Jefferson J. Graves, Jr.
U.S. Navy – Seaman
USS Kearsarge CVA-33
Korean War (May 25, 1948 – April 29, 1957)
Jefferson James Graves, Jr., was born on November 20, 1928 in San Francisco, California. He lived in France until age five and spoke only French until he returned to the United States in 1932. He still speaks French on occasion. As a young child he contracted pneumonia and was not expected to survive. However, because of his strong willed nature, at age 88 he is still here.
Graves enlisted in the Navy Reserves in 1948 and was sent to the Marine Base in San Diego for basic training. There he consistently proved his above adequate skills with a rifle by shooting bullseye after bullseye at target practice. He was following in his father’s footsteps. His father served in the Army during the first and second World Wars and persuaded his son to join. Graves was called to active duty in the regular Navy for the Korean War.
Off to his assignment on the USS Kearsarge, Graves was not nervous. He was a quick learner and knew his job as a radio telephone communications operator well. He adjusted to life on the ship quickly and mastered the daily routine: get up, go to work, do your duties, eat, and sleep. They were on duty 16 hours a day. Although movies were often shown on the ship, because of the exhausting work that Graves did, and the effort he put into it, he spent the little free time he had to get some sleep.
One of his training exercises entailed him to jump into the water and swim the back stroke. One of his shipmates was not doing well, so without thinking twice, Graves assisted the struggling man so he would not drown. This is just one of the many instances displaying Graves’ kind hearted nature.
Living in the 1950s there was racial tension in the world and even in the military. In the hallways of the USS Kearsarge, Graves saw a black man coming towards him through the passageway, so he stepped aside to let the man through. Then the man stepped aside and pulled Graves back and let the man behind Graves go through first. Confused, Graves asked the man why he did that, to which he got the response “The man behind you was a racist.” But Graves was a very enlightened individual who couldn’t understand the purpose of racial discrimination. It was this quality along with many other qualities that Graves had which made him a respected individual around the ship.
Graves thought highly of nearly everyone on the ship. Graves was always polite and did what he was told to do, but by the end of his time in the military, he was ready to get out.
Upon his release from service in San Diego, he purchased a 1936 Cadillac for one hundred dollars. As a loyal citizen of Marin County, he drove this car all the way up the California coast to his home in Ross. The car only broke down once going over the Pacheco Pass. Luckily he was at the top of a hill and could coast down to a gas station to make it back home.
At 26 years old, Graves resumed his studies at the University of California Berkeley and was a very intelligent student. He got married and after graduating, got a job working for Crocker bank in San Francisco which later became Wells Fargo. He worked there for 45 years.
Although, Graves only ever saw 1 person that he served with after they were both released, he was well liked throughout the ship. Graves was known as, and still is, a strong, hard-working, kind-hearted, respected and intelligent man, and he wants people to remember that the United States won the Korean War.
Graves has been married to his wife for 50 years and is proud of his 4 children, all of whom graduated from college. He’s also proud of his 3 grandchildren. Graves is a prolific antique toy collector, a hobby he began as a child.
Interview Conducted by Cassidy Bruner on January 16, 2017