In both world wars, many joined the ranks below the age of conscription. The US Navy included one such case, a young boy only twelve years of age who continued fighting into his thirteenth year. He went on to become a decorated seaman, honored by the US Navy despite his incredibly young age at the time of enlistment. Even more amazingly, he survived the war when so many of his older comrades did not.
The boy in question was named Calvin Graham, and he sailed aboard the USS South Dakota under the leadership of Captain Thomas Gatch. The ship itself saw heavy fire during the war. In fact, it was damaged so heavily that at one point, enemy forces were sure that it had been destroyed. The US Navy did nothing to correct them on this matter. They instead decided to rename it Battleship X, in honor of its secretive resurrection. This account is simply one of the things that made the USS South Dakota particularly unique. Calvin Graham, Texas gunner and the youngest veteran in the nation to receive war medals, was their other unique secret.
Graham may have been twelve years of age when he enlisted, but he had planned on enlisting since he was a year younger. Like other youths who joined the military around the world, he lied about his age to join the US Navy. He told them he was seventeen, and he did his best to look the part. He borrowed clothes, spoke in a deeper voice, and handed in a forged note from his mother giving consent for him to enlist. The note was even notarized using a stolen stamp.
Once Graham had successfully enlisted, his real adventure began. He saw things during the war that most boys his age never could have imagined. He saw the destruction that a single explosive could wreak on a large US Navy vessel such as the Dakota. He saw men who had lost limbs and were bleeding out. He helped to dress their wounds, or at least to stave off their suffering when treatment was all but impossible. In the end, he became a decorated sailor for his courage, the Smithsonian.com reports.
The US Navy saw a number of heroes join their ranks during the Second World War, but few (if any) were as young as Calvin Graham. His mother thought he was staying with family members at the time of his enlistment, or else she certainly would have tried to stop him. Given his treatment of the wounded, her ignorance as to his whereabouts may have actually saved lives. It would naturally be much harder for a boy of Graham’s age to get away with enlisting in the US Navy today, but during WWII, heroes were heroes regardless of their youth.