Young warriors now not-so-young vets
When military veterans get together, they often exchange "war stories," or at least talk about where they served while in the service. Now there's a group whose members compare tales about how young they were when they went into the military.
Called Veterans of Underage Military (VUM) service, membership requires the individual must have been in U.S. military service at or prior to age 17.
While finding these VUMs, assurance is given "that there will be no retribution from the government because of their fraudulent enlistment," explained Scott Webb, the Arizona state commander of the organization who is "recruiting" new members from his summer home in the Prescott Valley and his winter residence at the Wintergardens Co-op in Yuma.
"I was 15 when I joined the Army in 1946 at Fort Knox," said Webb, who saw duty in Europe and Korea.
Webb's story is in the first issue of the book "America's Youngest Warriors," co-authored by Ray D. and Susan Jackson, of Tempe.
Another VUM, Horacio Reyes, joined the Navy on Aug. 7, 1943, at age 14 years, 3 months and 3 days. "I retired after 32 years and 8 months," Reyes said.
Born in Douglas, Ariz., Reyes said he "ran away to California after I got out of the seventh grade." He worked in a defense plant making batteries for army trucks, then returned to Arizona. He recalled eating a bunch of bananas and drinking milk to gain the required weight to enlist, then fibbing to say he was 17.
After several tours and a three-year stint in Guam, he was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma from 1962 to 1964.
After back surgery, his doctor suggested he move to a hot, dry climate. "I decided to return to Yuma after retiring," he said.
Jack Aldrich, now a Foothills resident, said, "I was only 16 when I enlisted in the Army at Fort Bragg Sept. 18, 1946. I had been in the ROTC program in high school and was in the Michigan State Militia during World War II and had to talk my mother into signing permission for me to join the Army.
"I was at Fort Benning, Ga., then went into the Airborne Infantry. After three years I decided this wasn't for me, so was out of the service for a few months. I wasn't doing anything so my mother strongly suggested I go to school. I used my GI Bill for training, worked for a company making refrigerator doors, then accepted a job with American Airlines. That lasted 34 years, working in Detroit, Los Angeles and San Diego."
Aldrich and his wife, Florene, stopped in Yuma "on a hot day between Los Angeles and Phoenix. We were taken on a tour of the Foothills by Helen Hadlock one Saturday, bought a lot and moved to Yuma in January 1985."
Aldrich and Reyes both attend the VUMs meetings at 9:30 a.m. the second Thursday of the month at Burger King in the Foothills.
The search continues for anyone in the VUMs category.
Webb said another group also is forming - VOMs - for those who enlisted when they were over the age limit.
Webb's Yuma number is 782-5415 for anyone interested in joining either group.
Pam M. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856.