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Robert H. Young ’38

(1921–    )
Army, Second Lieutenant

Another Side to Service in WWII

Young '38

Robert H. Young '38

My experience is in many ways a joke, the only interesting feature being its evidence of the inefficiency of the Army in some areas. With a nearsighted eye problem, I was unable to gain access to any volunteer situations in early 1942 as I finished my senior year at Princeton. I went to Harvard Law in June of 1942 and completed one year by the end of December, when the draft board said it was ready for me.

At my draft physical, I was reviewed by my orthopedic doctor, who put me into limited service because he knew about the torn ligaments in my left knee. I was sent to the Army Finance basic training in Fort Harrison, Indianapolis, Indiana. At the end of basic training, I applied for Army Finance Officer’s Training, but was told that they were no longer accepting limited service applicants because an Army Finance office had been overrun by the Germans in North Africa. Two weeks later I was scheduled for shipment to central Africa, but in the last minute physical the doctor who had turned me down for OCS took me off the shipment due to my knee problem.

Shortly thereafter, I was sent to Wake Forest University for a course in advanced Army Finance. On its completion, I was transferred to Duke University for a course in Army Fiscal Policy. The course had mostly officers attending, but I was one of a few enlisted men. At the end of this course I was assigned to clerk duties in the local office. Some weeks later there was an opening for warrant officer, and I was sent to a nearby Army camp for a physical. I was given a notice for X-ray of my knee, but elected to finish the physical without having the X-ray. Two weeks later, the colonel told me he had an opening for Ordinance OCS and that I could go if I passed the physical. I referred him to the physical I had just completed and in an hour he reported that I had passed and should prepare to go the Ordinance OCS.

I completed a four-month Ordinance OCS course, but on graduation, as a 2nd lieutenant, was suddenly assigned to a new Army department called Information and Education. Its purpose was to help soldiers know why they were fighting, so they would have fewer emotional problems. The course was given at Washington and Lee College in Virginia, and there I went. On completion I was made the I&E Officer of an Army engineering general service regiment headed for Europe. On the way to Europe, the Bulge occurred, and we were diverted into England in early January 1945. The regiment spent the remaining months of the European war cleaning quarters occupied by the invasion troops and turning them back to the British or building POW camps for German captives who never came because the European War ended in May.

In June the regiment was loaded on a transport ship and headed through the Panama Canal to Manila. During all this time I provided up-to-date news for the men in the regiment, but their backgrounds did not create much interest in why we were at war or in further education programs. We landed in Manila in late July and began working three shifts a day building quarters for the invasion troops scheduled to come there for final training before the invasion of Japan. Of course, the atomic bomb dropped in August, and no invasion troops were ever required.

Our colonel was ambitious and in short order had us transferred to Japan as part of the occupation Army. We were stationed at an airfield outside Tokyo, and one battalion was charged with building a new airstrip long enough for B-29s to land on. On almost a monthly basis this group was told to lengthen the existing airstrip instead of building a new one. By spring of 1946 these changes in direction had resulted in a half-finished new strip and a half-finished longer old strip. The point system for going home had reduced the size of the regiment so that it was no longer an effective force. Our second battalion spent this same time converting an old Japanese factory into a general hospital. They completed this assignment, but by the time they did, the Army clearly had no need for the hospital and it was turned over to the Japanese. By June 1946 I was approved to return home and was back in law school by fall.

In summary, my extensive finance training was never used; my ordinance training was never used; my Information and Education training was only modestly useful, since our troops had little interest in any serious background for the war or for advancing their education when not working on assignments. Of course, the Engineering Regiment, in spite of its training and transport to two theaters of operation, never completed an assignment of any serious value to the war.

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Filed under In Uniform, Pacific Front