Rodger Young and the Mystery of the “Common Man”

In the McPherson Cemetery in Clyde, Ohio, Rodger Young’s grave is a humble kind of space when measured against the monuments to two other military heroes on the same ground. At the cemetery’s entrance is an imposing monument to General James McPherson, the second highest-ranking Union officer killed during the Civil War. A statue of McPherson pointing dramatically into the distance stands atop a column. Not far from Rodger Young is another statue, that of sailor Burton Meek, the first U.S. serviceman to be killed in combat during the Spanish American War.

Rodger Young (Photo Credit: HomeofHeroes)>

Rodger Young (Photo Credit: HomeofHeroes.com) Click on any image to enlarge.

But nestled alongside other common graves is the headstone of Rodger Wilton Young. It stands out by the Medal of Honor carved into the headstone and the blue Medal of Honor flag in front of it alongside another metal marker denoting World War II service. A traditional flat brown military-style headstone with his name, rank, unit, and dates of birth and death lies next to the graves of his mother, father, and stepmother just a couple of feet away from his larger headstone.

Rodger Young's grave in McPherson Cemetery in Clyde, Ohio (author's photo).

Rodger Young’s grave in McPherson Cemetery in Clyde, Ohio (author’s photo).

We often have an image of what a hero looks like. Rodger Young didn’t fit the movie image of a hero. He was only five feet two inches tall and weighed about 125 pounds. He wore glasses, was hard of hearing, and in one of the best known photographs of him, he reminds me of the character Radar O’Reilly from MASH. But Rodger Young, for all his diminutive height and unprepossessing appearance, was a courageous soldier and a true hero. Rodger Young gave his life to save his fellow platoon members on New Georgia in 1943, and for this he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Rodger Wilton Young

Rodger Wilton Young

Frank Loesser, the renowned American composer who wrote the music and lyrics for Guys and Dolls, composed a ballad about him called “The Ballad of Rodger Young” recorded by the likes of Burl Ives and Jim Reeves. In an unusual literary twist, Rodger Young also figures in the work of noted science fiction author Robert Heinlein. He is referenced in one of Heinlein’s short stories, and a space vessel in the novel Starship Troopers is named for him. And the vessel’s call signal in the novel is part of the chorus from “The Ballad of Rodger Young!”

Statue of General James McPherson near the entrance to McPherson Cemetery. McPherson was the highest ranking Union officer killed during the Civil War. (Author's Photo).

Statue of General James McPherson near the entrance to McPherson Cemetery. McPherson was the second highest ranking Union officer killed during the Civil War. (author’s photo).

Rodger Wilton Young was born in Tiffin, Ohio on April 28, 1918. His family later moved to Green Springs near Clyde, Ohio. Clyde is the hometown of Sherwood Anderson and the model for the Winesburg of his famous short story collection Winesburg, Ohio. As a boy Rodger enjoyed hunting, fishing and just about any kind of sport, although his small size often kept him from full participation on any of the school teams. He was a good marksman and a football, baseball, and basketball fan. Rodger knew the pleasures of small town life in America. Along with sports and time  outdoors, he had fun playing music with his family and learned the guitar, banjo, and harmonica. The family occasionally performed for neighbors. They also took trips hunting and fishing on the weekends and liked sharing stories and talking.

Rodger Young (far right) with two of his brothers in the early 1920s (Photo credit: LIfe Magazine).

Rodger Young (far right) with two of his brothers in the early 1920s (Photo credit: Life Magazine).

Although times were hard, the family got along through the tough years of the Depression. Rodger had a paper route and won a newsboys’ competition in 1934 that earned him a ribbon and a trip to Chicago—a pretty special event for a working class boy in the hard days of the 1930s. He received bonuses for being a dedicated worker and also won a bicycle. During the harvest season, Rodger picked raspberries for local farmers. He skated on the frozen streams and rivers near Clyde, Fremont, and Green Springs.

Lake Erie isn't far from the communities the Young family called home. Fishing was a beloved pastime for the Youngs (author's photo).

Lake Erie isn’t far from the communities the Young family called home. Fishing was a beloved pastime for the Youngs (author’s photo).

