Young Warriors: Some Veterans Lied About Their Ages

As the country gives honor and remembrance to its former fighters on Veteran's Day, a group of men and women who served in the armed forces are reminded of their experiences as the country's youngest warriors.

These veterans lied as young teenagers to join the military because they were underage. And while some were just shy of the enlistment age of 18, others were even younger.

In rare cases, some as young as 12 got into a branch of the armed forces.

Gerry Barlow was a 15-year-old who manned an anti-aircraft gun on a Navy carrier.

"I was fifteen. But nobody knew it," he said. "I didn't even think I knew it. I didn't feel like 15. I felt like everybody else around me."

Barlow found himself in the Navy after he ran away from a Brooklyn orphanage. He was down on his luck when he strolled past a Navy recruiting station one day.

"I walked in and that's when I asked, 'Can I join the navy?'" said Barlow.

Using his older brother's birth certificate and paying five dollars to a skid row drunk to sign his enlistment papers as his mom, Barlow became a seaman. And though he was a mere child himself, Barlow saw plenty of adult combat.

"You'd think if a 15-year-old, you put him behind a gun -- that he would get scared and run away," he said. "Nobody ran away."

Barlow is one of an estimated 200,000 underage men and women who ran to enlist during World War II.

Author Ray Jackson, who joined the Marines at 16, has chronicled the history of these young veterans in a book called "America's Youngest Warriors: Stories about Young Men and Women Who Served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America."

"With the underage veterans there were three things that drove this. One was patriotism. One was poverty. And the third was adventure," Jackson said.

Adventure lured Leonard Anderson to the Navy at age 15. Within six months he found it driving an amphibious landing craft onto the beaches of Iwo Jima.

"All the fighting is going on and the shelling and you see people being hit. I think of them today," said Anderson.

And though the soldiers, seamen, marines and airmen served faithfully, they also served secretly and in fear.

They thought they'd be court-martialed if their real ages were discovered. But in most cases if they were found out, they were honorably discharged. Many of them joined the service again once they turned the legal age.

"We lived a lie. But it eventually came out to be a truth," Barlow said. "But that lie might have helped and protected a lot of people. We might have won the war because of those people."

Comments