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World War II veteran George Dagley poses for a portrait in his home on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, in Pikeville, Tenn. Dagley volunteered for the U.S. Navy and served as a signal man in a merchant marine armed guard unit aboard the S.S. Ovid Butler in the western Pacific from 1944-1946.

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The young volunteer: At 17, he lied so he could enlist

In addition to the millions of service members on the front lines in World War II, the war effort required an extensive support operation to keep the fight going.

From 1944-1946, 91-year-old George Dagley was part of that effort and served as a signalman with the armed guard on a transport ship, the SS Ovid Butler, that ferried supplies in the Pacific to Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

At 17, he lied about his age so that he could enlist, joining his two brothers who were already in the fray.

"I was the only Navy person on the ship that had not been on the sea before," he said. "I took a lot of razzing for that in my first couple of days."

Bio:

Name: George Dagley

Age: 91

Home: Pikeville, Tenn.

Military branch and rank: U.S. Navy, petty officer third class

He said one of his most memorable missions was on a ship that was loaded in secret under a covered dock in order to hide the cargo from any spies in the harbor. The crew didn't know what they were carrying, but they arrived at Iwo Jima on schedule as planned.

"They didn't really have a harbor because the island is very small. They had a man-made harbor where they had metal cargo nets anchored by buoys and then they had to open the harbor and let you in," he said. "We anchored in the shadow of Mount Suribachi on the edge of the island."

When they opened the hold, they finally saw what they had brought the U.S. troops — a dozen brand new jeeps.

"They didn't have anything like that," he said. "They were thrilled to see us."

While the vehicles and other supplies were appreciated, Dagley said the beer they brought with them might have been a bigger morale boost. Theirs was the first alcohol to reach the island after the fighting.

"They packed the beer in cartons and then they packed sawdust in with them so they would not sink. As they unloaded the ship — whether they did it on purpose I'll never know — but every now and then, one of them would drop into the ocean and drift toward the back of the ship," he said. "There happened to be some sailors with boat hooks. Naturally, they brought them on board.

"They had a stack of them, maybe eight to 10, and I know I drank a little warm beer. We got a kick out of that."

Military service was almost written in the stars for Dagley, who was a part of the fifth generation in his family to join the American armed forces. Men in his family fought in WWI, the Civil War, the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War.

Dagley said he was never involved in any battles and never did anything "outstandingly heroic," but said his experiences in the military were fundamental to his growth as a man.

"By the time you finished boot camp, you didn't have any particular feeling of importance for yourself. You belonged to the Navy, you do what they said. That's a big change from teenage life," he said.

"I was probably like a lot of the people at that age; you have to go with what you're told to do. It was a good experience and I'm proud to be Navy."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.

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