The Hero was Too Young

 

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★★Long struggles for our veterans are not hard to find. Here is the story of a 12 year old boy who joined the U.S. Navy after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Calvin Leon Graham (April 3, 1930 – November 6, 1992) was the youngest U.S. serviceman to serve and fight during World War II. Graham was born in Canton, Texas and was attending elementary school in Houston before he decided to join the Navy, after his father had died and his mother had remarried. He enlisted in the Navy on August 15, 1942 and was sent to boot camp in San Diego, California for six weeks, and afterwards was sent to Pearl Harbor at Oahu, Hawaii where he was assigned to the USS South Dakota in September.

The South Dakota left Pearl harbor on October 16. On October 26, 1942, he participated in the Battle of Santa Cruz. The South Dakota and her crew received a Navy Unit Commendation for the action. On the night of November 14–15, 1942, Graham was wounded during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, he served as a loader for a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun and was hit by shrapnel while taking a hand message to an officer. Though he received fragmentation wounds, he helped in rescue duty by aiding and pulling the wounded aboard ship to safety. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart Medal, and he and his crewmates were awarded another Navy Unit Commendation.

The South Dakota returned to the east coast on December 18, 1942 for an overhaul and battle damage repairs after taking 42 hits from at least 3 enemy ships. Graham’s mother revealed his age after he attended his grandmother’s funeral in Texas without permission from the Navy, for which afterwards he spent three months in a brig in Texas He was not released until after his sister threatened to contact the newspapers. Although he had tried to return to his ship, he was released from the Navy on April 1, 1943, without any awards or benefits. The South Dakota’s gunnery officer, who was involved in handling his case, was Sargent Shriver.

He then worked in a defense plant as a welder instead of going back to school. Graham joined the United States Marine Corps in 1948 at age 17, but his enlistment in the Marines also ended early when he fell from a pier and broke his back in 1951. Although serving in the Marine Corps qualified him as a veteran, he would spend the rest of his life fighting for full medical benefits and clearing his military service record.

In 1978, some 27 years later, he was finally given an honorable discharge for his service in the Navy, and after writing to Congress and with the approval of President Jimmy Carter, all medals except his Purple Heart Medal were reinstated. His story came to public attention in 1988, when his story was told in the TV movie, Too Young the Hero. He was played by Rick Schroder.

In 1988, 37 years after his injuries, he received disability benefits and back pay for his service in the Navy after President Ronald Reagan signed legislation that granted Graham full disability benefits, increased his back pay to $4917 and allowed him $18,000 for past medical bills, contingent on receipts for the medical services. By this time, some of the doctors who treated him had died and many medical bills were lost. He received only $2,100 of the possible $18,000. While the money for the rights to his story for the movie, Too Young The Hero amounted to $50,000, 50% went to two agents and 20% went to a writer of an unpublished book about Graham. He and his wife received just $15,000 before taxes.

His Purple Heart Medal was finally reinstated, and presented to his widow, Mary, on June 21, 1994, by Secretary of the Navy John Dalton in Arlington, Texas, nearly two years after his death from heart failure. He was buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park in Fort Worth, Texas.

If Calvin had not become somewhat famous, he would have been just another totally forgotten Veteran from a long forgotten war. Hundreds of thousands of Veterans have been waiting for years for the VA to rule on their combat disability claims. I know because I am one of them who has waited about 7 years. Some call us the Deplorables but the government and the VA pretend we don’t even exist.

It is more advantages to the government to strip our dignity, our benefits, our military decorations and our honor. Calvin’s Purple Heart Decoration came through 52 years after he was wounded. If the government could have reapproved the medal in 50 years, at least Calvin would have known about it.

Of course, he was eager to serve his country and was under the legal age during his first tour but he would have been treated much better if he had only been an illegal alien from Iran who crawled through the hole in the fence. I have been fighting for Veterans for decades and I will tell you a secret; it is an uphill battle!

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