The fervor of patriotism among the youth has never been more clearly demonstrated than, especially during the Second World War. It was definitely a dark period, but the fighting spirit and eagerness to rise to the occasion and sacrifice themselves, men and women alike, for their country became the catalyst for the decisive victory of the Allied Powers. Likewise, the sheer amount of intrepidity caused millions of casualties around the globe, including boys who signed up and boosted the armed forces even before reaching the legal age.

While the same enthusiasm to join the military has significantly declined in recent years, back then, it was a career path most boys were aspiring to become. It was an honorable profession—not that it isn’t respected today. But, going to war was highly romanticized, and besides, it was almost like everyone was willingly joining the dreadful bandwagon; to fight like their grandfathers, fathers, uncles, cousins, brothers, and friends—to avenge fallen comrades and relatives and the innocent trapped between firefighting; to end the ill ideologies of the Nazis and its equally brutal allies force the world to veer into.

That’s why boys as early as sixteen tried to forge their way into recruitment camps despite not yet reaching the required age because they were that eager to serve. Boys who were old enough to understand the gist of national security and defense but too young to comprehend the difficult situation they soon found themselves in at the front.

The summer after the tragic Pearl Harbor bombing, hundreds of aspiring soldiers flock to the recruitment camp and sign up for the war. Some sneaky juveniles include a twelve-year-old Calvin Graham.

Discovered His Life’s Purpose at 11

Calvin Leon Graham, born in Texas in the mid-spring of 1930, was still in sixth grade when he devised a plan to fake his age and join the Navy. Graham lived with his older brother in a cheap house away from their abusive stepfather at the time, with their mother dropping by occasionally to check on them. The young boy supported himself by selling newspapers and delivering telegrams on weekends and after school, exposing him to overseas horrors. The country was at war.

Later, in a news report, Graham expressed how he disliked Hitler and how the tragic stories of his cousins who perished on the battlefield made him realize what he wanted to do with his life. “In those days, you could join up at 16 with your parent’s consent, but they preferred 17,” he recalled. But the young boy back then wanted to fight now, not five years later, so he began hatching a plan by shaving his barely visible facial hair in hopes that “it would somehow make him look older when he met with military recruiters.”

Dressed in his older brother’s clothes and his mother’s forged signature at hand, Graham, along with some of his buddies, went to see the enlistment officer. He was nervous as he drew closer and exhaled a relieved sigh when he passed the initial screening until the dentist peered into his mouth. Right there and then, Graham knew he was busted. But he won’t back down easily and draw an ace up his sleeve, telling the dentist that he would rat him out for passing other underaged recruits ahead of him if he won’t let him through.

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Graham, in his 50s, holding a photograph of himself when he enlisted at age 12 and served in the US Navy during World War II. (Image source: UTA Digital Library)
I knew he’d know how young I was by my teeth… when the dentist kept saying I was 12, I said I was 17,” he recalled. When Graham threatened him, the dentist eventually gave up and let him go. Graham later clarified that the Navy knew he and the others were way below the allowed enlistment age, “but we were losing the war then, so they took six of us.”