Tilmon David Browning was born at Crooked Creek, West Virginia, to Dewey Browning, a motorman at a coal mine, and Eula Conley Browning, a homemaker.
When he enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 21, 1940, his father signed a paper stating that Tilmon was born June 4, 1923. He needed his dad’s approval because the minimum enlistment age was 18, or 17 with parental consent.
It’s questionable whether the baby-faced Tilmon was 17.
The April 1930 Census said he was five and the April 1940 Census said he was 15. The Census is supposed to report a person’s age at their “last birthday,” which for both reports means he was born in 1924. Perhaps two Census takers a decade apart made the same mistake in calculating his age. It’s worth mentioning, though, that they correctly reported the ages of his father and his sister. (His mother’s birthdate is uncertain and thus cannot be compared against the Census.)
So was Tilmon 17 or 16 when he joined the Navy? We may never know.
It wasn’t unusual during the Great Depression for boys to fib about their age to get into the armed forces. Jobs were hard to come by, especially for teens without work experience. Tilmon had completed 9th grade when he enlisted. Navy pay was low, but it was a sure thing. His father worked 22 weeks in 1939, earning $638 to support their family of four.Tilmon Browning was a seaman first class on the U.S.S. Arizona when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.