In high school, an incident on the school basketball court dramatically changed the course of Rodger’s life. Rodger had made the team and finally got a chance to play in one game. But in the heat of competition Rodger Young was knocked unconscious on the court, his head landing hard against the wooden floor. He was transported to a hospital where he eventually regained consciousness. But in the weeks to come, something was different with him. He had trouble hearing. He had difficulty seeing the board at school, and eventually needed glasses with thick lenses. But he still found it difficult to do his lessons and his grades suffered, so Rodger dropped out of high school and took a job at a local factory.

Rodger Young (second from right and marked with arrow) during his sophomore year of high school, when he was seriously injured on the basketball court (Photo credit: LIfe Magazine).

Rodger Young (second from right in the front row and marked with arrow) during his sophomore year of high school (Photo: Life Magazine).

He also joined the Ohio National Guard. In those days a man might join the Guard almost as a matter of course—patriotism played a role for many, but it was also some extra money that came in throughout the year, and a lot of small towns had their own armories. The local armory was almost like a kind of social club. Despite his glasses and hearing loss, Rodger enlisted and was soon a member of Company B with the 148th Infantry. The Ohio National Guard would become the 37th Infantry Division—“The Buckeye Division”—during World War II as it had during the First World War.

The Ohio National Guard armory in Clyde, Ohio, built in 1912. Rodger Young apparently was affiliated with the armory in nearby Fremont, but he would have been familiar with this one as well. The armories used to be an important part of social life in small town America (author's photo).

The Ohio National Guard armory in Clyde, Ohio, built in 1912. Rodger Young apparently was affiliated with the armory in nearby Fremont, but he would have been familiar with this one as well. The armories used to be an important part of social life in small town America (author’s photo).

On October 15, 1940, just one day after Rodger received his corporal’s stripes, the Ohio National Guard was mustered into federal service. World War II had been raging for one year and it seemed only a matter of time before the United States was involved. For the next nineteen months, Rodger went through training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi and at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation in Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. By the end of this training period he had earned his sergeant’s stripes. Moreover, Rodger proved himself a capable leader, focused and dependable. By May of 1942, shortly after Rodger turned twenty-four, the 37th Division sailed into the South Pacific, bound for the Fiji Islands, where they completed additional training.

Soldiers at Indiantown Gap from an old postcard, c. 1940.

Soldiers at Indiantown Gap from an old postcard, c. 1940.

Like other service personnel overseas, Rodger experienced a world vastly different from the one he knew in the states. Rodger was fascinated by the size of the moon over the tropics and the Fiji natives. He became friends with an Australian family whose father worked in a sugar mill. He acquired a guitar that he played, especially for the entertainment of other men in camp. Then his unit moved on to Guadalcanal, which had already been taken and was being used to prepare for further action in the South Pacific. Despite the humidity of his tropical post and the regular exercise that comes with soldiering, Rodger Young put on weight, gaining thirteen pounds. His fellow soldiers noted he was one of the few who actually liked powdered eggs.

Shoulder patch of the 37th Infantry Division--the "Buckeye Division."

Shoulder patch of the 37th Infantry Division–the “Buckeye Division.”

Despite his otherwise robust health, Rodger was concerned about his hearing. Repeated exposure to noise from rifle ranges, military exercises and loud planes and machinery had led to further hearing loss. It got bad enough that Rodger went to his commanding officer about his hearing and requested a reduction in rank. He didn’t want to be a squad leader with his disability getting worse. At this point the 37th had been posted to the Russell Islands in preparation for attacks on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. He worried about not hearing an order properly or making some kind of mistake that would result in men killed or wounded. Rodger was sent to the unit physician, who discovered that the infantryman was nearly deaf. He was reduced in rank to private.

Rodger Young relaxing at his brother's home in Georgia (Photo: Life Magazine).

Rodger Young relaxing at his brother’s home in Georgia (Photo: Life Magazine).

What seems clear now is that Roger Young most likely would have been 4-F (service-ineligible for health-related reasons) if he hadn’t been in the National Guard prior to the war. The Guard was more loosely structured at this time, and oversight was probably lacking, so it seems that in the rapid federalization of the Guard prior to the Pearl Harbor attack Rodger and his health issues went unnoticed. If he had been a civilian subject to a draft-related physical, he would likely have been turned down.

