Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Little Drummer Boy

No, this isn't a Christmas post, although now that I've digested my turkey and pie, the moratorium over all things Christmas has been lifted in the Tuna household.  The title refers to the young man in the picture below.  Is he a brave man?  Yes, but calling him a man is a stretch.  More on him later.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and shoes

We've all heard of young teenagers running away from home to join the service.  My uncle Paul Blossfield, was 14 on Dec 7th 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  He was out walking on the beach that morning, near the home my mom's family lived in.  The Japanese had started their attack on the island targeting the base near Kaneohe Bay, strafing Lanikai Beach, but missing him.  My grandfather, a graduate of West Point, but commissioned in the Navy, had left the service after his first wife had passed away.  After remarrying, he was working in Hawaii for the Army Corps of Engineers.  He re-upped the next day and my uncle tried to join as well.  Being only 14 though, both the Army and Navy rejected him.   

My uncle was a difficult lad, somewhat of a rebel who didn't get along with his stepmother very well.  My grandfather was away shortly after Dec 7th and my grandmother had her hands full with 4 other children.  While he was too young for the Navy and the Army, another service was scrambling to fill their ranks due to an expanding mission and being put under the authority of the US Navy.  My grandmother reluctantly signed the paperwork and the US Coast Guard accepted a motivated 14 year old to be a deck seaman.

CWO4 Paul Blossfield, USCG (Ret) wasn't the first to join young, nor was he the last.  Calvin Graham was 12 when he lied about his age and joined the Navy in August of '42. Audie Murphy was 16.

Audie Murphy                                             Wiki

On the other side of the front lines, both Germany and Russia employed child soldiers.  The Nazi Youth numbered just over a million during WWII and were trained for what were essentially suicide missions.  When the war turned badly for the Germans, they conscripted boys and men 16 or older, but children as young as 8 were captured while manning artillery batteries and anti-aircraft guns to defend against an invasion. The Soviet Army was far more humane, only using 16 and 17 year-olds in non-combat roles.


"In May of 1861, 9 year old John Lincoln "Johnny" Clem ran away from his home in Newark, Ohio, to join the Union Army, but found the Army was not interested in signing on a 9 year old boy when the commander of the 3rd Ohio Regiment told him he "wasn't enlisting infants," and turned him down. Clem tried the 22nd Michigan Regiment next, and its commander told him the same. Determined, Clem tagged after the regiment, acted out the role of a drummer boy, and was allowed to remain. Though still not regularly enrolled, he performed camp duties and received a soldier's pay of $13 a month, a sum collected and donated by the regiment's officers.

The next April, at Shiloh, Clem's drum was smashed by an artillery round and he became a minor news item as "Johnny Shiloh, The Smallest Drummer". A year later, at the Battle Of Chickamauga, he rode an artillery caisson to the front and wielded a musket trimmed to his size. In one of the Union retreats a Confederate officer ran after the cannon Clem rode with, and yelled, "Surrender you damned little Yankee!" Johnny shot him dead. This pluck won for Clem national attention and the name "Drummer Boy of Chickamauga."

Clem stayed with the Army through the war, served as a courier, and was wounded twice. Between Shiloh and Chickamauga he was regularly enrolled in the service, began receiving his own pay, and was soon-after promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He was only 12 years old. After the Civil War he tried to enter West Point but was turned down because of his slim education. A personal appeal to President Ulysses S. Grant, his commanding general at Shiloh, won him a 2nd Lieutenant's appointment in the Regular Army on 18 December 1871, and in 1903 he attained the rank of Colonel and served as Assistant Quartermaster General. He retired from the Army as a Major General in 1916, having served an astounding 55 years. 

General Clem died in San Antonio, Texas on 13 May 1937, exactly 3 months shy of his 86th birthday, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery."

That piece on "Johnny Shiloh" came from a Civil War page I found after seeing something on Facebook.  I had not heard of him prior to that, but I'm but a wee amateur compared to Sarge when it comes to military history.  As I found out from Sarge after drafting this, the story of John Clem was brought to life on screen in a 1963 Disney movie.  Although this film was before my time, Clem was played by Kevin Corcoran, a busy child actor who had roles in several Disney films, including one of my favorites, Swiss Family Robinson.  That one too was before my time, but I remember it well from either The Wonderful World of Disney, or Saturday afternoon TV.  

Sarge is taking a well deserved day (or two, or ?) off so I was happy to step up.  Hope you survived Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  I only indulged in one of them. 


  1. We are off to do errands, so I will watch the video later.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Had a day off and I didn't spend it shopping so it was my pleasure.

  2. Here is a bit part that one of my ancestors played in the late war of "Nawthun" aggression.

    Anton R. Roessler was my maternal grandmother's grandfather.

  3. Now that brings back memories. Brian Keith, a favorite actor of mine - who met a tragic end - portrayed the sergeant in that series. He's the bearded guy wearing stripes waving a sword around in that clip. Mr. Keith was a Marine who served in WWII as a rear gunner in the Dauntless.

    Boy soldiers are a sad reality, my own father dropped out of school to enlist at 17, both of his brothers were serving overseas, one in Europe, one in the Pacific. He missed the war (thank God) and both of my uncles came home safe and sound.

    1. Brian Keith is another Disney stalwart. He, John Wayne, and Brian Dennehy all remind me of each other.

  4. Very nice job, Tuna. Excellent subject.

    Many people don't understand that children were an essential part of the military structure until basically the age of iron ships. Drummer boys, lackeys, messengers, servants, powder monkeys and apprentices. Many a lad started their future career as cadets or midshipmen (as shown in the excellent Master and Commander).

    Only in these more sensible times have we tried to shield our next generation from the direct horrors of war. Can't shield them from terrorism or aerial bombings or missilings or invasions, but we can keep them off the front lines for now.

    1. Thanks, trying to avoid the more distasteful subjects!

  5. Great post, Tuna. Drummer Boy to Major General. I know a few of the latter that shoulda stayed as the former. (They hit the Peter Principle very quickly.)

    1. The Navy reinstituted the Seaman to Admiral program sometime in the late 90s. My boss was in that first group, but he says he will retire before he's eligible for the end of that road.

  6. We are back and I watched the film clip.

    "(They hit the Peter Principle very quickly.)" Juvat, were they ring knockers?


  7. Thank you, Tuna! Have you seen the movie DOWNFALL, about the last days of the Third Reich? There's an 88mm gun manned by kids that meet the date you would expect, with the last two committing suicide.

    1. I have not had the pleasure. Sounds like a good one to find. That reminds me, have you or anyone else discovered the Legend of Buster Scruggs on Netflix? It's a bunch of Western shorts, produced by the Coen brothers so it's dark. I won't spoil anything about why your comment reminds me of that show.

  8. Yesterday, my wife and I went to see the Texas Civil War Museum just off Hwy 820 over in White Settlement. Went to watch
    an hour long presentation by these folks--

    The displays are outstanding. Weapons, uniforms, an entire room for the artillery pieces, Robert E. Lee's personal folding pocket knife that he carried through out the war.

    Highly recommended.


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