WORLD WAR II VETERAN - NELSONVILLE, OHIO

Emmett H. Davis was born and raised in Nelsonville, Ohio. At 90 years old, he has seen the town grow up into what it is today. After being discharged from the Army Air Corps in February 1946, he returned to Nelsonville and spent the next 40 years as an ironworker. Now as a retired WWII veteran, he still manages to keep incredibly busy.

“I dropped out of high school senior year and joined the Army Air Corps,” says Emmett Davis. “We shipped out of New York Harbor on October 8, 1943. My nineteenth birthday, October 13, was spent on the ocean.” 

At 90, Emmett keeps a stringent routine to keep him busy. Almost every morning he goes to The Mine tavern in downtown Nelsonville and drinks coffee with various friends. The tavern is as old as the town, and named after the city’s old cash crop, coal. There are a scattering of old men along the bar, some drinking beer, some drinking coffee. Emmett shakes hands and makes small talk. After his coffee he goes over to the post office to check for mail and then heads to the bank to deposit money for any one of the groups he is a treasurer for. Wherever he goes people smile and wave.

He’s spent his whole life in this town, and as an iron worker, had his hand in a lot of the growth Nelsonville has seen over the years. He laments about the new bypass, which is already closing down many of the buildings that he grew up around. On Sundays, he goes to Nelsonville Wesleyan Church. His wife Vera has been a church pianist there for 40 years, and Emmett is the treasurer. As the men gather in the basement for bible study, Emmett sits in his little “office” next door and counts the donations. After bible study finishes, he heads upstairs to church.

This is his routine, day in and day out. “I’ve had cancer three times” he says, “and I have a pacemaker, but I’m not on any medication, just vitamins. I stay busy.”

As winter approaches, he goes out less and less—the back roads where he lives outside of town are narrow and treacherous. As a man who stays so active, it is hard to imagine his true age. It almost seems as if, one day, instead of dying, he’ll just get in his truck and drive away. 

Guide note: There are less then 2 million remaining World War II veterans alive in the United States today. The VA projects that by 2036 none will remain, and also says that currently almost 1,000 die every day. With this short photo story, I hope to show a small vignette of one soldier’s life, and how he keeps busy in retirement, while still trying to show glimpses from his past. I believe this to be important because, as the Greatest Generation becomes relegated to the history books, we as a society will find ourselves looking back and wondering, “Who were the men and women that served, what did they look like, and what happened to them after the war?” This will be one of many answers. 

Editor’s note: Ohio is home to many WWII veterans, ranking sixth in the nation and behind only the more populous states of California, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York.

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Adam Birkan is a soon-to-be-graduating Senior photojournalism student in the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University. Born in the “Holy Land” (Jerusalem, Israel) and raised in “not so holy” Cincinnati, Ohio. He has travelled to some 30 countries and plans to travel to 160 more. He is currently planning his move to Thailand (semi-permanently,) and would love to get any and all tips/contacts/work. You can see his work at adambirkanphoto.comadambirkan.tumblr.com, and instagram.com/adambirkan.

This dispatch arrived care of THE AMERICAN GUIDE submission page. Be a guide yourself and send a post from your state: theamericanguide.org/submit.