My friend Stan Young died on Nov. 9.
He was my best friend’s dad, so I literally grew up with him. He was a sort of building genius here in town, and in my adult years I had him do a number of projects at our house. He was absolutely top-notch in maintaining our house’s Queen Anne architectural elements, making additions or improvements look like they’d always been there.
Back in 1977, when we started restoring the Little White School Museum, Stan volunteered to take on a number of projects, mostly donating his labor for free. Those projects included stabilizing and replacing the building’s timber front sill that had been badly rotted out over the years and replacing floor joists in the building’s entry, recreating the building’s wooden front porch, and then recreating and installing its iconic bell tower. His last big project was recreating the finial atop the bell tower, something he and his son, Glenn, installed the day before the museum in the building opened in 1983.
A lifelong resident of Oswego, Stan joined the Army when he was drafted on Jan. 12, 1943. He volunteered for the paratroopers and fought in several engagements in the Philippines, making four combat parachute drops. Serving in the headquarters company of the 1st Battalion, 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 11th Airborne Division as a mortar gunner, Young eventually rose to the rank of staff sergeant by the end of the war.
Several years ago, he retired from both contracting and owning, with his wife Lydia, Scotty’s Restaurant in Oswego and moved to Mena, Arkansas. And after battling some increasingly serious health issues, that’s where he died at age 99 after a long and very eventful life.
Back in August 1985 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of VJ Day marking the victory over the Japanese in World War II, I interviewed Stan for the Ledger-Sentinel and finally got him to talk a bit about his years in the military, something he never really spoke of—other than to note one time that one of the guys in his company was always going around writing stuff and eventually became involved with television. That literary former paratrooper turned out to have been Rod Serling of “The Twilight Zone” fame.
Born and raised in Oswego to a family that had been in the area since the 1830s, Stan was popular in the community as a youngster. At Oswego High School, he was involved in just about every activity that was offered, from sports to helping produce the yearbook, to his election as senior class president. He graduated with the Class of 1941 and attended teacher’s college in Winona, Minnesota before being drafted.
Although he wanted to be a paratrooper, he was nearly talked out of it before he left for the service. As he related the story to me back in 1985:
“It’s a funny story and it’s kind of a sad story as well. I had always thought I’d like to jump out of a plane with a parachute. 1 Just was kind of a little daredevil in those days, and I thought it would be fun. The last day when I was leaving, my mother said, ‘You’re not going to get into paratroops, are you?’ and I said, ‘No, I don’t think they’d accept me anyway.’
“So, riding in on the train, my best buddy that I had gone through school with from first grade was Stuart Parkhurst. And he said, ‘Let’s get into paratroops.’ And 1 said ‘No, I told my mother I probably wouldn’t.’ He said, ‘Aw, come on. You get better pay, nicer uniforms; you get your own special camps. It would be neat!’ And I said, ‘Well, it probably wouldn’t hurt me.’
“So, I volunteered that I wanted to be in the paratroops, and the first thing they said to me was, ‘I don’t think you want to be in the paratroops.’ And I said that I really did, and they had me sign some other papers and take some more physicals. At noon 1 got out of all that, and I said, ‘Stu! I made it! I made it! How’d you do?’ And he said, ‘They told me they didn’t think I wanted to be in it and I decided not to.’
“He subsequently went into an infantry outfit and was killed over in Europe. So, I made it and came through alright, and he didn’t and he was in what he thought was a safer outfit. If they got your number, they got your number.
“Initially, we went to Tacoa, Ga., where the unit was formed and then to Camp McCall, N.C. where we took parachute jump training. By then the division (l1th Airborne) had solidified and was preparing for duty in the South Pacific. We trained additionally at Camp Polk, La., and shipped out in April of ’44 for New Guinea. There we trained additionally. We made a few more parachute jumps and did some more jungle training, preparatory to going to the Philippines.
“In November of that year, they put us on a ship and we arrived at Leyte [an island in the Philippine Group]. When we got there, they had concluded that the war was about over there, as far as Leyte was concerned, and we were to go into a mop-up operation. But when we arrived, new troops arrived from Japan on the opposite side of the islan—and also paratroops and ships and airplanes attacked, and we had a full-scale war instead of a mop-up operation.
“We were in combat there for about 30 days in the jungles and mountains of Leyte, and the mountain where we were was subsequently named Starvation Ridge. We didn’t eat for five days from the time the last C-ration was gone, and we were on one-third of a C-ration at THAT time. Every time they air-dropped something, the Japs got to it before we did because of the heavy fog and mist, because they kind of had us surrounded there.
