Sam Walton was born to Thomas Gibson Walton and Nancy Lee in Kingfisher, Oklahoma. There, he lived with his parents on their farm until 1923. Sam's father decided farming did not generate enough income on which to raise a family, so he decided to go back to a previous profession of a mortgage man. He and his family (now with another son, James, born in 1921) moved from Oklahoma to Orlando, Florida. There they moved from one small town to another for several years. While attending eighth grade in Shelbina, Sam became the youngest Eagle Scout in the state's history. In adult life, Walton became a recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America.
Eventually the family landed in Columbia, Missouri. Growing up during the Great Depression, Walton had numerous chores to help make financial ends meet for his family as was common at the time. He milked the family cow, bottled the surplus, and drove it to customers. Afterwards, he would deliver Columbia Daily Tribune newspapers on a paper route. In addition, he also sold magazine subscriptions. Upon graduating from David H. Hickman High School in Columbia, he was voted "Most Versatile Boy".
After high school, Walton decided to attend college, hoping to find a better way to help support his family. He attended the University of Missouri as an ROTC cadet. During this time, he worked various odd jobs, including waiting tables in exchange for meals. Also during his time in college, Walton joined the Zeta Phi chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He was also tapped by QEBH, the well-known secret society on campus honoring the top senior men. Upon graduating in 1940 with a Bachelor's of Economics, he was voted "permanent president" of the class.
Walton joined JC Penney as a management trainee in Des Moines, Iowa three days after graduating from college. This position paid him $75 a month. He resigned in 1942 in anticipation of being inducted into the military for service in World War II. In the meantime, he worked at a DuPont munitions plant near Tulsa, Oklahoma. Soon afterwards, Walton joined the military in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps, supervising security at aircraft plants and prisoner of war camps. In this position he served at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, Utah. He eventually reached the rank of captain.
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