You know the name, but do you know the story of Rodger Young
Although he was born in Tiffin and raised in Green Springs and Clyde, the story of Rodger Young still is largely unknown. This summer marks the 70th anniversary of the local man who posthumously was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving the lives of his comrades during World War II.
“My grandfather was one of the men he saved,” said Sgt. Joshua Mann, historian with the Ohio National Guard. “Had it not been for what Rodger did, I would not be here talking to you.
“I was born in Tiffin and grew up in Fostoria, so there’s a lot of personal connections,” he said.
Mann also served in the same regiment as Young did during the first years he was in the Guard.
Now as National Guard historian, Mann said he helps people remember the Guard of the past, which first was known as the Ohio militia.
“The Guard is 225 years old in July, so anything that has to do with Ohio National Guard is history,” he said.
This story of Rodger Young was compiled from several sources.
Rodger Wilton Young – known by the nickname “Buzz” – was born in Tiffin April 28, 1918, and grew up in Green Springs in the family of Nicholas Young.
He hunted as a boy and had an avid interest in sports. Despite his small size (5 feet, 2 inches tall as an adult), he was an enthusiastic part of the football and basketball teams.
During a basketball game in his early high school years, Rodger was fouled and fell hard onto the court, hitting his head and knocking him unconscious. Although he recovered, the fall led to a gradual loss of hearing and eyesight.
He dropped out of high school in his sophomore year because he couldn’t hear the teacher well and had difficulty seeing lessons on the blackboard.
At 20, Young joined the Ohio National Guard and was posted to Company “B” of the 148th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 37th Infantry Division. In his first years, Young attained the rank of sergeant.
In 1940, when Young joined the National Guard, Mann said the system was different than it is today.
“Most definitely,” he said. “When Rodger joined in 1940, the Guard was still kind of … I don’t really want to use this word … but it really was still kind of a club, somewhat. It was definitely a military thing, but it was a fraternal thing, as well.”
During the Depression, he said joining the National Guard often was a way for men to make extra money.
“It was a military group, but armories were a place for guys to hang out and play cards or play pool,” he said. “A lot of armories were built in the center of town and they were community centers.”
Comparatively, Mann said there’s more focus today on being ready when called.
“Now, we have guys who drive three or four hours to get to drill,” he said. “We are better equipped and trained today. We can answer a call quicker.
“Back then it was expected they we’re going to need time to get trained if they were called.”
Mann’s grandfather and Young were part of the group activated in October 1940 to prepare to take part in World War II.
A corporal at the time, Young was a small arms instructor and trained recruits. After he was promoted to sergeant, he served as a squad leader.
In 1942, when Japan entered the war, the 148th was deployed to Fiji and then to the Solomon Islands. By then, Young’s hearing and eyesight had gotten worse. He was afraid the losses might affect his ability to command his troops and put his squad at risk.
So, Young requested his rank be reduced to private.
A medical examination found him to be almost deaf, and it was recommended he go to a field hospital. But Young requested to be allowed to remain with his unit, and he returned to the rank of private in the same unit.
About a week later, he died protecting his men.
He was part of a 20-man patrol that was ambushed and pinned down by intense gunfire from Japanese machine guns hidden on high ground near Munda airstrip. Several men had been killed and some injured during initial gunfire. Young was one who had been injured.
The commander gave an order to withdraw, but Young either didn’t hear the order or chose not to hear it. Although nobody knows for sure, it is widely thought Young ignored the order and began creeping on his stomach toward the machine gun nest about 75 yards away because he knew it would have to be destroyed if the platoon was to escape.
Another burst from the machine gun wounded him again, but also showed him where it was located. He continued to creep forward, drawing enemy fire and answering with his own rifle fire.
By drawing fire to himself, he helped the rest of the platoon escape.
When he was close enough to the machine guns, he began throwing hand grenades at them. While throwing the grenades, he was killed, but he enabled his platoon to withdraw without more lives lost.
His body later was recovered and initially buried by his men.
Rodger Young died July 31, 1943, at age 25.
“He was just doing his job,” Mann said. “They had been surrounded for a few days and he saw the machine gun nest. I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about the Medal of Honor when he was doing it.”
One aspect of Young’s story that impresses Mann is the reduction in rank Young requested.
“This guy Rodger was afraid because of his hearing and vision deteriorating,” he said. “He asked to turn in his stripes. … He volunteered to give those up, then he turns around and gives up his life.
“Especially as a soldier, you have to wonder if you would have the courage to do what he did.”
In January 1944, his family was presented with a Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and selflessness in giving his life to save his platoon. And in 1949, his remains were returned to Clyde for burial in McPherson Cemetery.
“In the cemetery he’s buried at in Clyde, there’s three Medal of Honor recipients in that one little town in northwest Ohio,” Mann said.
Mann said he grew up knowing the Rodger Young story because of his personal connection.
“I kind of always knew,” he said. “I heard my grandfather talk about it.”
He said he regrets not having started learning more about the story until after his grandfather died.
“Pops was one of the last guys from Company B,” he said. “He was 93 when he passed away.”
As a further testament to Rodger’s memory, Mann said towns “fight over” him.
“They all try to claim Rodger as their own,” he said. “But there are still a lot of people who don’t know about him.”