Photography by Bev Childress of Fort Worth, Texas
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an enigmatic man. Stricken with polio, he never allowed himself to be photographed in his wheelchair, not wanting anyone to see him in a “weakened” state. His New Deal is celebrated for rescuing the country from its worst economic crisis in history, the Great Depression. However, emerging evidence shows that his programs limped the depression along, unnecessarily, for years.
In World War II, he led the United States and Allies to victory against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. Before the war, FDR and Mussolini admired each other and kept in close contact. Roosevelt even referred to Mussolini as “that admirable Italian gentleman.” Even the National Socialists—Nazi party—admired Roosevelt’s programs for its massive expansion of centralized Government power.
Nevertheless, when we needed him he was there. On December 7, 1941, hundreds of Japanese planes launched a sneak attack on US Naval base in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor. It was the largest and deadliest attack on the United States, surpassed by the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. Both attacks launched without a formal declaration of war, making them war crimes. The day after Pearl Harbor, the President addressed Congress:
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
America, who had remained out of the European conflict, declared war on Japan. The vote in the Senate was 82-0, and 388-1 in the House. This near-unanimous vote further expanded FDR’s reach as Chief Executive. One of the darkest moments in the nation’s history occurred as a result: Executive Order 9066, the unconstitutional internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans.
Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. It was on—the most pivotal war in the history of the world. The American public, unlike the Vietnam or Iraq wars, were united in solidarity to achieve total victory. Over a million men enlisted for military duty following the attacks. One of those boys was Calvin Graham.
Seeking the Fight
Kids lie—they lie to get their way, to get out of trouble, or to create mischief. Calvin Graham was no exception. Born April 3, 1930, he was 12 when he enlisted for the Navy following Pearl Harbor. One of seven children, he grew up in an abusive home.
Calvin wanted to enlist and fight Hitler, likely a common fantasy for young boys at the time. Calvin wanted his imaginary slugfest to become a reality. Recruiters wanted boys to be 17, and he’d be damned if he had to wait that long; the war could be over by then. He began shaving and practiced speaking in a deeper, more mature voice. He stood in line in his older brother’s clothes, anticipating his inspection.
One of those inspections was a dental exam. Kids fear the dentist, not to mention a Navy dentist. If the dentist was able to discern the boy’s age from his teeth, the jig would be up. Go home, kid, leave the fighting to the adults. Whether it was the frenzy of wartime or a lack of prudence on the dentist’s part, the boy got through. After six weeks of Bootcamp, it was off to the USS South Dakota, the Pacific Theater, and war.
If it was a fight Calvin was looking for—he’d get one. No more cap guns and “pew-pew” sounds; instead, cannons and hell. The South Dakota engaged in a destructive sea campaign, The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. A week after his 13th birthday, eight Japanese destroyers came, bearing gifts of fire, lead, and lethal intent. Shrapnel took out his front teeth, and an explosion dropped him thirteen stories. The new teenager rose to his feet and began pulling injured crew members to safety, while still under massive enemy assault.
“It was a long night. It aged me. I didn’t do any complaining because half the ship was dead. It was a while before they worked on my mouth.”
The ship hobbled back to New York for major repairs. Young Calvin received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his courage and injuries in the Pacific, the youngest soldier in history to receive the honors. At some point, the fantasy must end. His mother saw her son on a newsreel and must have received quite a shock. She wrote the Navy, revealing his true age—moms have a way of ruining a good ruse.
While other 13-year-olds got “time out” from going outside, young Calvin spent three months in the brig. The Navy stripped him of his medals and disability benefits. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter restored his medals, with the exception of the Purple Heart. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan restored his disability, providing back-pay for prior bills and lost benefits. In 1994, two years following his death, the Military justly returned his Purple Heart to his widow. Calvin Graham is buried in Laurel Land Memorial Park in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Disturbing Deficiencies of Youth Fitness
After the war, the celebrated General, Dwight Eisenhower was the logical choice for President, after Harry Truman. Ike was so popular he would have won on either side of the ticket, Democrat or Republican. In 1956, the White House took notice of a disturbing domestic trend: a drop in youth fitness. On July 16th, he issued Executive Order 10673—Fitness of American Youth. Note the first line of the Executive Order:
“WHEREAS recent studies, both private and public, have revealed disturbing deficiencies in the fitness of American youth.”
Let’s look closer at the words “disturbing deficiencies.” The President’s Council on Youth Fitness didn’t take off until Kennedy took office in 1960. In 1963, 1-in-20 children under 19 years old were considered overweight—1-in-20. That was enough to worry President Eisenhower. Today, it’s 1-in-5. Read that again. Like most Government programs, they cost too much and don’t work—think the “War on Poverty.”
The growing weight problem of America’s youth is a multi-factorial issue. Two of those factors are the precipitous reduction in youth activity levels and the steady rise in caloric consumption since 1956. No, we don’t need 12-year-old kids trying to join the military.
However, it is a stark contrast between Calvin Graham aboard a battleship, pulling crew to safety under a maelstrom of Japanese bombardment, and the 12-year-olds of today. Kids of today kill zombies and win football games behind virtual reality goggles. A growing trend is to watch other people play video games on YouTube. I wish I made this up.
We don’t need our kids enlisting in the military at 12. We also don’t need football players doing public service announcements, pleading with kids to play for an hour a day. An hour was a warm up when we were young. Our bicycles would lay messily on the front lawn, and we’d be outside. We would play traditional games, like tag, and games we’d make up on the spot, complete with rules and bylaws.
It wasn’t time to go inside until dusk when the street lights came on. It was the era of The Goonies, The Outsiders, The Lost Boys, and The Losers Club. We were made to run, jump, and climb—and we did it all. After we said our goodbyes—usually in the form of insults—we’d go home for dinner, at the dinner table.
Use the Dinner Table
In 1989, Ronald Reagan said, “all great change in America begins at the dinner table.” I firmly believe that. A few months ago, I stood in the birth home of Richard Nixon—another enigmatic and controversial President. They were poor, simple folk. Unlike his opponent in 1960, John F Kennedy, the Nixons came from nothing. The guide told the story of how Frank Nixon and the Nixon boys would sit at the dinner table, debating literature, politics, sports, and the like—for hours.
The dinner table is where proper food habits are developed, ideas are discussed, families unify, and where children feel secure. I understand it’s difficult for families in 2018 to gather regularly at a set time for dinner. Kids have studies—or video games and parents have meetings—or television, and everyone is tired.
It doesn’t have to be seven-out-of-seven days. You’re more likely to strangle each other after that, so it’s best to start with a lesser frequency. It’s not terribly complicated, either: no technology at the dinner table, healthy food, and talk—about everything. Yes, your kids will hate it, you may even loathe it as well, at first. Perhaps the first few dinners are filled with awkward silences and blank stares. So be it.
If you want to improve the health of your children, raise better thinkers and citizens, and create change in society, start at the dinner table.