Date of Award

Summer 8-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


War and Society

First Advisor

Jennifer Keene

Second Advisor

Kyle Longley

Third Advisor

Alexander Bay


U.S. Navy ships were made up of many unexpected jobs during World War II. Traditional war histories say little about sailors who rarely saw direct combat below active war decks but instead worked skilled jobs. Specialized sailors were often unseen as they worked below the waterline as, for example, electrician’s mates and boiler room firemen. These jobs were pivotal to keeping the ship running and allowed men to make use of their valuable time in the navy. This thesis argues that, although evolving naval culture led men to enter for various reasons, many entered to enhance their future career during WWII. The emphasis on these skilled jobs expanded over many years since 1900. The navy changed its relationship to incoming sailors by expanding the skilled education of its sailors. The potential for skill creation began surpassing patriotism as a motivator for men to enter. Duties aboard ship, however, stressed constant physical labor. Although instrumental to maintaining their ship, these men rarely saw the direct outcomes of their efforts. This uneven understanding of the broader war often troubled sailors. Facing intense job requirements, long hours, vague service length, and other insecurities, below-deck sailors searched for control. Many found it difficult to maintain morale and find what mattered each day. This insecurity on dangerous wartime waters fueled a desire for maintaining links to home, whether replicating comforts aboard ship or exchanging gifts by mail. Specialized sailors further cemented connections to home by taking skilled classes in the navy. To extend their value both aboard ship and for future employers, men in these jobs found they had less catching-up to do when they returned home. Understanding how these specialized, below-deck sailors emphasized skill creation during the war provides new interpretations to World War II and what came after.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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