This 12-Year-Old Boy Enlisted To Fight In World War II And Got Sent To Pearl Harbor, Where He Tended To Critically Injured Soldiers And Earned Both A Bronze Star And A Purple Heart For His Heroism

sphraner - - illustrative purposes only

In the 1930s, being a soldier was considered a noble rite of passage, a chance to prove oneself as a man. So, when World War II broke out in 1939, many boys signed up for combat even though they were under the age of 18. One of those underaged boys was 12-year-old Calvin Graham from Texas.

He shipped off from the Philadelphia Navy Yard in the summer of 1942 and served as a gunner aboard the battleship USS South Dakota, fighting in one of the most violent sea battles of World War II. He was the youngest U.S. serviceman to fight in the war.

When Graham decided he wanted to join the Navy, he was an 11-year-old in the sixth grade. He had six other siblings and an abusive stepfather.

He ended up moving out with an older brother and supported himself by delivering telegrams and selling newspapers when he wasn’t in school. After learning that some of his cousins died in the war, he knew he wanted to fight.

Boys aged 16 could enlist if they got their parents’ permission, but Graham did not want to wait. He started shaving in the hopes that it would make him look older. Some friends of his forged his mother’s signature, and they waited in line together to enlist.

Graham was only five feet and two inches tall, weighing just 125 pounds. He dressed in an older brother’s clothes and practiced speaking in a deeper voice.

There was a dentist who examined the mouths of potential recruits to determine their ages. When the dentist checked Graham’s mouth, he declared that Graham was only 12. The boy insisted that he was 17. He finally convinced the dentist to let him go after he pointed out that the boys in front of him were also underage.

Graham dropped out of the seventh grade and told his mother he was visiting relatives. Then, he went off to San Diego to complete basic training. The drill instructors made all the underage recruits run extra miles and carry heavier packs. Three weeks later, Graham was assigned to the Navy’s Pacific Fleet. He was sent to Pearl Harbor and joined the South Dakota’s crew.

On October 26, 1942, the Japanese launched an air attack. The South Dakota managed to fight off 26 enemy planes with antiaircraft guns. But the vessel did not escape totally unscathed. It was hit by a 500-pound bomb. Luckily, the ship’s armor was so thick that the bomb’s impact didn’t do much damage.

sphraner – – illustrative purposes only

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