American soldiers move through jungle during the Solomon Islands fighting: September 13, 1943.

American soldiers move through jungle during the Solomon Islands fighting: September 13, 1943.

But there was no getting out for Rodger Young. His unit went into the fighting in the Solomons, battling a relentless enemy in the fierce heat and humidity of the South Pacific jungle.

American soldiers using flamethrowers during the battle for Munda on New Georgia.

American soldiers using flamethrowers during the battle for Munda on New Georgia.

By July 31, 1943, Rodger and his fellow infantrymen were experiencing their second day of battle on New Georgia. His unit was part of a larger initiative to capture the Japanese-held airfield at Munda. Finding itself cut off, an order came through to withdraw. As men started to move towards the rear, machine gun fire opened up from a pillbox about seventy-five yards away. Rodger called out that he saw where the gun was in the jungle. He opened fire and was shot in return. Despite his wound, Rodger began crawling towards the machine gun, getting hit once again, but still inching towards the gun. The men made their escape as he continued towards the gun, still armed with his rifle and hand grenades. Fire continued to pour towards him as he continued shooting and  throwing grenades at the Japanese position. Rodger Young was struck for the final time right after he unleashed a grenade that took out the weapon.

The handful of men made their way out of the jungle to safety. Rodger Young lay dead near the smoking remains of the pillbox. He was twenty-five years old.

Rodger Young's funeral on New Georgia (Photo: Advertiser Tribune).

Rodger Young’s funeral on New Georgia (Photo: Advertiser-Tribune).

Rodger Young’s comrades returned the following day and quickly buried him in a shelter half—one half of a canvas pup tent. Later they returned for a more formal service despite Japanese rifle fire in the vicinity. Rodger Young posthumously received the Medal of Honor on January 17, 1944 at a ceremony in Fort Knox, Kentucky in which the medal was given to his mother. By 1945, the story of Rodger Young was known around the country because of Frank Loesser’s “The Ballad of Rodger Young.” Loesser at that time was serving in the Army’s Special Services division—the section of the Army responsible for entertainment and morale of the troops. Loesser had been asked to compose a song commemorating a soldier, and he chose Rodger Young. The song was slow to gain attention, but an article about Young and the song in Life Magazine brought the composition more attention, and through the years it has been recorded by a number of popular artists. A beautiful and moving version by Jim Reeves is featured at the bottom of this post.

Frank Loesser, composer of "The Ballad of Rodger Young" (Photo credit: Britannica).

Frank Loesser, composer of “The Ballad of Rodger Young” (Photo: Britannica).

In March of 1945, Rodger Young Day was celebrated in the Sandusky County seat of Fremont. Nearly sixteen thousand people came to town that day from the surrounding communities. On display at the Fremont High School were items belonging to Rodger Young. Six display cases held items such as musical instruments, letters home, and Rodger’s ice skates. There was also the ribbon he had won during the newsboys’ contest sponsored eleven years earlier by the Toledo News-Bee. Several years later, his body was removed from the South Pacific and returned for burial in his native earth of Sandusky County.

Rodger Young returned to Sandusky County, Ohio (Photo: Advertiser-Tribune).

Rodger Young returned to Sandusky County, Ohio (Photo: Advertiser-Tribune).

Periodic recordings of the song helped keep his memory alive outside of his community. As with other posthumous Medal of Honor winners, some military facilities were named after him, including a shooting range at Camp Perry, Ohio and a now defunct veterans housing village in Los Angeles. Rodger’s mother died in 1957, and his father remarried two years later. His father lived until 1987, and his second wife died in 2007. The story of Rodger Young is also that of his family and their endurance. We often forget, once a war ends, that families deal with this grief the remainder of their lives.

The graves of Rodger Young's father and stepmother (author's photo).

The graves of Rodger Young’s father and stepmother (author’s photo).

I visited Rodger Young’s grave in early May of 2016 during a trip to Clyde, Ohio, my broader purpose being to visit the town that is the basis for Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. The McPherson Cemetery is also where Sherwood Anderson’s mother Emma and brother Ray are buried. It was only two years ago that I first read the story of Rodger Young in storyteller Rick Sowash’s book Heroes of Ohio. Since then I have often thought of him, and since visiting his grave his story has taken deeper hold of me. A local historian in Clyde told me that Rodger Young had enlisted in the National Guard at the Fremont Armory, and later that day I drove by that old brick building, now used as a retail and recreational space, and reflected on Rodger Young and his time there more than seventy years ago.

