The boy who became a World War II veteran at 13 years old
The boy who became a World War II veteran at 13 years old After the Japanese Imperial Navy falsely believed it had sunk the South Dakota in November, 1942, the American vessel became known as “Battleship X.” (Wikimedia)
The boy who became a World War II veteran at 13 years old
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With powerful engines, extensive firepower and heavy armor, the newly christened battleship USS South Dakota steamed out of Philadelphia in August of 1942 spoiling for a fight. The crew was made up of "green boys" - new recruits who enlisted after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor -- who had no qualms about either their destination or the action they were likely to see. Brash and confident, the crew couldn't get through the Panama Canal fast enough. Their captain, Thomas Gatch, made no secret of the grudge he bore against the Japanese. "No ship more eager to fight ever entered the Pacific," one naval historian wrote.
 
In less than four months, the South Dakota would limp back to port in New York for repairs to extensive damage suffered in some of World War II's most ferocious battles at sea. The ship would become one of the most decorated warships in U.S. Navy history. The Japanese, it turned out, were convinced the vessel had been destroyed at sea. The Navy was only too happy to keep the mystery alive. When newspapers later reported on the ship's remarkable accomplishments, they referred to it simply as "Battleship X."
 
That the vessel was not resting at the bottom of the Pacific was just one of the secrets Battleship X carried. Aboard was a gunner from Texas who would soon become the nation's youngest decorated war hero. Calvin Graham, who had set off for battle from the Philadelphia Navy Yard in the summer of 1942, was only 12.
 
Graham was in the sixth grade in Crockett, Texas, when he hatched his plan to lie about his age and join the Navy. One of seven children living at home with an abusive stepfather, he and an older brother moved into a cheap rooming house. Calvin supported himself by selling newspapers and delivering telegrams. Being around newspapers afforded the boy the opportunity to keep up on events overseas.
 
When he learned that some of his cousins had died in battles, he knew he wanted to fight. But he had no intention of waiting five more years. One day, he lined up with some buddies (who forged his mother's signature) and waited to enlist.
 
He was about to be examined by a dentist. "I knew he'd know how young I was by my teeth," recalled Graham, who lined up behind a couple of guys he knew who were already 14 or 15, and "when the dentist kept saying I was 12, I said I was 17. Finally, he said he didn't have time to mess with me and he let me go."
 
By the time the South Dakota made it to the Pacific with Graham on board, the big ship had become part of a task force alongside the legendary carrier USS Enterprise. In early October 1942, the two ships raced to the South Pacific. After the U.S. ships reached the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26, the Japanese launched an air attack. The South Dakota managed to protect the Enterprise.
 
Then, the South Dakota was hit by a bomb. The explosion injured 50 men.
 
The South Dakota was repaired at Pearl Harbor, and Seaman Graham quietly became a teenager, turning 13 on November 6, just as Japanese naval forces began shelling an American airfield on Guadalcanal Island. Steaming south with the Enterprise, the South Dakota and another battleship, the USS Washington, took four American destroyers on a night search for the enemy. On November 14, Japanese ships sank or heavily damaged the American destroyers. The encounter became known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
 
Graham was manning his gun when shrapnel tore through his jaw and mouth. Still, the 13-year-old helped pull other crew members to safety.
 
The shrapnel had knocked out his front teeth, and he had flash burns from the hot guns.
 
Meanwhile, the South Dakota had disappeared in the smoke. The Japanese Navy was under the impression that it had sunk the South Dakota. The legend of Battleship X was born.
 
In mid-December, the ship returned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for more repairs. Calvin Graham received a Bronze Star for distinguishing himself in combat, as well as a Purple Heart for his injuries. Then Graham's mother wrote to the Navy, revealing the gunner's true age.
 
Graham was thrown in a brig at Corpus Christi, Texas.
 
The Navy eventually ordered Graham's release. But not before stripping him of his medals for lying about his age and revoking his disability benefits. He was released without an honorable discharge.
 
Back in Houston, though, reporters were eager to write his story but the attention quickly faded. At age 13, Graham returned to school, and he quickly dropped out. He married at age 14, became a father the following year, and found work as a welder in a Houston shipyard. Neither his job nor his marriage lasted long. At 17 years old and divorced, and with no service record, Graham was about to be drafted when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He soon broke his back in a fall. The only work he could find after that was selling magazine subscriptions.
 
When President Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976, Graham hoped that Carter, "an old Navy man," might be sympathetic. All Graham had wanted was an honorable discharge so he could get help with his medical and dental expenses.
 
In 1978, Carter announced that Graham's medals were restored, with the exception of the Purple Heart.  Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan approved disability benefits for Graham.
 
It wasn't until 1994, two years after he died, that the military returned Graham's last medal - his Purple Heart. It was given to his family.

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween78/boy-who-became-world-war-ii-veteran-13-years-old/

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why were new recruits called “green boys?”
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (101)
  • MikhailP-del
    11/16/2017 - 05:16 p.m.

    it is quit scary and intesting becuase the boys are fighting in wars no too and most people who go to war are adults

  • WilliamF-del
    11/16/2017 - 05:37 p.m.

    It's unbelievable that a 12 year old really fought in a battle. I think that it was unfair that he lost all his medals because this just proves what kids can do. I think it kind of ruined his life because he married at 14 and had kids even though the just 2 years later he got divorced. It was a really good thing that he got all his medals back.

  • EvanC-del
    11/16/2017 - 05:39 p.m.

    A boy joining the army at only 13 is quite crazy. These people were probably really stupid. This boy must have been really brave. I thank you for your service.

  • ChloeT-del
    11/16/2017 - 05:42 p.m.

    This article is about a 13 year old boy who became a veteran for World War 2. He was so young and was still brave enough to become a veteran. This experience helped him to become more responsible. Even though he was at a young age when he became a veteran, it still helped him and helped him have a successful career.

  • ZofiaT-del
    11/16/2017 - 05:56 p.m.

    THis article is about how a thirteen year old boy became a World War II hero. Graham was going to lie about his age to join the navy. The navy then found out about his age and took everything he earned in their. Then in 1978, he was rewarded with his metals that he lost.

  • EmilyN-del1
    11/16/2017 - 06:07 p.m.

    I really enjoyed this article. It was about how a 12 year old boy could not wait to help people and save lives in the military. The dentist knew he was not of age to be in the military but Graham did not want to give up so he kept telling the dentist that he was 17. He was very brave and I am glad he got his Purple Heart back.

  • AkshayB-del
    11/16/2017 - 06:27 p.m.

    This story was about a boy who became a World War II veteran at 13 years old. In the the article it talks about lying about his age so enlist in the army and fight. When he learned that some of his cousins had died in battles, he knew he wanted to fight in the army. When Graham was manning his gun a shrapnel tore through his jaw and mouth. Still, the 13-year-old helped pull other crew members to safety. He later was declared a veteran and Carter announced that Graham's medals were restored, with the exception of the Purple Heart.

  • SamanthaM-del1
    11/16/2017 - 06:43 p.m.

    new recruits were called 'green boys' because they had no worries about their destination or the action that they were most likely going to witness during their time serving.

  • SarahT-del
    11/16/2017 - 07:05 p.m.

    Calvin Graham was 12 when he wanted to join the army. He heard that his cousins had died from the war and wanted to help from that. That was helpful because he saved a lot of his teammates and one was the many veterans that helped in the war.

  • EoinM-del
    11/16/2017 - 07:41 p.m.

    Because they were young. They served for a purpose

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