Rodger Wilton Young
Young as a sergeant
April 28, 1918|
Tiffin, Ohio, U.S.
|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 a United States Army soldier during World War II. An infantryman, 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.
Early life and education
Young was born in Tiffin, Ohio on April 28, 1918, to Nicholas Young and his wife. As a boy, he lived in Green Springs, Ohio before moving to the town of Clyde, Ohio. During his formative years, Young liked to go hunting and developed his marksmanship skills.
Although a small-statured boy, Young was a keen athlete. During his freshman year at high school, Young tried out for the football team. He was not selected initially, but during practice Young's enthusiasm convinced the coach to let him play occasionally.
During a high school basketball game, Young received a serious head injury. After being fouled by an opponent, Young fell on the court and was knocked unconscious. The incident gradually led to significant hearing loss and damage to his eyesight. As a result, Young did not complete his schooling, dropping out of high school in his sophomore year when he could not hear the lessons in class or 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 US preparations for World War II. A corporal at the time, Young was a small arms instructor training recruits. Following Young's promotion to sergeant, he served as a squad leader. In 1942, following Japan's entry into the war, the 148th was deployed to Fiji and then to the Solomon Islands for training prior to deployment in 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 medical risk to the unit, Young asked the regimental commander that he be reduced in rank to private so that he would not be squad leader. The commander initially thought Young wanted to avoid combat; however, a medical examination determined that Young was almost deaf. The doctor recommended that Young go to a field hospital for treatment. However, not wanting to miss the New Georgia landing, Young requested to remain with his squad.
A week later, on July 31, 1943, near Munda on New Georgia, Young performed the deeds that led to his posthumously receiving the Medal of Honor. Late in the afternoon, Young was part of a 20-man patrol that was sent out to reconnoiter Japanese territory. By 4:00 p.m. the patrol was returning to the US lines along a trail when they were ambushed. The men were pinned down by intense fire from five Japanese soldiers in a machine gun pit concealed on higher ground 75 yards (69 m) away. Two soldiers were killed in the initial burst and Young was wounded. As the patrol attempted a flanking attack two more soldiers were killed. At this point, the patrol commander ordered a withdrawal.
Young ignored the lieutenant's order to withdraw and instead, despite his wound, began creeping towards the Japanese position. Another machine gun burst wounded Young a second time, but he continued his advance, attracting enemy fire and answering with rifle fire. When Young was close enough to the machine gun emplacement, he began throwing hand grenades at it. Young was hit a third time by enemy fire and was killed.
In 1949, Young's remains were returned to the United States and buried in McPherson Cemetery in Clyde, Ohio.
Awards and decorations
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, songwriter Frank Loesser wrote the "The Ballad of Rodger Young" while a private in the Army's Radio Production Unit. Life magazine reproduced the song's sheet music and lyrics in a story about Rodger Young in March 5, 1945. This story, and the return of Young's remains to the U.S. in 1949, added to the song's popularity. Best-selling recordings being made by Burl Ives and Nelson Eddy 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. Heinlein also include an "Historical Note" in which he retold 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.
- Young was also the subject of an episode of the historical TV anthology The Great Adventure. He was portrayed by James MacArthur.
- The Night Infiltration Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, is named for Young. 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 Young. Camp Perry is the home of the National Rifle & Pistol Championships.
- Rodger Young Park in Fremont, Ohio is named for Young.
- 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.