Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Wartime Wednesday: World War II's Youngest Sailor


Wartime Wednesday: WWII’s Youngest Sailor 

By law, individuals must be at least seventeen years old to enlist in the U.S. military. During World War II, one could enlist at sixteen with parental consent. However, by all reports, underage enlistment was common during the two world wars. So common that the non-profit organization Veterans of Underage Military Service has more than 1,200 active members. There are many reasons why boys would enlist at such a young age. Some came from large families who didn’t have enough food to go around. Others were caught up in the excitement of fighting, and others such as Calvin Graham were in difficult family circumstances. 

One of seven children who lived with an abusive stepfather in Crockett, Texas, Calvin moved into room house with an older brother. He sold newspapers and delivered telegrams to earn income. Seeing the headlines and knowing that some of his cousins had died in battles, he decided he wanted to enlist. In an effort to look older, he began to shave and practice speaking in a deep voice. 

After telling his mother he was going to visit relatives, Calvin dressed in his older brother’s clothes,
donned a fedora, and set out for the recruiting station. Clutching the paperwork that included his mother’s forged signature notarized by a stamp stolen from a hotel, he lined up behind five young men who didn’t look much older than him. 
During his exam, the dentist took one look at his five-foot-two, 125 pound body and into his mouth announcing that he was twelve years old, but Calvin insisted he was seventeen. The dentist didn’t buy the lie, but after the young recruit told the man he knew for a fact the boys in front of him weren’t seventeen yet and had been let through, the dentist said he “didn’t have time to mess with him.” 
Calvin was sent to San Diego for basic training, where he later claimed the drill instructors were aware of the underage recruits and made them run extra miles or lug heavier packs. Finally assigned to the USS South Dakota, he served as a loader for a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun. In October 1942, the ship was part of the Battle of Santa Cruz and received a unit citation. A month later, they participated in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, and Calvin was wounded. Shrapnel had knocked out his front teeth and he sustained flash burns. 

The damaged ship made its way to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs, and the crew were honored for their heroic deeds. Calvin received Purple Heart, and a Bronze Star for distinguishing himself in combat. However, he was unable to participate in the celebrations. His mother had recognized her son in newsreel footage and reported him to the authorities. Taken into custody, he was returned to Texas where he spent three months in the brig. 
Word got out ill treatment of the “baby vet,” so the Navy released Calvin after stripping him of his medals and giving him a dishonorable discharge. He was treated as a celebrity in Houston, and reporters clamored to tell his story. Eventually, excitement about the young man dissipated, and he faded from view. 
Three decades later, after an extensive letter writing campaign, he received his honorable discharge and his bronze star, but his purple heart was not returned until two years after his 1992 death. 

About Love at First Flight

Can two people emerge from the clouds of past hurt to find a silver lining of love?
Evelyn Reid would rather fly than do anything else, so when war engulfs the U.S., she joins the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. One of the program’s top pilots, she is tapped for pursuit plane training...the dream of a lifetime until she discovers the instructor is her ex-fiancé, Jasper MacPherson. 

Collecting enough points to rotate stateside, fighter pilot Jasper MacPherson is assigned to teach the WAFS how to fly the army way. Bad enough to be training women, but things take a turn for the worse when his former fiancée shows up as one of his students.

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