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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: U.S. Marshal’s 16-year-old son back home after joining Navy using false information

Ralph Miguel McGovern, 16-year-old son of the U.S. Marshal in Spokane, was back in Spokane after he joined the U.S. Navy under a false name, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on Jan. 12, 1921.  (Spokesman-Review archives)
Ralph Miguel McGovern, 16-year-old son of the U.S. Marshal in Spokane, was back in Spokane after he joined the U.S. Navy under a false name, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported on Jan. 12, 1921. (Spokesman-Review archives)

Ralph Miguel McGovern, son of the U.S. Marshal in Spokane, was brimming with patriotism and a “desire to see the world.” So he made plans to join the U.S. Navy.

Yet he was also only 16.

So after school, he went to the Navy recruiting station and told them that he was “James Owen McCoy,” and gave recruiters a false birth date.

“A half-hour later, he was a seaman in the U.S. Navy, and two hours after that he was on a train headed for his ship in San Francisco Bay.”

His family had no inkling of what had happened and began a frantic search. The next day the boy sent a telegram from Portland telling the whole story.

His father, half-amused and half-appalled, began a weekslong effort to inform the navy of the situation and to get the boy discharged and sent home.

More than a month later, young Ralph was on his way back home, his adventure over.

“The sailor will be back in high school in another week,” said his father. “… No damage done. Sum it up with, ‘just boy.’ ”

Also on this date

(From the Associated Press)

2000: In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Illinois v. Wardlow, gave police broad authority to stop and question people who run at the sight of an officer.

2010: Haiti was struck by a magnitude-7 earthquake; the Haitian government said 316,000 people were killed, while a report prepared for the U.S. Agency for International Development suggested the death toll may have been between 46,000 and 85,000.

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