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Sometimes I can’t help but cringe when I hear about uber accomplished adolescents. It’s not that I’m an ass (not entirely anyway), its that when I was twelve I spent a lot of time trying to beat Donkey Kong Country. It’s just ambition-envy: some kids are decorated Navy vets by the age of thirteen, and other kids completely devote themselves to a seemingly unobtainable goal but never beat Donkey Kong… This is even more depressing as I put into words, because by no means is beating Donkey Kong Country an unobtainable goal.

Anyway, back to actual amazing kids.

This week the Smithsonian blog posted a piece on thirteen year old Calvin Graham, as part of their Past Imperfect segment. Graham’s story is truly adventuresome and somewhat unfathomable. Here’s a brief look, but I strongly recommend checking out the original post at the Smithsonian site: his adventure and the controversy surrounding it, carry on for the remainder of the sailor’s life and with too many milestones for me to summarize here:

20121219-123802.jpgGraham was just 11 and 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, and Calvin supported himself by selling newspapers and delivering telegrams on weekends and after school. Even though he moved out, his mother would occasionally visit—sometimes to simply sign his report cards at the end of a semester. The country was at war, however, and being around newspapers afforded the boy the opportunity to keep up on events overseas.

It wasn’t uncommon for boys to lie about their age in order to serve. Ray Jackson, who joined the Marines at 16 during World War II, founded the group Veterans of Underage Military Service in 1991, and it listed more than 1,200 active members, including 26 women. “Some of these guys came from large families and there wasn’t enough food to go around, and this was a way out,” Jackson told a reporter. “Others just had family problems and wanted to get away.”

Calvin Graham told his mother he was going to visit relatives. Instead, he dropped out of the seventh grade and shipped off to San Diego for basic training. There, he said, the drill instructors were aware of the underage recruits and often made them run extra miles and lug heavier packs.

20121219-124140.jpgBy the time the USS South Dakota made it to the Pacific, it had become part of a task force alongside the legendary carrier USS Enterprise (the “Big E”). By early October 1942, the two ships, along with their escorting cruisers and destroyers, raced to the South Pacific to engage in the fierce fighting in the battle for Guadalcanal. After they reached the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26, the Japanese quickly set their sights on the carrier and launched an air attack that easily penetrated the Enterprise’s own air patrol. The carrier USS Hornet was repeatedly torpedoed and sank off Santa Cruz, but the South Dakota managed to protect Enterprise, destroying 26 enemy planes with a barrage from its antiaircraft guns.

Read the rest of Graham’s story here