Byron Brittain spent decades of his life in the insurance business, improving practices and training and earning numerous awards, but before that, his career was quite different.

 

Now 98 years old, Brittain still recalls his work during the 1940s with clarity.

 

"I was working at Boeing. I did metal plating — metal finishing, actually," Brittain said.

 

At 25 years old, Brittain had a family to support. He applied for a job at Boeing without a clear idea of what he wanted to do.

 

"I started in, just tying aluminum parts together with aluminum wire and hanging it on a hook — that went into a solution to anodize it," Brittain said.

 

Anodizing the aluminum parts creates an oxidation coating to protect metal from salt water damage, a process Brittain found fascinated him, as well as learning to do electroplating with cadmium, copper and chromium.

 

"As a result of that, I came back to Newton and enrolled in a year of chemistry," Brittain recalled.

 

World events eventually caught up with him.

 

"My boss came to me one day and he said, 'Brittain, we can't keep you any longer,'" Brittain said. "I knew eventually I would have to go, one way or another. I didn't see how they could possibly keep me forever."

 

Brittain enlisted and headed for boot camp.

 

"I went to Leavenworth, walked in and the first person I met was a Navy lieutenant," Brittain recalled. "He said, 'your name is Brittain?' I said, 'yes, sir.' He said, 'you're in the Navy.'"

 

Though given some training in a boat on a lake, Brittain said he never set foot on a ship.

 

"I didn't do anything glamorous in WWII," Brittain said. "I got on the train, opened my orders and I was headed for Norman, Oklahoma."

 

The Navy had established several training schools there, teaching metalsmiths, machinists and rubberized equipment repair.

 

"The first day, I was assigned to a metalsmith class," Brittain said.

 

A lieutenant took him to look at the metal plating shop.

 

"Here was a big room with a bunch of crates in the middle of the room," Brittain said.

 

Brittain was asked what he needed to get the shop up and running and gave the lieutenant a list.

 

After five weeks of schooling, Brittain graduated and was given the rank of Aviation Metalsmith 3rd Class. He then was assigned to get the metal plating shop assembled and running.

 

"I had everything I asked for," Brittain said. "In my life, I never dreamed I'd have the chance to have a plating shop that was just all that — and it was. It was a first-class shop."

 

The shop in Norman became a major hub for metal plating, though there were others located in San Diego and Pensacola, Florida.

 

"Neither of those was quite as complete as mine," Brittain said.

 

Every two weeks, 20 men would be shipped in for Brittain to teach.

 

"In the process of that, they also shipped me parts," Brittain said. "They had emergency plating shops on the carriers, but they were limited in size and in what they could handle."

 

The parts most often sent for refurbishing were air hooks.

 

"Those had to be replated with hard chrome, which I knew how to do," Brittain said. "Those were my projects for my students."

 

As the war slowed down, Brittain was due to be discharged.

 

"By that time, the Navy had decided to move all its aviation schools to Memphis, Tennessee, into existing buildings," Brittain said.

 

Brittain was sent drawings of the buildings so he could lay out the metal plating shop and extended his enlistment long enough to get it running. After bring discharged, Brittain was brought back as a civilian worker in the shop for a year.

 

Britain had dreams of starting his own metal plating shop in Missouri, but said the military wouldn't release enough of the necessary chemicals to allow it. He then came back to his hometown of Newton and got into the insurance business.

 

"That was a whole change in profession for me," Brittain said.

 

Though his career path had taken a major turn, there was one tradition Brittain wanted to uphold.

 

"My dad had been the commander of the Legion post. Of course, he was in WWI — in fact, I was born while he was overseas," Brittain said. "When I came back to Newton in 1947, there was no doubt that I would join the Legion, which I did. I've been a member ever since."

 

Brittain was recently honored with a certificate and pin commemorating his 71 years of membership in the American Legion, an organization he said has changed over the years.

 

"The Legion was just a place to go and relax, have a drink and enjoy some camaraderie and then go about your business," Brittain said. "Now, we've got various activities that are ongoing."