“We finally got back to the beach about Christmas. About mid-January we got on some little landing craft and sailed across the Philippine Sea to Mindoro Island, not knowing where we were going at the time. There we enplaned and made a combat parachute drop about 37 miles south of Manila. We marched a shuttle march, the entire 511th Parachute Regiment, with us walking and being shuttled forward by the three trucks we had, to a little village. And here all hell broke loose. We arrived just before dark and they gave us the option of digging in. The ground was like sandstone. About that time, the artillery started hitting and we decided it was about time to start digging in. We took several casualties before we did dig m and they were lobbing mortar rounds and artillery right into our position.
“We were there until June, in that area, from February until June. At one time I figured it was 102 days that I didn’t lay down to sleep, that we slept in the ground sitting up in our foxholes. We were in some pretty intense combat.
“Along with it, we freed one of the Japanese prison camps where they held a bunch of Catholic nuns and priests. There were some showgirls and prostitutes and dancers; some businessmen; some Americans; some Spanish and other nationalities. They were holding them at Los Baños near Santa Rosa.
“It was about that time there was a lull in Southern Luzon. We went, at one point, into this little town of Santa Rosa and they said they had a festival. What it was was several Japanese collaborators had been captured and they were going to punish them. We saw them execute three men by slow degrees–torture. It was horrifying. For the grand finale, they had a woman. They tied her to a post in the square, put rice straw all around it, threw gasoline on it, and set it on fire. I’ll tell you, it’s quite a shock. We were told we were not to interfere with the Philippine guerillas in any way.
“We eventually took Luzon Province. On June 23, we were enplaned and flew to the very tip of Luzon Island and engaged in a parachute jump there, but there was no combat. All the Japs pulled back.
There I sustained a serious shoulder injury and was taken to the hospital. I was released on July 20, and we entered into a training program, and the word was out we were to make a jump on Japan proper. But then the scuttlebutt had it that a big bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and subsequently another one was dropped [on Nagasaki].
“When they said the Japs had given up, there about the middle of August, 1 have never seen so much jubilation in my entire life. I think that was the happiest moment of my life, when they said the Japanese had surrendered, because I figured there was new life. Regardless of any joys I have ever had over anything in the whole world, ever, that was the happiest single moment. And I would imagine any of the guys who were there would agree with me. Guys were running up and down the company street, running in and out of tents, you never saw such running and jubilation! You can’t imagine the jubilance!
“Some people say, ‘I bet it was thrilling;’ and others say, ‘I bet you miss your old buddies and I bet that was exciting.’”
“Hey—none of the above. It was horrible. 1 can look back and say 1 was there and it was interesting, but it was a horrible thing. And to hear it happened again in Korea and Vietnam, you wonder why aren’t people smarter? They learn to build huge buildings and marvelous communications systems and yet two people can’t even sit side by side in a bar and keep from arguing and then they carry that right on to country to country.
“If there’s one thing 1 brought back with me, it’s a total aversion to violence of any kind. I can’t even stand to watch it on television. If it comes on, 1 just get up and turn it off. I had enough of the real thing.”
After the end of the war was announced, Stan was among those on one of the first, if not THE first, Allied planes to land Allied military forces in Japan to take that country’s surrender. Given how ferocious the Japanese military had been during combat I asked him if he and his buddies were worried about what kind of reception they’d get when they touched down at that Japanese military base. He replied that, yes, there was worry, but it turned out once the emperor told the military to surrender, they did it virtually without incident.
As a sort of sidelight, both of Stan’s brothers also fought through the Pacific. John, an Army Air Corps pilot, eventually flew 50 missions in A-20 Havoc bombers, also in McArthur’s campaign through New Guinea and the Philippines. Brother Dick, a Marine, was wounded three times on Iwo Jima in the Navy’s island-hopping campaign. Stan and John were even able to meet once in January 1945. As reported back home in the Kendall County Record: “Mr. and Mrs. Dwight Young have three sons in the service for two years. Two of the boys met in the Philippines on Jan 25. Lt. John S., a pilot, landed on an island and heard that his brother, Corporal Stanley, was on the same island. Obtaining a jeep he drove 20 miles, found his brother, who was more surprised than words can tell. The two had a fine time for about two hours when the party had to break up. John reports Stanley as looking fine and strong. Lt. John has 13 missions.”
And the boys’ father, Dwight, was involved in the Pacific Theatre as well, although not in direct combat. Instead, he was a self-taught physicist who was working on something called The Manhattan Project in New Mexico. That “big bomb” Stan heard about through the paratroopers’ scuttlebutt was partly his dad’s handiwork.
After the war was finally over, all three of the Young boys found they’d survived and came home to resume their lives, and they made good ones, too. Stan was the last of the three, surviving to 99 years despite not playing it safe in 1943 like his best friend. Stu Parkhurst.