John Speier Manchester Papers

Identifier: MSS.0632

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

The John Speier Manchester Papers are contained within one Hollinger box of 21 folders and one copy of the book School Boy to Helldiver. The collection consists primarily of 197 handwritten letters John wrote to his family in Nashville, Tennessee during his military service. The collection also includes military orders, telegrams, and other original artifacts. The collection follows the structure that Emily Manchester Townes outlined in her book School Boy to Helldiver. The first seventeen folders are arranged in chronological order from December 1, 1943 to November 18, 1944. Folder 18 contains correspondence and documents after John’s death on November 13, 1944. Folders 19 - 21 contain other materials related to the collection.


  • 1942 - 2006
  • Majority of material found within 1942 - 1944

Conditions Governing Access

This collection may be viewed only in the reading room of Special Collections in the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Collections should be requested 2-3 days prior to visiting in order to facilitate easier access. For questions or to request a collection, contact

Literary Rights Statement

Permission to publish, copy, reprint, digitize, orally record for transmission over public or private airways, or use materials from the John Speier Manchester Collection: School Boy to Helldiver in any and all other current or future development methods or procedures, must be obtained in writing from the Special Collections and University Archives Division of the Vanderbilt University Libraries. All rights are reserved and retained regardless of current or future development or laws that may apply to fair use standards.

Biographical / Historical

Ensign John Speier Manchester was born on August 14, 1923 to Dr. and Mrs. Paul Thomas Manchester. Dr. P.T. Manchester had a teaching job at Vanderbilt during the Great Depression and his wife was a homemaker. John’s parents had two other children, Tom Manchester who was two years older than he and Emily Manchester who was five years younger. The family lived in Nashville, Tennessee and would frequently travel to other parts of the state to visit family. On December 7, 1941 upon return from a family trip to LaVergne, Tennessee, the family was shocked to hear the news boys in the Nashville streets shouting, “Extra! Extra! Japanese attack Pearl Harbor!” The family knew that war was eminent. John was then a student at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Demonstration School. He left school in the middle of his sophomore year to enlist for military service. On December 1, 1942 he and his friend Reavill Ransom went to Atlanta to be sworn in. His training took him first to Columbia, South Carolina where he trained at the University of South Carolina. By March 1943, his first phase of training was complete. His training continued at pre-flight school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His primary base training in Peru, Indiana lasted for three months. From there, he trained in Pensacola, Florida where he flew at Saufley Field, Ellyson Field and Whiting Field before training at Barin Field, Pensacola where he received his wings.

He was stationed in Miami, Florida, Cape May and Wildwood, New Jersey and then to Norfolk, Virginia. John described his plane to his brother Tom as the Hell Diver, SB 2C-1C which he said “drives like a truck.” Upon realizing that their group of friends would be split up, John and his friend Dylan Dougle volunteered for immediate service. Their naval carrier was the U.S.S. Ticonderoga. Between November 12 and November 13, 1944, the U.S.S. Ticonderoga was involved in a mission with other naval carriers that attacked targets near Manila and Luzon in the Philippine Islands that destroyed the Japanese light cruiser Kiso, four destroyers and seven merchant ships. It was during that mission that Ensign John S. Manchester’s plane was shot down on November 13, 1944 over Manila Bay. Dougle’s eye witness was that John’s plane was shot down and no parachute was engaged. An account of John’s personal effects, which included a record of his final mission, was dated in August 1945. Decades after his death, John’s sister, Emily, compiled his letters and other documents related to his military service, death, and time soon after his death into a book School Boy to Helldiver which was published in 2006.


.42 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



This collection consists primarily of 197 handwritten letters John Manchester wrote to his family in Nashville, Tennessee during his military service. The collection also includes military orders, telegrams, other original artifacts, and one copy of the book School Boy to Helldiver.

Physical Location

Special Collections & Archives
Finding Aid for the John Speier Manchester Papers
Jocelyn Boulware
2017 September
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Jean and Alexander Heard Library
419 21st Avenue South
Nashville TN 37203 United States


About this Site

This site contains collection guides, or finding aids, to the archival collections held by Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, the History of Medicine Collection, and the Scarritt Bennett Center. Finding aids describe the context, arrangement, and structure of archival materials, allowing users to identify and request materials relevant to their research.

Requesting Materials

Each finding aid contains a link to request materials from the collections. Collections can also be requested by emailing the repository directly through the library website. Each repository has its own location, hours, and contact information. Please consult the repository with questions about using the materials. Collections are non-circulating and must be used in the repository’s reading room. In many cases, the collections are stored off-site and require advance notice for retrieval.