A century ago no less than today, the military looked like a damn fine option to poor, undereducated young men wishing to escape, or at least delay, a life of occupational drudgery. By early 1912, Oscar Charleston had decided that for him the Army made a lot of sense—and that his being only fifteen years old was no reason to wait. So, listing his birthday as October 14, 1893 (the right date, but the wrong year, which was actually 1896), he enlisted on March 7, 1912. Indeed, though when fully grown he would be 5’11”, Oscar’s youth is indicated by the fact that he is listed as just 5′ 5 1/2″ on the enlistment rolls. In the record shown here, Charleston’s name appears about halfway down the page.

Charleston army enlistenment 1912