'I would do it all over' | America's youngest WWII veteran was sent to war at age 14 (2023)

After finishing 7th grade in 1944 he signed up for the draft, claiming to be 18. At six feet tall, no one questioned his age. He was in fact, only 13 years old.

SAN ANTONIO — On this Veteran's Day we are honoring the youngest living World War II veteran. Like many Americans, Bob Kelso signed up to fight in World War Two. But - he was only 13 years old. He was sent into battle and wounded - one of the youngest Americans ever to receive the Purple Heart.

In buildings across San Antonio you will see the names Bob Kelso and his late wife Betty. They have donated millions to local schools, museums and medical research. But Bob Kelso didn't grow up wealthy. Born in 1930 to Oklahoma farmers, his parents divorced and Kelso grew up bouncing between his parents and foster homes.

After finishing 7th grade in 1944 he signed up for the draft, claiming to be 18. At six feet tall, no one questioned his age. He was in fact, only 13 years old. His motives weren't purely patriotic!

(Video) Real Story!! Six-Year-Old Boy Fought In Battles, Becoming The Youngest Soldier Of World War 2

"You had to be a certain age to buy beer," Kelso said with a laugh.

Kelso didn't have much time to enjoy that beer. He was quickly drafted and shipped overseas - assigned to 342nd Armored Field Artillery battalion.

His unit was sent to France, making their way through Germany, fighting Nazis and liberating towns along the way.

"They put me humping ammunition taking it from this point to the gun to be loaded and fired," explained Kelso.

Four months into the action, Kelso and a couple of soldiers went looking for food in an area they thought was liberated.

"I went into this house, 3 or 4 of us. I was looking for eggs and these Germans were still there and that's when it happened," said Kelso.

(Video) He Fought During World War II At The Age 6, and Became A General At 15

The Germans opened fire and Kelso and his fellow soldiers fought back.

"They killed one of our guys," Kelso said.

Kelso almost died as well. He was bayonetted in the leg.

"I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks," Kelso said.

Before he could be shipped to the Pacific, the Army found out the now Purple Heart recipient was only 14 years old.

We asked him "When you were over there in Germany carrying artillery rounds, did you ever think I should be in English class or Biology class?"

(Video) 96-year-old WWII pilot takes flight again in Tampa

"I tell you I'd rather be there than taking a biology class," responded Kelso.

Kelso was sent home… where he made front page news across the country. 77 years later, Kelso still downplays his heroics and all the attention.

"I didn't pay a lot of attention to it really," said Kelso.

He got his GED, then went to college, then signed up to serve again. He spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Army, serving two tours in Vietnam. In 2015, he was awarded the Highest Award in France - the Legion of Honor - for his part in liberating the French from the Nazi regime.

(Video) The 11 Year Old World War 2 Soldier

"I played very small role but I was there," said Kelso.

Now 92 years old, the boyish looks may be a distant memory. But in the battle tested eyes of America's youngest ever World War II hero, the fight is still there!

"I would do it all over," said Kelso.

(Video) The boy proved that he was a pilot 80 years ago. Nobody believed him, but the story was confirmed


Did 14 year olds fight in ww2? ›

The Japanese Imperial Army mobilized students aged 14–17 years in Okinawa island for the Battle of Okinawa. This mobilization was conducted by the ordinance of the Ministry of Army, not by law. The ordinances mobilized the student for a volunteer soldier for form's sake.

Who was the youngest ww2 veterans? ›

Navy Veteran Calvin Leon Graham became the youngest World War II soldier at the age of 12, and the youngest recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Who was the 12 year old who fought in ww2? ›

Calvin Leon Graham (April 3, 1930 – November 6, 1992) was the youngest U.S. serviceman to serve and fight during World War II. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the United States Navy from Houston, Texas on August 15, 1942, at the age of 12.

Did 13 year olds fight in ww2? ›

In 1942, Seaman Calvin Graham was decorated for valor in battle.

Did a 6 year old boy fight in ww2? ›

Soldier Boy (Russian: Солдатик, romanized: Soldatik) is a 2019 Russian-language film. It is based on the real-life story of the youngest soldier in World War II, Sergei Aleshkov, who was only 6 years old.

What age was too old to fight in ww2? ›

The National Service (Armed Forces) Act imposed conscription on all males aged between 18 and 41 who had to register for service. Those medically unfit were exempted, as were others in key industries and jobs such as baking, farming, medicine, and engineering.

What is the average age of a WWII veteran today? ›

Their average age is 96.

How old are ww2 vets now? ›

Yielding to the inalterable process of aging, the men and women who fought and won the great conflict are now in their 90s or older. They are dying quickly—according to US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 167,284 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive in 2022.

How many World War 2 vets are left? ›

As of 2021, there were over 200,000 living United States veterans who served in the Second World War. The Department of Veteran Affairs projects that the number of living veterans will decline rapidly in the fifteen years until 2036, at which point just a few hundred Americans who served in the war will be still alive.

