Wednesday, July 31, 2013

TFH 7/31: PVT Rodger W. Young, USA

Rodger Wilton Young was was born on April 28, 1918 in Tiffin, Ohio. He grew up in Clyde, Ohio. Young was a small man, only reaching 5 feet, 2 inches in adulthood. While a student, he was a tenacious if not gifted athlete. During a basketball game, he suffered a head injury that would plague his vision and hearing for the rest of his life. His failing eyesight and hearing led him to drop out of high school after his sophomore year because he couldn't hear his teachers well or make out what was on the blackboards.

In order to earn some extra money, Young enlisted in the Ohio National Guard in 1938 and was accepted. He was placed as an infantryman with Company B, 1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment as part of the 37th Infantry Division. Despite his vision and hearing problems, Young excelled as a soldier and had reached the rank of Corporal and was a marksmanship instructor when the 37th Infantry Division was federalized for potential war service with the United States Army in October 1940.

When the "Buckeye Division" deployed overseas for combat against Japan in the South Pacific in 1942, Young had been promoted to Sergeant and was a squad leader. As the division prepared for their first combat action - the landings on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands - he became concerned that his poor eyesight and hearing might make him unfit to lead his fellow soldiers under fire.

Rodger Young voluntarily requested to be reduced in rank to Private.

The officers of his unit first questioned whether or not Young was trying to get out of combat. He was sent for a medical exam, which determined he was almost totally deaf. The doctors recommended that he be sent to a hospital. Young pled with his commanders: he did not want to miss the division's assault on the Japanese-held island. Hearing or not, poor eyesight or not, he was no coward.

The Army took his stripes, and Rodger Young stormed ashore on New Georgia with the 37th Infantry Division on July 22, 1943. His desire to see action, and the Army's decision to let him fight, would both soon be vindicated.

Nine days later, his platoon was ambushed in thick jungle by a well-concealed Japanese machine gun. Young was wounded in the first burst. As the platoon began to withdraw, he shouted that he could see the enemy position. He advanced. He was wounded again. He engaged the enemy with both rifle fire and hand grenades, and placed his name alongside our nation's greatest heroes.

From Medal of Honor Citations from World War II (T-Z):


Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division. Place and date: On New Georgia, Solomon Islands, 31 July 1943. Entered service at: Clyde, Ohio. G.O. No.: 3, 6 January 1944. Citation: On 31 July 1943, the infantry company of which Pvt. Young was a member, was ordered to make a limited withdrawal from the battle line in order to adjust the battalion's position for the night. At this time, Pvt. Young's platoon was engaged with the enemy in a dense jungle where observation was very limited. The platoon suddenly was pinned down by intense fire from a Japanese machine gun concealed on higher ground only 75 yards away. The initial burst wounded Pvt. Young. As the platoon started to obey the order to withdraw, Pvt. Young called out that he could see the enemy emplacement, whereupon he started creeping toward it. Another burst from the machinegun wounded him the second time. Despite the wounds, he continued his heroic advance, attracting enemy fire and answering with rifle fire. When he was close enough to his objective, he began throwing hand grenades, and while doing so was hit again and killed. Pvt. Young's bold action in closing with this Japanese pillbox and thus diverting its fire, permitted his platoon to disengage itself, without loss, and was responsible for several enemy casualties.

Rodger Young's heroic sacrifice was celebrated in the 1945 song by Guys and Dolls composer Frank Loesser in The Ballad of Rodger Young, which Burl Ives later recorded, and which can be heard on Spotify. A recording of the United States Military Academy's Glee Club singing the song is embedded at Wikipedia.

Young's remains were eventually repatriated to the United States and he now rests in peace at the McPherson Cemetery in Clyde, Ohio.

1st Battalion, 148th Infantry persists today as a unit of the Ohio Army National Guard. The battalion is a component of the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which preserves the unit lineage and history of the 37th Infantry Division.

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