Rodger Wilton Young
Rodger Young while a sergeant
April 28, 1918|
|Died||July 31, 1943
Munda, New Georgia
|Place of burial||McPherson Cemetery in Clyde, Ohio|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Years of service||1938 – 1943|
|Rank||Sergeant (voluntarily reduced to Private)|
|Unit||37th Infantry Division|
|Awards||Medal of Honor; Purple Heart|
Rodger Wilton Young (April 28, 1918 – July 31, 1943) was an American infantryman in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was killed on the island of New Georgia while helping his platoon withdraw under enemy fire. For his actions, he posthumously received the United States' highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor.
Young is remembered in a song, "The Ballad of Rodger Young" by Frank Loesser, most famously recorded by Burl Ives, which extolled his courage and willingness to die to protect his comrades in arms.
Young was born in Tiffin, Ohio on April 28, 1918, to Nicholas Young and his wife. As a boy he lived at Green Springs before moving to the town of Clyde, Ohio. During his formative years he liked to go hunting, and he developed his skills at shooting and marksmanship during this time. Although he was a small boy, he was also a keen athlete and in his freshman year at high school he tried out for the football team. He was not selected initially, but during practice his enthusiasm convinced the coach to let him play occasionally. He also played basketball and it was during a game that he received an injury that was to stay with him for life. After being fouled by an opponent, Young fell over on the court, hit his head, and was knocked unconscious. Although he regained consciousness, the incident gradually led to hearing loss and damaged his eyesight. As a result, Young did not complete his schooling, dropping out in his sophomore year when he found it difficult to hear the lessons and see the blackboard.
In 1938, at the age of 20, Young joined the Ohio National Guard. Seeking an opportunity to gain some extra income and believing that because of his medical issues he would not pass a medical for the Regular Army, he decided to join the National Guard instead. He was accepted and posted to Company "B" of the 148th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 37th Infantry Division. At only 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 m) tall, Young was one of the shortest men in his company; nevertheless, despite this and the fact that he wore glasses, he was considered a good soldier.
In October 1940 Young's unit was activated for Federal service as part of the United States government's preparations for future involvement in the war that was then raging in Europe. A corporal at the time, he undertook the role of a small arms instructor training recruits, and following his promotion to sergeant served as a squad leader. Later, in 1942, following Japan's entry into the war, the 148th was deployed to Fiji and then to the Solomon Islands, where they undertook training prior to being deployed to New Georgia. But Young's hearing and eyesight had gotten worse, and he became concerned that these deficits might affect his ability to command in combat, putting his squad at risk. To eliminate this risk, shortly before the 148th landed on New Georgia, Young requested that his rank be reduced to private.
Initially his request, made to none other than the 148th's regimental commander, was met with some skepticism. Indeed it was believed that Young was attempting to find a way to remove himself from combat; however, following an examination by a medical officer it was found that Young was almost deaf and the doctor recommended that he be sent to a field hospital. This would mean that he would miss the landing that the regiment was scheduled to undertake, but Young wanted to stay with his fellow soldiers and after pleading his case, he was allowed to remain in the unit.
A week later, on July 31, 1943, near Munda on New Georgia, Young performed the deeds that led to his posthumously receiving the United States' military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor. Late in the afternoon, Young was part of a 20-man patrol that was sent out under the command of a lieutenant to reconnoiter territory held by the Japanese. By 4:00 p.m. the patrol had begun to move back to US lines along a trail when they were ambushed. Pinned down by intense fire from five Japanese soldiers in a machine gun pit that was concealed on higher ground 75 yards (69 m) away, two soldiers were killed in the initial burst. As the patrol attempted a flanking attack two more Americans were killed, and so the patrol commander gave the order to withdraw. Young had been wounded in the initial burst, but claiming that he had not heard the order and believing that the machine gun had to be destroyed so that the patrol could escape, he ignored the lieutenant's order and began creeping towards the Japanese position. Another burst from the machine gun wounded him a second time. Despite his wounds, he continued his advance, attracting enemy fire and answering with rifle fire. When he was close enough to the machine gun emplacement, he began throwing hand grenades, and while doing so, he was hit again and was killed. By diverting the fire of the machine gun he was responsible for several enemy casualties and enabled his platoon to withdraw without further loss.
In 1949, Young's remains were returned to the United States and buried in McPherson Cemetery in Clyde, Ohio.
Honors and awards
Medal of Honor citation
Young's Medal of Honor citation reads:
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. Birth: Tiffin, 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 machinegun 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 handgrenades, 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.
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In 1945, the future two-time Tony winner Frank Loesser wrote the song "The Ballad of Rodger Young" while a private in the Army's Radio Production Unit. Life reproduced the song's sheet music and lyrics in a story about Rodger Young in March 5, 1945. This, and the return of Young's remains in 1949, added to the song's popularity, with several best-selling recordings being made, by Burl Ives and Nelson Eddy among others, by the end of the decade.
There is a short mention of Young in Robert A. Heinlein's 1949 short story "The Long Watch". In Heinlein's Hugo-winning 1959 novel Starship Troopers, the troop transport TFCT Rodger Young is named for him and the Loesser ballad is featured prominently throughout the book. At the end of the book after the novel is a "Historical Note" with Heinlein's retelling of Young's citation for gallantry. The starship name "No. 176 Rodger Young" is also used in Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film version of Starship Troopers.
The following place names honor Young:
- The Night Infiltration Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, is named for him. A requirement for graduation from the U.S. Army Infantry School, soldiers must crawl over 100 meters through sand, mud, and water while live rounds from M60 or M240B machine guns are fired overhead. The Recreation Center across from Foxtrot 2-19 in Fort Benning has a plaque citing his bravery.
- A small arms firing range at Ohio National Guard Training Site, Camp Perry, Ohio, is named in honor of Pvt. Young. Camp Perry is the home of the National Rifle & Pistol Championships.
- Rodger Young Park in Fremont, Ohio is named for him.
- From 1946 until the mid-1950s, there was a veterans' housing project in Los Angeles, California known as the Rodger Young Village.
- "Loesser writes for Infantry". Life Magazine. March 5, 1945. p. 117. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
- "Rodger W. Young". Ohio History Central. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
- "Rodger Young: Little Man, Big Hero". Home of Heroes. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
- "The Ballard of "Rodger Young": An Infantry Private Who Became a Hero Inspires a Stirring New Song". Life Magazine. March 5, 1945. p. 111. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
- Tillman 2006, p. 100.
- "World War II (T-Z); Rodger Wilton Young entry". Medal of Honor recipients. United States Army Center of Military History. August 3, 2009. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
- "Rodger Wilton Young (1918–1943)". Find a Grave. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
- The Ballad of Rodger Young Lyrics courtesy of The West Point Connection
- "Sandusky County Scrapbook".