Did 15 year olds fight in ww2? ›

In fact, none of these men who served their country underage existed to the military. No one under the age of seventeen legally joined the armed forces of the United States during World War Two. There is no record of their underage service.

Did 11 year olds fight in ww2? ›

In 1942, Calvin Graham, a Texas native, enlisted in the U.S. Navy to fight in World War II. He was only 11 years old.

Was there a kid in World War 2? ›

Children of all ages could get involved in the war effort. Older boys and girls joined the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. They supported Air Raid Precautions by acting as messengers or fire-watchers. Younger children helped salvage war materials, raised money for munitions or knitted comforts for troops.

Did 12 year olds go to war? ›

The youngest recognised soldier was 12-year-old Sidney Lewis, who fought in the battle of the Somme.

Who is the youngest ww2 vet still alive? ›

He was in fact, only 13 years old. SAN ANTONIO — On this Veteran's Day we are honoring the youngest living World War II veteran. Like many Americans, Bob Kelso signed up to fight in World War Two.

What is the age limit to fight in a war? ›

Present - The U.S. currently operates under an all-volunteer armed forces policy. All male citizens between the ages of 18 and 26 are required to register for the draft and are liable for training and service until the age of 35.

How many ww2 veterans are still alive 2022? ›

They are dying quickly—according to US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 167,284 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive in 2022.

Who was the youngest soldier at D Day? ›

Baldwin resident Joseph Argenzio, Jr. was the youngest American soldier to fight on D-Day | Herald Community Newspapers | www.liherald.com.

Who is the most youngest soldier? ›

Momčilo Gavrić (Serbian Cyrillic: Момчило Гаврић; 1 May 1906 – 28 April 1993) was the youngest Serbian soldier, he became a soldier at the age of eight.
Momčilo Gavrić
Died28 April 1993 (aged 86) Belgrade, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (now Serbia)
AllegianceKingdom of Serbia Kingdom of Yugoslavia
5 more rows

What was the average age of death in ww2? ›

Of the deceased, the average age at death was 74.6. The mortality rate for veterans is 4% less than that of civilians, but the age at death is not significantly different for the two groups.

What was the oldest age drafted in WWII? ›

The Draft and WWII

On September 16, 1940, the United States instituted the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which required all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft.

Who Cannot be drafted? ›

  • The Vice-President of the United States, the Judges of the various Courts of the Untied States, the heads of the various executive departments of the Government, and the Governors of the several States.
  • The only son liable to military duty of a widow dependent upon his labor for support.

Do veterans age faster? ›

Initially, the duo conducted studies that showed major links between Veterans with PTSD and accelerated aging. Some of the former service members were in their early 30s, suggesting that relatively young Vets with PTSD have the potential to age fast and develop age-related health conditions.

What were the odds of surviving ww2? ›

Only 24% survived the war unscathed.

Who is the oldest ww2 veteran Still Alive 2022? ›

Family and friends remember Lawrence Brooks, who was the oldest surviving World War II veteran until his death on Jan. 5, 2022. Sullivan noted that he did a lot of research before Saturday's service, listening to Brooks' oral history and recollections from his family and friends.

How old is a Vietnam vet today? ›

Today, Vietnam Veterans range in age from 61 to 103 years old. Nearly ten million Veterans are age 65 or older, but within the next five years, around 700,000 more Vietnam Veterans will reach retirement age.

Are there any World War 1 veterans still alive? ›

The last combat veteran was Claude Choules, who served in the British Royal Navy (and later the Royal Australian Navy) and died 5 May 2011, aged 110. The last veteran who served in the trenches was Harry Patch (British Army), who died on 25 July 2009, aged 111.

Who was the last ww2 veteran dies? ›

Hershel W. "Woody" Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, whose heroics under fire over several crucial hours at the Battle of Iwo Jima made him a legend in his native West Virginia, died Wednesday. He was 98.

How fast are ww2 vets dying? ›

About 234 die every day. The number of living WWII veterans is expected to drop under 100,000 by 2024 and fall below 50,000 by 2026, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What happened to all the dogs in ww2? ›

Following the war, many dogs were returned to owners or given to their wartime handlers. This involved retraining so the dogs would be able to function safely in a peacetime civilian setting.

What year will there be no more ww2 veterans? ›

The Second World War

It is estimated that 234 veterans are dying every day, and that they will nearly all be gone by 2032. In total, more than 70 million soldiers fought in the Second World War from all nations involved.

Were you forced to fight in ww2? ›

The government knew that this was not enough to fight a war with Germany and in April 1939 introduced the Military Training Act. The terms of the act meant that all men between the ages of 20 and 21 had to register for six months' military training. At the same time a list of 'reserved occupations' was published.

Who didn't have to fight in ww2? ›

Only 14 countries remained officially neutral throughout the entire war. They included Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Turkey, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan as well as the microstates of Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein, San Marino and Vatican City.

