To honor the memory of this veteran, I’m writing of John (“Johnny”) Lewis Young’s life in June, the month of his birth and the date of his death, 68 years ago today. Though there is not extensive knowledge that I know about his short life, I can say with certainty that he would have been someone I would have liked to have met in my lifetime. But John died two years before I was born.
John’s parents were James Lewis Young, a bell caster for the B&O Railroad at Mt. Clare Station, and Martha Irene (nee Dill). During the Depression they lost their home, which was in the area of Hilton Ave., north of Loudon Park Cemetery. Circa 1930, John, the eldest of his two brothers, Howard and Nelson, and their parents, moved to 1906 Railroad Ave. then known as Schoolhouse Lane, across from the Melville Methodist Church cemetery. At the time, Railroad Avenue housed a lot of families of men working for the B&O. Having no sisters, this first house address is where John’s youngest brother, George, was born. Periodically, the Young family moved itself to other rentals down along Railroad Ave.
John was known as “Johnny” or “Youngie” to his youthful associates.
It was around the time of George’s birth, c. 1932-33, that John was riding his bicycle in the daytime on School House Lane and was hit by a supposedly drunk driver who didn’t stop. Taken to a hospital, Johnny’s broken leg was set in a cast. He was very fortunate he was not killed. The remarkable reaction of this young lad, for whatever reason, was that he held no recriminations against the driver who hit him.
Johnny was listed attending Elkridge High School briefly, but by 1934 he left school to get a job. John also attended Grace Episcopal Church.
John’s talent was put to work in furniture repairing and wax refinishing at the Schevitz Furniture Company in Baltimore City. Then he worked for Mr. Trinkus in carpentry work, repairing houses in Elkridge. John was known for his quality carpentry and refinishing.
According to family statements, they remember him as being about 5’8″ and weighing 150 lbs., and that he combed his hair straight back and smoked cigars. They also remember him as very good to his siblings, and that everyone liked him. Up until time of service, he lived with his parents.
Johnny was also known as easy-going, having a good sense of humor as well as being a quiet and gentle person, sedate in speech and seldom involved in argument because he didn’t tolerate contentiousness around himself. John had a quiet strength and if bullies attacked his siblings and relatives, John would have negotiated rather than resort to getting even with retaliatory violence. But bullies never took that chance for they ran away when they saw John appear, unlike their continued fighting with Nelson or Howard. And, unlike the other children, John did not participate in Halloween antics.
Though John did not own his own car, he charitably drove people (like the elderly) where they needed to go in their own car. Another act of kindness from the young man was when his uncle was killed by a B&O express train. John’s aunt was visibly distraught and so he picked her up from work and drove her to Dr. Brumbaugh’s for sedation and any other medical treatment she needed. Then he stayed with his aunt for two days until she was able to get better. And because his uncle’s body had to be identified by a blood relative, John took his young cousin, Frank Crowson, from his elementary school classes to the funeral home in Ellicott City for identification, a task not easy for his younger cousin. The point is, John was there like an adult and helped.
John also loved animals and would not hurt any. To illustrate John’s compassion, his brother George said that once John had a mouse in his sofa-bed mattress and his father ordered him to take the mattress outside and burn it. Instead, John cut the mattress open and left it in a field to allow the mouse to escape. His brother George mentions that it is not clearly known if the mouse did indeed escape in time, because their father burned the mattress as John wouldn’t. John hoped it escaped.
The family owned a series of dogs, one an old abandoned Scottish terrier named “Scotty” whom Johnny adopted after he followed them around because the dog’s former owners died and their survivors did not want him and so abandoned him.
Though John’s brothers were hunters, John did not care for hunting, or killing animals (as stated above), and did not shoot a gun until one month before he left for the Army on May 29, 1942. Notified by the draft board, John bought a 22 rifle, practiced target shooting, and became quite a good marksman.
In the 124th Infantry Regiment, 31st Infantry “Dixie” Div., he was sent to Camp (Ft.) Polk, LA for training. He was in “K” Company and there was joking from others about it because there were many men named “Young” in that group, though unrelated. It should have then been called “Y” Company.
