By Jug Varner

Until just a few weeks ago I had never heard of VUMS — but now I know that more than 1700 veterans across the nation are VUMS, the majority of whom are active participants. Officials say others out there are eligible to join, but may not be aware of this unique organization's existence.

Veterans of Underage Military Service is the national organization of veterans who served in some branch of military service before their 17th birthday (17 for boys; 20 for girls). Thousands of these underage kids enlisted before, during, and after WW II, as well later wars — although in lesser numbers. All lied about their age or used other devious means, and most got by with it — but there is no way to know the actual total, nor how many were killed in action. Whatever that total might have been, their number is dwindling today at the same percentage rate as other aging veterans.

Not all divulged their secret, even after the government granted amnesty and restoration of veterans' rights lost to those found to be illegally enlisted. Some may not even have known about the amnesty. Many still do not know about VUMS. Those who do are very enthusiastic about this unexpected avenue to new friends and camaraderie only those who served in war can appreciate.

The photo above shows Bob (seated) at the Barnes&Noble autograph
party to promote DAMON. His faithful friends and fellow-VUMS came to
support him on the occasion and purchase his book. Standing (left to
right): Army Paratrooper veteran Lew Elliott, and Navy surface warfare
veterans Ike Hargraves and John Laws.
Recently I met four VUMS (now my own new friends) living in my area, and I was intrigued by their stories. Our meeting resulted when I got acquainted with Navy veteran Bob Quinn. He and his wife live “up the road a piece” — as they say in Texas - at the lake community April Sound. Bob is author of the book, Damon. I read it, thoroughly enjoyed it, and wrote a review for this month's issue of Keeping APAce, as well as one for the Barnes&Noble website.

Typical VUMS, Ike and Bob were 16 and Lew and John were 15 when they joined. Unlike most teens of today, however, those boys were mature for their young years, having learned discipline and responsibility during the hard times of the Great Depression that preceded the war. All worked, either on farms or at odd jobs, to help support their families. The experience enabled each of them to cope with adverse circumstances – an ideal quality in warfare.

VUMS Monuments

The Texas Chapter VUMS dedicated this monument (top photo at right) at the VA National Cemetery in Houston, August 1, 2001. Its inscription reads: “We are the few, proudly we served. We gave up our childhood for the privilege of serving in every war since the Revolution. We served on land, on the sea, beneath the sea, and in the air. In the trenches, in foxholes, in POW camps and in MIA groups. Some of us may have marched in the ranks of the unknown dead.”

This monument (bottom photo at right), is located on the Walk of Honor at the Dallas-Fort Worth VA National Cemetery. The Texas Chapter dedicated it on October 28, 2000, “To underage veterans of all services.” Also inscribed are the words of the highest ranked VUMS, Admiral J. M. “Mike” Boorda, deceased: “You don't have to be very old to grow up fast.” Boorda joined at age 16 and served as an enlisted man for six years before the Navy sent him to OCS. He eventually became Chief of Naval Operations, the only one in history to rise from seaman to admiral.

The City of Momence, Illinois, dedicated a monument a native son monument to Admiral Boorda on November 11, 2000 and, although it was not sponsored by VUMS, it had its support and many members attending the moving ceremony. There may be other VUMS monuments around the nation, as well.

For more detailed information about VUMS, visit their website.