Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

A True American Hero

If sometime you happen to be driving along U.S. 20 in northern Ohio you will notice, as you pass through the small town of Clyde, a cemetery on the north side of the highway. At its entrance is the imposing statue of Civil War General James Birdseye McPherson, a Clyde native, mounted on his charger. He was the highest ranking Union officer to die in that war.
Should you drive inside you will pass by the usual tombstones of varying size and, when you get near the back, the road will curve to return you to where you started. If you pause there for a moment, though, you will see an inscription on what looks much like just another small grave marker. Read it and you will find that the man buried there was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Not another general, just a private. His name was Rodger Young.
He was perhaps the unlikeliest of all heroes. Certainly not a man who would have a stirring ballad written about him. He stood only 5-2, had a round, rather commonplace face and wore thick glasses. Had he traveled to Hollywood and asked for a job in a war movie he would have been laughed out of town. Instead he traveled to the South Pacific and played a role in a real war, the kind in which people die.
Along with weak eyes, Rodger Young had a couple of other problems. While there in the Solomon Islands he found he was going deaf. But bigger than either of those failings was his inability to understand that his body just didn’t measure up to the size of his heart. He insisted on trying to do things the bigger guys did. He went out for football at little Green Springs High School but on the first day of practice the coach told him to get lost, this was a game for the big kids. In baseball he had a surprisingly strong and accurate throwing arm for a little guy, but no one realized how important that might prove to be on a day well in the future. He played basketball, too, but his ability fell far short of his desire. Then one day he was knocked to the floor, unconscious. When he awoke hours later he didn’t realize that someday the blow would cost him his ability to hear.
Some of his friends joined the Ohio National Guard, so Rodger Young did too. The local unit was a rifle company of the 37th Infantry Division. You don’t find many men his size in rifle companies. He did well, though, because he always worked a little harder than anyone else, and eventually was promoted to staff sergeant. But World War II came along and one of the first units called up was the 37th Division. It shipped out to the far-off Solomon Islands and soon was involved in combat on an island called New Georgia. By then Rodger Young realized he was losing his ability to hear. He asked to be reduced to the rank of private because he feared his handicap might endanger the men in his squad. As a private he would be responsible only for himself. Or so it seemed to him at the time.
Forty years after that day in 1943 when Rodger Young died, Jackie and I drove to Clyde on a Sunday afternoon in hope of finding someone who might remember him. I wanted to write about him for the Indiana newspaper where I turned out five columns a week. We stopped at the VFW post, thinking that might be the best place to begin. Only a few lights were on and the three men there said that was because of a reunion nearby. Most of the members, including Rodger Young’s old friends, would be there. It was one of those coincidences that sometimes come along in life.
So we drove to the site of the reunion and there we found many of Rodger Young’s friends and classmates, both men and women. They were happy to talk about him, about his school days, about his days in the Army, about the day that he died on the island of New Georgia. I gathered enough material for not just one but several columns. A few days later an 8x10 photo of Rodger Young arrived in the mail. He was wearing a wrinkled uniform and holding a small child. An unlikely hero, you might think, had you happened to pass him on the street. Not another John Wayne, not even close, but John Wayne fought all his battles on the back lot of a Hollywood studio.
Rodger Young fought his last one in a jungle when the light was beginning to fade and he and the other nineteen members of a patrol would soon be unable to make their way back to safety. Pinned down by a Japanese machine gun crew that had ambushed them, their position seemed hopeless. Two of the men from back in Clyde and Green Springs were killed, then two more. The lieutenant in charge ordered a withdrawal, but even that seemed impossible. Then Rodger Young started crawling toward the machine gun. The lieutenant reached out and ordered him to stop, but the hand clutching Young was hit by machine gun fire. Young shook his head, grinned and said, “You know I’m hard of hearing.”
He was hit time and again, yet kept crawling forward until he was close to the machine gun nest. In agonizing pain, his left arm useless, he managed to get a grenade from his pocket, pulled the pin with his teeth, and stood up. A burst from the machine gun caught him full in the face, yet he managed to hurl the grenade. His aim was perfect.
The fifteen remaining men picked up their five dead comrades and made their way safely back to the company. Months later songwriter Frank Loesser wrote The Ballad of Rodger Young. “No, they’ve got no time for glory in the infantry, no they’ve got no use for praises loudly sung, yet in every soldier’s heart in all the infantry, shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young . . .”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is the ballad Dick.

john Stodghill

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also is a good page with lots of information.

Good writing Dick, I'm still looking this man up on google almost 2 hours after reading your post!


11:00 AM  

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