My father, Lt. Col. Walter Young, West Point, Class of 1926.
Today is the 79th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt said December 7, 1941 was “a date which will live in infamy.” I was two years old then and six when World War II ended.
I didn’t see much of my father in those years. We were primarily in New Jersey. He was away serving his country, mainly training recruits in Florida and California. He was scheduled to deploy to Guam but became ill in advance of that. The plane he was to have gone on crashed on the way. No survivors.
Growing up, my father had no higher goal than to go to West Point. He flunked the physical because he didn’t meet the minimum height standard. So he went off to Virginia Military Institute for two years and took the physical again. Better luck the second time. He had a late growth spurt and had reached the towering height of 5’4”. He started all over at West Point for another four years, graduating 147th in a class of 152. But, he graduated.
In roughly 2005, I visited West Point to check on his headstone. My mother is buried there next to that marker. I happened upon the athletic field house which contains a treasure trove of sports memorabilia. The sun had set and I approached an elderly gentleman at the reception desk. Excuse me I said, but my father was captain of your 1926 wrestling team and I’m sure there must be a picture somewhere. He responded, Go down this long hall and you will come to some stairs on your right. Walk up to the third floor. It will be pretty dark, but there is a light switch on your left at the top of those stairs. Turn the light on and look to the left. Your dad’s picture should be right there.
And, indeed it was. Amazing.
Lt. Colonel Walter Young went on to serve in the United States Army, the Army Air Corps and in 1947 when the Air Force was created and he was a reservist, he switched over to this new branch of the military.
Generally speaking, my father was a very gentle person. Once in a while, something would get under his skin, but not often. I have speculated to many people over the years that I am not certain he could have fired a gun in actual combat. He would much rather ask the enemy to sit down for a nice chat. I never remember hearing him speak poorly of another person.
One of my favorite anecdotes about him occurred on Rt. U.S. 206 just north of Trenton, New Jersey one day when he stopped traffic in both directions to escort a snapping turtle from one side of the road to the other. This was not a brief moment. Turtles do not move quickly, but he got this one across to the other side safely. Traffic resumed after a lengthy delay.
Given a chance, some people would have run that turtle over without a second thought. After all, time is valuable. Not my dad. To him, the life of a snapping turtle was far more important than getting to work on time. I’m not sure what he learned at West Point, but that is who he was and I think that’s a good thing.
On Pearl Harbor Day, I’m proud to reflect on my father and his military service. If you ever get to West Point, go to the cemetery. West Point is where Lt. Colonel Walter Young is remembered with a modest headstone amidst some of our nation’s greatest military heroes. I cannot tell you how proud he was to have graduated from West Point. It truly was a life-changing experience.
DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.
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