Calvin Graham was the youngest person to serve in World War II and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 12 in 1942. He was a kid from Texas that was inspired by the death of his cousins in combat. This is what motivated him to join the military at such a young age. Calvin began shaving at the age of eleven. He talked his friends into forging his parents signatures and told his mom he was visiting his grandmother one hundred miles away. John Maag, a seaman who served with Graham told the Chicago Tribune. "They needed to ship out men quickly. We'd suffered a lot of casualties, and the Navy needed to build up its crews." This was one reason he was able to join the Navy so easy. He was assigned to the battleship USS South Dakota and saw heavy action at Guadalcanal. On November 14, 1942 the South Dakota suffered 47 casualties and Calvin suffered wounds along with having his front teeth being knocked out by shrapnel and suffering serious burns. In spite of that he helped many of his wounded comrades. He took belts off of the dead and used them as tourniquets for the living. Calvin stayed up all night giving support and cigarettes to the wounded. A year later the Navy found out his age through his mother and he was arrested. Graham was sent to the brig for three months. He would have remained longer but his sister threatened to go to the newspapers. In May 1943, a year after his enlistment, Calvin was dishonorably discharged and his medals were taken from him along with his Bronze Star, Purple Heart and disability benefits.

  At the age of 17 Calvin joined the Marine Corps but fell off a pier breaking his back and was forced to end his military service. Calvin spent the postwar years fighting to have his medals and disability benefits returned. Finally in 1978 his record was cleared and he received an Honorable Discharge. All of his medals were returned minus his Purple Heart. In 1988 a movie was made about him called (Too Young The Hero). President Reagan reinstated his disability payments. He received back pay and some pay for medical expenses, although it did not fully pay back the money he had spent out of pocket over the years. Graham died in 1992 at the age of 62 of heart failure. Two years later his wife was presented his Purple Heart by President Clinton. Besides his Purple Heart and Bronze Star he had also been awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with bronze Battle Star device and the WWII Victory Medal.

USS South Dakota


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