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Some might say Rodger Young was a great example of the common man—the common man who rose to greatness and whose legacy is writ large. Rodger Young certainly qualifies as a regular kind of guy. He worked hard at his job, attended church now and again, liked playing pinochle and poker, pursued photography as a hobby, and owned a beat-up car. He enjoyed going out on dates. He loved his family and life in small town America.

But I am reminded of something the distinguished journalist Morley Safer said about “the common man.” He said there is no such person. If he existed, he added, journalists would have no more stories to write. I appreciate and share this point of view. It seems to me there is no average man or woman beyond basic statistical measures. Rodger Young had a life, a personality, a history–a life forged in the fields, schools, and households of communities in northwestern Ohio. His life mattered—to his friends, family, and neighbors, to the men in his unit, to the girls he dated. He did not exist in isolation. He was part of a community, whether back home in Ohio or in the battlegrounds of the Solomons, and given the fact he was a Guardsman, his community was with him in the combat zone.

Rodger Young (lower left) in the Fiji Islands (Photo credit: Life Magazine).

Rodger Young (lower left) in the Fiji Islands (Photo: Life Magazine).

While reflecting on Rodger Young’s life, I have found myself recalling the years I spent teaching seventh graders at North College Hill Jr.-Sr. High in Cincinnati. The red brick building where I taught was built in 1929, when Rodger Young would have turned eleven years of age. During my time there I often reflected on all the generations of children who had passed through the building, especially those who went off to World War II. The past was present in the heavy wooden door of my classroom closet, the worn hallway steps, the small gymnasium with its tiny stage at one end, the old coal vents near the floors below the chalkboards. The sunlight followed the same course through the tall classroom and hallway windows from morning to evening just as it had during the years before World War II, when Rodger Young was growing up in Green Springs, Ohio.

U.S. planes attacking Wake Island in November, 1943.

U.S. planes attacking Wake Island in November, 1943.

And when I think of the students I taught at North College Hill, I do not always first recall the honor students, the athletes, the cheerleaders, the popular kids and glory boys and girls. Many whose faces are clearest in my mind are the everyday students, working class kids for the most part, who were often considered “average.” Those kids were the Rodger Youngs I knew. But all of them were unique, whether or not they wore the mantle of school glory.

Rodger Young's parents Nicholas and Esther during the Medal of Honor ceremony at Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1944 (Photo: Saturday Evening Post).

Rodger Young’s parents Nicholas and Esther during the Medal of Honor ceremony at Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1944 (Photo: Saturday Evening Post).

I have seen countless war memorials and monuments in both urban neighborhoods and small towns. I have seen veterans’ graves in large cemeteries and small rural graveyards. And I have always been struck, whether when regarding a small headstone or a long list of names in a town square, how there is a story behind each name, how the quiet immensity of each life is ultimately unknowable to others. Any of the essential facts about Rodger Young can only tell us so much.

Veterans' memorial in Reading, Ohio (author's photo).

Veterans’ memorial in Reading, Ohio (author’s photo).

For many years I have read about World War II and spoken with veterans of that monumental conflict. My father and two of his brothers served in that war. My dad was a Marine who fought in the battles of Bougainville and Iwo Jima, and his brothers were Coast Guardsmen who participated in landings in the South Pacific and North Africa. Like many I grew up steeped in the war’s legacy through movies and television shows, but also through common parlance. When I look at the photographs of Rodger Young, I am reminded of the history of my own family and that of many families who have been part of my life.

Rodger Young, second from right, with two of his brothers and his father at far left (Photo Credit: Life Magazine).

Rodger Young, second from right, with two of his brothers and his father, who stands at far left (Photo: Life Magazine).

With my father and other older relatives among the millions personally touched by the great sweep of history, references to D-Day, Iwo Jima, and the Corregidor Tunnel, or any other number of places—or stories of people they knew who served in one theater or another, or were killed or wounded in the war—found their way into conversation when family gathered. The war’s legacy was something palpable, something that made a deep impression on me. From an early age I saw that those who were in the actual fighting shared a kind of experience separating them from others. And the further we get away from the war with the passage of the years, the more I am stunned by the sheer enormity of it.

