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Honoring Calvin Graham: The Youngest American WWII Veteran

Honoring Calvin Graham: The Youngest American WWII Veteran

There are some moments in history that’ll never be forgotten, simply because their impact is so significant. World War II is at the top of the list—especially history-defining events like Pearl Harbor and D-Day. We remember these moments in history and the people who participated in them every year, through national holidays like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.

But it’s not only on holidays when it’s important to remember our veterans and thank a prior or current American service member. Any time is an excellent time to show our support and appreciation for those who served and continue to serve our country. That’s why we take the time to spotlight veterans and show what these special people have done for our country.

This article is about Calvin Graham, the youngest American WWII veteran. Not only did Calvin lived through the most infamous time period in American history, he did so as a young man, and contributed in service of our country at an age when most kids are… well, kids.

Here’s a look inside Calvin Graham’s absolutely amazing, inspiring story.

Who is Calvin Graham?

Calvin Graham was born in 1930, in East Texas. At the age of 11, Calvin left home to live in a boarding house due to unfavorable living conditions. He supported himself by selling newspapers and delivering telegrams.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Calvin made the decision to enlist in the military. He was only 12 years old, but was able to get through the initial recruitment process and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, which had lost many service members by August 1942.

Calvin’s Role in World War II

Calvin attended three weeks of boot camp and was assigned to the USS South Dakota. He was part of a special task force and saw his first battle at Guadalcanal. The battle ended with 40 killed in action and 180 wounded, including Calvin. While helping those injured, he himself suffered shrapnel injuries and had a few teeth knocked out. However, Calvin survived.

When Calvin and his fellow military members returned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, media cameras showed him coming off the ship and his mother spotted him. When she complained to the U.S. Navy about allowing the enlistment of a 12-year-old boy, the military took Calvin’s medals away, gave him a dishonorable discharge and sentenced him to the brig for three months!

In the years that followed, Calvin got married and divorced as a teenager. He was ultimately drafted and then served in the U.S. Marine Corps until he suffered a broken back and was no longer able to serve in the military. Calvin then sold magazine subscriptions, but waged a fight to obtain an honorable discharge as his wounds from his service in WWII started to trouble him more.

In 1977, U.S. Senators Lloyd Bentsen and John Tower fought on his behalf. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter approved the discharge conversion from dishonorable to honorable. All of Calvin’s medals were restored, except for his Purple Heart.

A made-for-television movie, Too Young the Hero, was released in 1988. The movie provided Calvin with some money as a result of his story. However, Calvin passed away in 1992. However, his story has an element to closure to it. Two years after his passing, Calvin’s Purple Heart medal was reinstated.

Why Calvin Graham’s Legacy Is So Important

Calvin Graham’s legacy shows that patriotism comes in all forms and by people of all ages. We don’t have to take the path Calvin took to show patriotism, and these days this would not be possible to do. What we can do is express our patriotism whenever possible and in a wide array of ways. No one is too young to understand the importance of living in a free country or learn the history and lessons of those who’ve paid the ultimate price to keep us free. 

Calvin’s story is an inspirational one, and it’s far from the only amazing story of bravery and duty to come from WWII. It’s important for us to remember and honor this story, and to continue telling it so it’s never forgotten. So long as everyone remembers Calvin Graham’s name, his story—and his sacrifice—will never be forgotten.

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