Walt Neppl was called up in early 1943.
The marine sergeant felt bad because Neppl was out on a technicality, flat feet. Otherwise, what a great-looking recruit: strong Nordic face, build of a farm kid, clear blue eyes that showed smarts. The sergeant nodded out the door, feeling the need to help. "Go across the hall to the Army Air Force.  They'll take you."
Young Walt had not hidden his disappointment. But he was respectful and polite. "Thank you, Sergeant."
The marine squinted, watching after Neppl as he headed across the hall. "Damn!" he thought to himself. "There goes the kind of smart hick we can do something with."
If he couldn't be a U.S. Marine, Neppl figured to try for the air cadets. But there was a problem with the Army Air Force as well. They gave a tough test. Neppl had been a top vocational student at Carroll High School, but the test he took was loaded with questions relating to physics and advanced math like calculus, subjects he knew nothing about. Another disappointed recruiter regarded him now, one who was also puzzled.
"You know, Neppl, you didn't miss the passing grade by much." He took the test papers and flipped to the last page. "See what the guy who graded this wrote at the end?" The recruiter ran a finger under the grader 's scrawled note as he read, "˜Who is this?!" Then he looked at Neppl. "That's because you answered some of the hard questions and missed some of the easy ones. Strange."
"They were all hard to me," Neppl said with a flat laugh .
"What did you take in high school?"
"No science and higher math at all?"
"Just bookkeeping math."
"You took all vocational courses?"
"All they had."
"Why not anything academic?"
"Oh, we lost the farm." Neppl shrugged and smiled.
This was Iowa and the recruiter knew the story well. "Where do you work again?" he asked.
"J. C. Penney." Neppl was dressed in a suit. He looked good, his tie nicely knotted.
"Started in the stockroom right after graduation. Now I sell, do some ordering, help the manager and like that."
"Does your job have a title?"
"First man. It's like assistant manager."
"And you're how old?" The recruiter looked at the information sheet attached to the top of Neppl's test. "Twenty?"
"That's right," said Neppl, warily.
"I mean, you seem to have made quick progress."
"Oh. I like the manager, working there."
"Well, let me give you some advice, Neppl." He rolled up the test and shook it to emphasize each point. "Write down the kind of questions you missed on this. Go to the library and get the appropriate books. Get advice, see some high school teachers . Tell them the Air Force wants to test you again."
"You do?" said Neppl, brightening.
"Yes. So study for a couple months and come back and see me."
"Thank you, sir," said Neppl. "I can do that."
The recruiter felt that the young man would keep his word and would succeed, and he was right.
 The U.S. Air Force was formed after World War II.