Kerr Eby's "Ghost Trail"--a Marine patrol on Bougainville. (Photo: US Navy Combat Art Collection via World War II Gyrene).

Kerr Eby’s “Ghost Trail”–a Marine patrol on Bougainville. (Photo: US Navy Combat Art Collection via “World War II Gyrene” ).

More than 60 million people were killed. The vast scale of this conflict, the numbers of dead and wounded, the financial costs of the war, the millions of pounds of rubble and discarded or destroyed materiel left behind—-all are ultimately beyond reckoning. Rodger Young and thousands of others like him stepped into a world inconceivable to their fellow citizens. American civilians, unlike those in most other nations embroiled in that conflict, were geographically removed from the war, although its impact was felt upon them, especially when bad news arrived.

Home front poster during World War II.

Home front poster during World War II.

The remembered story of World War II in America is often one of “the home front,” of cultural memory that is a collage of references evoking a nation in the midst of crisis but removed from wholesale carnage. We have our memories of the Andrews Sisters and rum and Coca-Cola, of scrap metal drives, of American factories and foundries going full blast, of war bonds and Victory gardens. That part of our history is important, and important to us—it is still something we hold close to our hearts.

Consolidated Aircraft Corporation defense workers during WWII.

Consolidated Aircraft Corporation defense workers during WWII.

And yet the reality of the home front is more complex than we give it credit for. The concern about juvenile delinquency that surfaced in the postwar era had its roots in the war years when fathers were gone and large numbers of women entered the workforce. Japanese-American families were forced into camps and deprived of their rights as American citizens. There were black markets and profiteering. Our military was still segregated, and the poison of racial prejudice permeated American society. Underage girls hung out near bus and train stations and had sex with servicemen. The home front had its own kind of darkness. The story of the home front is also that of telegrams received bearing bad news, or grim uniformed men suddenly standing in the doorway, of women made widows and children become orphans.

American defense industry worker during World War II.

American defense industry worker during World War II.

But we had no Nazi concentration camps in our midst, nor bombs raining on New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles the way they did on London, Berlin, or Tokyo. No mortar shells fell on our suburbs, no street-to-street fighting occurred in our cities. We never walked to work past the ruins of bombed out buildings the way people did in England, Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union and other nations. We did not undergo the rationing and privation that continued for long years in other countries after the war ended.

One of the most famous works of World War II combat art: Tom Lea's "They Call It The 2,000 Yard Stare" (Photo credit:

One of the most famous works of World War II combat art: Tom Lea’s “Marines Call It The 2000 Yard Stare.”

And this kind of distance put the experience of people like Rodger Young at a further remove, making it even harder for their countrymen to conceive how horrible the places and situations were that we sent these men into. America in 1941 was still very much an isolated nation, separated by vast oceans from the world’s troubled places. When the war came, thousands of Americans found themselves in countries they had never expected to see in their lifetimes. Young airmen in their early twenties bombed cities they knew only from maps in history class just a few years before. Boys from the hills of Tennessee or rural Maine stood among the ruins of bombed out churches in Belgium and France. Men from the tenements of America’s cities stood amazed at the sight of New Guinea tribes and Chinese villagers.

Japanese head atop burnt out tank on Guadalcanal.

Japanese head atop burnt out tank on Guadalcanal.

As American infantrymen, many of them already sick and exhausted by the tropical environment, moved towards capturing Munda, they encountered fierce Japanese resistance, made even more terrible by the frightening atmosphere and jungle terrain. Death didn’t always come from a distance. Some Americans, young men like Rodger Young who were flirting at sock hops or playing sandlot football a year before, were strangled or stabbed to death in their foxholes. It seems that American historical memory—despite recent films and books like The Pacific and Flags of Our Fathers, has still struggled to grasp the freakishly different nature of the Pacific Theater.

A still from motion picture film of the flag raising on Iwo Jima.

A still from motion picture film of the flag raising on Iwo Jima.

