schoolchildren who otherwise might not get a nutritious meal otherwise. This was in fact a Cold-War national-security measure done to ensure that draft-age men were fit for military service.

Now this man looks very fit and muscular even by the standards of the time; he was probably a working man his whole life. He looks older; maybe in his thirties. My grandfather was a fit, young-looking man of 40 when the war started out; he worked in a Pittsburgh steel mill which was a critical defense industry. America needed skilled industrial workers as much as soldiers then, and women couldn't do all of those jobs.

My dad tried to enlist in the Navy early 1942

But was rejected because he had flat feet - go figure! So he worked in the war material procurement field throughout the war. There were many vaild reasons why some men were not in uniform.

[The notion that most of men of draft age were serving in the military during WW2 is a mistaken one. Out of the approximately 50 million men registered for the draft during World War 2, only around 10 million, or one in five, were actually under arms. In other words, 80 percent of draft-age men were not in the military during WW2. - Dave]


I see much to contemplate in this photo. The aircraft, war production, the plant are the obvious points of interest. The man, generally goes unremarkable.

The year is 1942. This man is obviously not in uniform. I wonder why and how he feels not being able to serve in the expected venue. What was the reaction of his fellow workers? Even his less than glamorous position of prep worker for the ubiquitous Rosie makes me wonder how he felt about his own war efforts.

I see him in no less a position of importance to the defense effort, but I speak from the objective position of the present. I would like to have known what his day was like, what he thought and felt other than just the unremarkable man with the drill.

Vultee A-31 Vengeance

This appears to be an A-31 Vengeance dive bomber, built in Nashville at the Stinson plant. It was not used in combat by the US, but instead saw service with the RAF, RAAF, and Indian Air Force, in Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific. Its only use by the US was as a target tug.

Prince Valiant?

I'm no Vultee expert, but that could be a BT-13 Valiant basic trainer -- or is it a P-66 Vanguard?

What kept him out?

That guy is fitter than 99% of the people any of us know today; there's not an ounce of fat on him.

Makes you wonder what made him 4-F, or which of the other few exemptions he qualified for that were available to an able-bodied man at the time.

[There were thousands of young men working in factories during the war -- there's nothing unusual about his situation. - Dave]

I wasn't questioning his dedication.

[You were questioning "what made him 4-F" or why he's exempt. Like most young men not in service during WW2, he is most likely neither of those things. - Dave]

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