Calvin Graham, an Incredible Life

In 1930, the United States experienced the worst drought it had ever seen in the Midwest and named the area hit, the Dust Bowl. The Great Depression had begun at the end of the previous year and Herbert Hoover was our President. 

In 1930, Pluto was discovered. The Chrysler Building was completed and stood as the tallest building in the world until the Empire State Building was completed the following year. The average yearly salary was $1,970.00. You could rent a house for $15 per month. A brand new Pontiac Big Six car cost $745.00 and a gallon of gas was 10 cents. 

In 1930, my father-in-law was born and so was Calvin Graham. 


On April 3, 1930, Calvin Graham was born in Canton, Texas. He grew up in Crockett, Texas and was one of seven children living at home when he and his older brother decided to find a place of their own. Calvin sold newspapers and delivered telegrams after school to support himself. Until one day, when he came up with a plan for his life. He decided to join the Navy and fight in the war. It was 1942. Calvin was 12.

He had begun shaving when he was 11 in an effort to look older. He also practiced speaking in a deep voice. He told his mother he was going to visit relatives, forged his mother’s signature, stole a notary stamp from a hotel, and went down with his buddies to sign up. He wasn’t worried about the recruiting officer and his mother’s forged signature, he knew he could tell them he was 17 and bluff his way through that. After all, the Navy needed men. What worried him was the Dentist.

There was no way to hide the fact that he still had a few baby teeth. The Dentist said he was 12. Calvin insisted he was 17 and told the Dentist that he knew for a fact that the two guys ahead of him were 14 and 15 and he’d let them through. Finally, the Dentist told Calvin he didn’t have time to waste on him and let him in.  And that is how Calvin Graham became a Navy Seaman, all 5′ 2″ and 125 lbs. of him. 

Calvin was on board the USS South Dakota as a gunner when it was attacked in the Pacific at Guadalcanal. A 500-pound bomb struck the main gun turret. The explosion sent shrapnel through his mouth and jaw, knocked out his front teeth, and knocked him down three stories of the superstructure. At 13 years old, though injured himself, he helped pull fellow crew members to safety. He took belts off the dead and made tourniquets for injured men. He gave the injured crewmen cigarettes and stayed with them, encouraging them all night. He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

Calvin’s mother, seeing her son in newsreel footage, contacted the Navy and revealed his secret. He was returned to Corpus Christi, Texas and thrown in the brig for almost three months. It took his sister’s complaint to the newspapers to get him out of the brig. The Navy stripped him of his medals, revoked his disability benefits, and ordered his release with a dishonorable discharge. He married at 14, was a father at 15, and divorced at 17. Knowing he was about to be drafted, he signed up for the Marine Corps. Soon after enlisting, he broke his back in a fall. After that he sold magazine subscriptions. In 1976, he began writing letters to then President Jimmy Carter, seeking honorable discharge status so he could get disability benefits for his medical and dental expenses. In 1978, with help from some Texas Senators, it was approved and his medals, except for the Purple Heart, were restored. He died of heart failure in 1992. He was 62 years old. In 1994, two years after he died, his Purple Heart was returned to his family.

Calvin’s was an incredible life. He was a very big deal. 

About Not That Big a Deal

Roxanne has a gift for writing and making people laugh. She enjoys sharing both with as many as she can.
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