Stories of D-Day and European battles come easier for us. The South Pacific was a more radical kind of nightmare, a racially-tinged war fought in jungles and on the oceans, in searing heat and humidity in a world of malaria, dysentery, dengue fever, and jungle rot. Dangerous animals included everything from scorpions, snakes, and spiders to leeches, crocodiles, and rats. Large coconut crabs, often called “land crabs,” crawled into foxholes and unnerved men almost as much as the enemy. Even during Occupation duty in Japan my father slept alongside other Marines in old barracks formerly used by Japanese naval cadets in which large rats roamed the floor at night.

This was Rodger Young’s war.

American Marines dead on Tarawa: November, 1943 (Photo: Atlantic Monthly).

American Marines dead on Tarawa: November, 1943 (Photo: Atlantic Monthly).

I struggle to wrap my mind around acts of heroism like Rodger Young’s. There are different kinds of heroism, and we don’t acknowledge enough the kind of everyday heroism a lot of people display, such as teachers devoting their careers to tough inner city schools, or single parents working multiple jobs to support their children. But I am always staggered by this particular kind—when someone on the spot willingly gives up his or her own life so others can live. Not everyone would make such a choice. Some might say that this was a spur of the moment decision on Rodger Young’s part, the act of a man who feels sacrificing his own life is worth it, who in the space of seconds, without even thinking about it, somehow sees himself part of something larger and knows losing his own life will save those of others. Or is this act in keeping with the whole tenor of Rodger Young’s life?

Esther Young, wearing her son's Medal of Honor (Photo credit: Life Magazine).

Esther Young, wearing her son’s Medal of Honor (Photo: Life Magazine).

Rodger Young was a human being like any other, flawed as we all are. There is always a temptation to make such a man into a saint given the sacrifice he made. But it his essential humanity that renders his act extraordinary. There seems to me to have been a fundamental decency about him. He apparently accepted those circumstances that shaped his life—his small physical stature, which limited participation in the sports he loved, and his injuries on the basketball court that derailed his schooling and created physical disabilities—with courage and maturity.

Old cobblestone street in Clyde, Ohio (author's photo).

Old cobblestone street in Clyde, Ohio (author’s photo).

When he could no longer study he went to work. He joined the Guard. In the long hours of soldiering, Rodger Young undoubtedly had moments when it was clear to him that his hearing had worsened, and this must have deeply upset him to consider the risks to both himself and others. When he saw that his disabilities could cause problems with his command, he summoned the courage to ask for a reduction in rank. He didn’t want to be the cause of misery or misfortune to others. This took guts—-according to some accounts, his commanding officer thought first that Rodger was trying to get out of duty. Rodger himself might have worried that he would be sent home and that others would think less of him, and he would have to live with this the rest of his life. It seems likely that at some point he would be relieved, and I can’t help but wonder if Rodger, within the space of seconds, was determined to go down fighting rather be sent home.

Another soldier's grave in McPherson Cemetery. (Author's Photo).

“Glory Lights The Soldier’s Grave”: The grave of Lieutenant Robert M. Hubbard (1919-1945) of the 37th (“Buckeye”) Division killed during the fighting for Manila. Lieutenant Hubbard is also buried in McPherson Cemetery (author’s photo).

I have an impression of him that he was someone who could be counted on. He was a good soldier who did his best and showed leadership. He worked hard at the jobs he held. Stepping up to save those men seems just the kind of thing Rodger Young would do.

Clyde, Ohio (author's photo)

Clyde, Ohio (author’s photo)

What is especially poignant is a letter Rodger Young wrote home—the testament of a young man far away during the holidays, a young man who spent most of one short leave at home fishing with his father in Sandusky Bay.

“Dear Folks and All: I can just picture everyone gathered at Betty’s or maybe Dick’s—anyway, you are all together. Mom, you and the girls and Grandmother Young are in the kitchen preparing the big dinner. The men are all in the front room listening to dad comment on the new job at the shop.”

“At the long table we have mom at one end and dad at the other. Down one side we have Dick, May, Chuck and Betty. The other side we have grandmother, Grandfather Young, Grandfather Crall and Joe. Then, of course, goodhearted Cleo (Rodger’s sister-in-law) has volunteered to care for the children at a small table for them. Before dinner is started, Grandmother Young is elected to give a short prayer. This done, dad really digs in, with the rest following just as fast. The dinner, of course, is the most delicious of any an American family could ask.”

