Veteran is proud of his service, content with his memories
John Young, a 92-year-old World War II Army veteran, speaks about his time as a tank commander in the 712th Tank Battalion while sitting in the family home in Auburn. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
AUBURN - Head to any of the Veterans Day events across the state today, and you're likely to see current and retired members of the military participating in parades and giving speeches to celebrate and honor those who have heroically put themselves at risk to protect our liberties.
John Young of Auburn, however, won't be among them.
"I don't go to Veterans Day events," said Young, 92, a native of Manchester. "I belong to organizations like the Purple Heart Organization, but I don't go to the events. I just relive my memories. ... I just think about the guys, what we went through, and that's it."
Young, whose daughter is New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Jane Young, was a tank commander with the 712th Tank Battalion during World War II, which puts him in a select club of servicemen from that conflict, a club whose numbers are dwindling.
"I don't see too many guys around anymore from World War II," said Young, who then recounted a conversation he had with a veteran at St. Joseph's Cemetery about a year ago. "I asked him how things were going. And he said, 'Well, John, I walk up and down that sidewalk, and I don't see a soul I know. I have to come over here to see any friends and visit their graves.' That's about the size of it."
Young said all the other members of his tank crew have died.
'They forgot us'
Young grew up in Manchester, graduating from St. Agnes Grammar School.
After joining the military, Young headed to Fort Benning in Georgia for training. From there, he and the rest of his unit were off to Swindon, England, to prepare for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Young's crew was scheduled to be a part of that famous assault along 50 miles of heavily fortified French coastline, but he and his comrades weren't involved.
He explained: "They forgot us. We were scheduled to be part of the D-Day invasion, but for some reason, with all the excitement, they forgot us. Someone said, 'We need more tanks; where are they? Where's that outfit?' and that's when they realized they forgot us. So we got to Utah Beach, but it was maybe a couple of weeks after.
"When we got there, they told us there were only six tanks left in the whole sector. When I think about it, I don't know for sure, but I don't think I would be here today if we had gone when we were supposed to."
Young's tank crew arrived 22 days after the D-Day invasion, shipping out of Portsmouth, England, for Utah Beach.
"The first three days of combat I lost two tanks, and that was in Normandy," said Young. "There's no question in my mind, Normandy was the worst and toughest fighting we saw. It was bad ... every night.
"... Many, many times I thought about not going home again."
Young was wounded late in the war and was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal.
"It was April Fool's Day, and a small-arms-fire shell went off right next to me and bloodied my head. ... That was April 1, 1945, one of the last days of the war."
He may have been on the other side of "the pond," but Young said he never felt far from the Granite State.
"So I'm overseas and walking with a fellow from Springfield, Mass.," said Young. "We're talking and laughing, and coming towards me on the street is another gentleman. I guess he heard the accent, and he said, 'Hey fella, I bet you're from Manchester, New Hampshire.' I said, 'How did you guess that?' He said, 'Cause I'm from Nashua.'''
After he was honorably discharged, Young worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 40 years, then as a bailiff.
Young said he looks back on every one of his experiences overseas with fondness.
"There's good parts you can think back about and start laughing," he said. "One time, we were waiting for a pontoon bridge to be put up over a river. And we're waiting and waiting - those things should go up in about nine hours. So then someone said, 'Wait ... who decided to have GIs build a bridge next to a winery?'
"Things like that still make me laugh. There's good and bad. You tell some people, and they say that never happened, but I was there."
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Paul Feely may be reached at email@example.com.
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