Did 14 year olds fight in ww1? ›

Current Age: Deceased

John Condon is the youngest World War I soldier to die in the war. He joined the army in 1913 after faking his actual age. By the time he was formally enlisted, John was only 14 years of age, though he claimed to be 18.

Who was the first killed in ww2? ›

Franciszek Honiok (1896 – 31 August 1939) was a Polish man who is famous for having been the first victim of World War II, on the evening of 31 August 1939.

Who was the 12 year old in ww1? ›

The youngest authenticated British soldier in World War I was twelve-year-old Sidney Lewis, who fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

What are babies born during World War 2 called? ›

The term "war child" is most commonly used for children born during World War II and its aftermath, particularly in relation to children born to fathers in German occupying forces in northern Europe.

What are war children called? ›

Military brat, military slang for a child or teenager of a military family. Refugee, children who are refugees of war. War children, those born to a native parent and a parent belonging to a foreign military force.

How were babies born in ww2? ›

At the outbreak of World War II, preparations began to evacuate pregnant women close to giving birth to emergency maternity hospitals in the countryside, for their confinement. Until this time, most women gave birth at home, usually with the assistance of a midwife.

Are child soldiers a war crime? ›

Human rights law declares 18 as the minimum legal age for recruitment and use of children in hostilities. Recruiting and using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is prohibited under international humanitarian law – treaty and custom – and is defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court.

What did the soldiers eat? ›

Biscuits and salt meat were the staples, with the monthly vegetable ration often restricted to two potatoes and an onion per man. Many soldiers developed scurvy, which led to inflamed gums, making the hard biscuits difficult to eat.

How old are most child soldiers? ›

As many as 45 percent of its total recruits are under age 18. Twenty percent are under 15, with some as young as 11. The various rebel groups are estimated to have another 6,000 to 8,000 child soldiers.

When did the last ww2 vet retire? ›

Vessey retired on September 30, 1985, several months before the expiration of his second term as Chairman. He was the last four-star World War II combat veteran on active duty and, with forty-six years of service, had served the longest of anyone then in the Army.

Who has the most deaths in ww2? ›

The Soviet Union suffered the highest number of fatalities of any single nation, with estimates mostly falling between 22 and 27 million deaths.

Can I join the military at 55 years old? ›

Can I join the Army if I'm older than the maximum age requirement? The maximum age to join the Army as an enlisted Soldier is 35, while Officers must accept their commission before age 31.

Can you be drafted at age 55? ›

Can a 56 year old be drafted? All men from the ages of 18 to 64 years will now be eligible for the draft, according to a decision made by congressional committees on December 16, now including men with families who might have previously been exempt because of old age or boys fresh out of school.

Can you refuse to fight in a war? ›

A conscientious objector (often shortened to conchie) is an "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service" on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion.

What was the youngest in ww2? ›

He was in fact, only 13 years old. SAN ANTONIO — On this Veteran's Day we are honoring the youngest living World War II veteran. Like many Americans, Bob Kelso signed up to fight in World War Two. But - he was only 13 years old.

Who was the youngest person to fight in a war? ›

Momčilo Gavrić (Serbian Cyrillic: Момчило Гаврић; 1 May 1906 – 28 April 1993) was the youngest Serbian soldier, he became a soldier at the age of eight.

What is the minimum age to fight in a war? ›

77.2), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) all forbid state armed forces and non-state armed groups from using children under the age of 15 directly in armed conflict (technically "hostilities").

What age was too old to fight in ww1? ›

In January 1916 the Military Service Act was passed. This imposed conscription on all single men aged between 18 and 41, but exempted the medically unfit, clergymen, teachers and certain classes of industrial worker.

How old is a child soldier? ›

What is the definition of a child soldier? The official term is “a child associated with an armed force or armed group.” It refers to any boy or girl under age 18 who is recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity.


1. They Shall Not Grow Old – New Trailer – Now Playing In Theaters
(Warner Bros. Pictures)
2. Old Soldier Meets Young Soldier | The Gap | @LADbible
(LADbible TV)
3. 109-Year-Old Veteran and His Secrets to Life Will Make You Smile | Short Film Showcase
(National Geographic)
(Prime Recap)
5. 48 Of My Comrades Are Buried There // D-Day 75 WWII Normandy Battlefield Return
(Best Defense Foundation)
6. The 6 Year Old Red Army Lieutenant of WW2 (Youngest Soldier of the War)
(Simple History)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Lidia Grady

Last Updated: 06/11/2023

Views: 5235

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (45 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Lidia Grady

Birthday: 1992-01-22

Address: Suite 493 356 Dale Fall, New Wanda, RI 52485

Phone: +29914464387516

Job: Customer Engineer

Hobby: Cryptography, Writing, Dowsing, Stand-up comedy, Calligraphy, Web surfing, Ghost hunting

Introduction: My name is Lidia Grady, I am a thankful, fine, glamorous, lucky, lively, pleasant, shiny person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.