This was Rodger Young, writing home from the Fiji islands during the holidays in 1942. Rodger Young would never sit at that table again.

Rodger Young (Image: Life Magazine)

Rodger Young (Image: Life Magazine)

I have wondered what Rodger Young’s life would have been like had he lived. I can picture him as an old man, dozing on a quiet Sunday afternoon. He has hearing aids in both ears. Perhaps he is completely deaf by this time, and communicates with his wife in sign language. There are pictures of grandkids on tables and bookshelves. He sleeps in an easy chair. Beside him on a small table is a coffee cup, a copy of TV Guide, and a roll of Life Savers. He leans back in his chair, the top of his cane still in his hands. He wears an old red flannel shirt, blue sweat pants, white socks and black walking shoes. A football game is on television. Retirement has been good after the years teaching photography at a school for deaf students in Toledo. Outside it is warm, and the first golden leaves of autumn toss gently in the breeze.

The Rodger Young who never was.

More than seventy years have come and gone since the end of World War Two. The faded photographs, the medals, the V letters and telegrams remain, artifacts of an era receding into the past. The roar of masculine voices is long vanished from the old Clyde armory, now become a store where shoppers make their rounds. The veterans of World War II are dying each day, and the names of their Korean and Vietnam war comrades join them more frequently in the obituary pages now.

Photo: Newsmax

Photo: Newsmax

A boy wading in Sandusky Bay alongside his brothers, the cold lake water splashing his legs. A kid delivering papers in the afternoons, playing sandlot football, listening to baseball games on the radio. A youth seeing the great urban expanse of Chicago through his train window as he enters the city. A young man putting in his hours at the factory, drilling with other men at the armory, talking with his family in the evenings on the front porch, the moon low in the sky, the moon soon to be seen in lands below the Southern Cross.

A young man who lived well, and gave his own life so others could live in the vastness of the world.

Patrick Kerin

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Sources:

Articles:

Home of Heroes article on Rodger Young:  http://www.homeofheroes.com/profiles/profiles_young.html

“A Boy Named Rodger Young” by CWO E.J. Kahn, Jr. Saturday Evening Post, September 29, 1945:

http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/wp-content/uploads/satevepost/a_boy_named_roger_young.pdf

Life Magazine, March 5, 1945: “The Ballad of Rodger Young: An Infantry Private Who Became A Hero Inspires A Stirring New Song”

https://books.google.com/books?id=9VIEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA117&lpg=PA117#v=onepage&q=Rodger%20Young&f=false

Books:

Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific by Eric Bergerud. Penguin Books, New York, 1996.

Heroes of Ohio: 23 True Tales of Courage and Character by Rick Sowash. Rick Sowash Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2003.

Island Fighting. Rafael Steinberg and the editors of Time-Life Books. Time-Life Books, 1978.

The concluding image above is from the Saturday Evening Post and was drawn by Robert Riggs.

 

4 Comments

  1. Patrick Donnelly on July 13, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    IT’S ABOUT TIME! Your followers were getting worried about you. I look forward to reading this. Thanks, as always.

    • buckeyemuse on July 13, 2016 at 9:43 pm

      Man,oh man, some of these I start writing and I think it will be a short and sweet piece and then it grows into something else! More stuff on the way—making an effort to do some shorter pieces–really! Thanks for your comment! Means a lot to me.

  2. Ann B Kennedy on July 22, 2016 at 12:19 am

    Rodger Young’s story is a new one for me, and I am enriched from having read this fantastic profile/bio. I agree that he was not a common man in the usual sense of the word although my sense is that he would have considered himself as common a man as they come. I love how you manage to weave a story of heroism, family, personal experience, history and realism into one poignant narrative. Beautiful.

    • buckeyemuse on July 23, 2016 at 4:40 am

      Ann, thank you. Your responses always mean a lot to me, and this one is especially gratifying as I’m taking these posts in some new directions and wonder how effective I’m being with what I’m trying to do. And I think you are absolutely right—he would see himself as a man as common as they come, and would probably be amazed to see the attention paid him after he was gone—and probably be struck by the cosmic irony of it all as well—widely known in death, known only to a small number in life. Thanks once again!

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