Sent to the South Pacific in 1943, he island-hopped, his unit helping to take back islands held by the Japanese. In the Solomons, John was wounded, and that is where also he attained rank of Sergeant. He remained in the Army three years.
Tragically, one night, with his company just securing a new position against the enemy resistance in the mountains near Malaybalay, Mindinoa, John was hit by flying shrapnel of a grenade or mortar shell from an enemy attack while he was occupying a foxhole. Though another comrade came to his aide, John had already perished.
With three sons of their four sons in the military at that time, his parents took it particularly hard when the dreaded Western Union telegram from the Adjutant General of the Secretary of War, came addressed to his mother on June 21, 1945.
I cannot imagine greater parental heartache than to receive such news.
John died at age 28, twenty days before his 29th birthday on June 22. According to his family, John was buried with full military honors in the U.S. Armed Forces Cemetery at Del Monte, Mindanao, which actually was a temporary site because John’s remains was moved to its next location at Angeles Luzon near Clark’s Field. Then John was moved again, his third burial being permanent at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, with a white grave cross inscribed with his name, rank and organization at Plot B, Row 16, Grave 117.
“Tread lightly! ’tis a soldiers grave, a lonely mossy mound; and yet to hearts like mine and thine, it should be holy ground. Speak softly — let no careless laugh, no idle, thoughtless jest escape your lips, where sweetly sleeps young Johnny at his rest. Tread lightly! for the man bequeathed ere laid beneath this sod — his ashes to this foreign land; his gallant soul to God.”
According to family knowledge, John’s body remained in the Philippines because either the military would not pay for his shipment to the U.S., or would not return the bodies if they were not whole. The articles belonging to John and returned to the family were a few medals his mother kept, and the U.S. flag.
Besides those other medals, John won a Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters.
A pastime for John was baseball and he played for the Elkridge team. A newspaper article about sports included that Elkridge missed John as one of their own ball players – that
“Elkridge had no big heroes, but grieved the little ones just the same.”
I do not count John as “little” in anything that counts.
Instead of worshiping heroes, I believe we need to see the humanity in each man — take them off the unrealistic pristine pedestals we put them on to keep them out of reach of what they could teach us. John was real, not mythical – not distant. Yes, he fought valiantly and with courage. It is important that he is close to us still and he was and is loved by God just as God created him. And it is much more meaningful and important to celebrate John’s compassionate heart, which lived showing the love of God in him. That is his continuing significance to others. That is his enduring presence. And though he seemed “an old soul,” John demonstrated developing such new potential. John gave us his life.
A person knows when they are drawn
by a life of another, a miracle
the interest is compelling, taking over –
blessings around the world –
wide with friendships
mere mortals cannot create.
Who needs national prominence
when more special in this place?
A life of promise and possibilities
unfulfilled by death’s embrace – this portal
to the living in that other space more vibrant
where he of kindly faith
has met Jesus face-to-face,
and welcomes Johnny home.
On a plaque, John is also memorialized with other veterans by the Elkridge High School Class of 1944 given to the Elkridge Heritage Society by the Class of 1945 in year 2000. John is also memorialized in the collection of veteran information at the Elkridge Heritage Society, gathered for the “Honoring Our Veterans Project,” and is also memorialized in Findagrave.com #56774488. Grace Episcopal Church also lists him on their veterans honor roll. With further research, hopefully he is named in the Washington, D.C. WW II Military Memorial circle. If he is not listed in that memorial, he should be.
NOTE: there is some discrepancy as to the year John was born. Some say 1918, but school records show 1917.
Service No. 33201303
Information for this paper was supplied in written and verbal testimony by his brother, George Young (who served later in Korea), and written contributions by Howard Young (who served in the Army Infantry during WW2, in demolition of land mines), and from brother, Nelson Young, also served in WW2 in the Air Force as a tailgunner, and served in the raids against Rommel. These two brothers served in Africa, Italy and other parts of Europe, while only John served in the Pacific. More information was also kindly supplied by John’s cousin, Frank Crowson, who moved to Elkridge in 1934 and was 9 years younger than John.