Over twelve million American men and women experienced service during World War II. Of that total, only several hundred thousand are still living today. They have been called the “Greatest Generation” because of their willingness to make the supreme sacrifice for their country and fellow men and women. It is to their honor we dedicate this story.
Reford Young was just twenty-one when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942. A native of Pike County, Kentucky, he began his service at a basic training camp in Tennessee. Reford continued his orientation in desert training in Arizona and spent time at a base in Wichita, Kansas before disembarking for Europe from Fort Dix in New Jersey. He sailed aboard the Queen Mary to England. Upon landing, he spent a week adjusting to climate and being outfitted for combat.
Reford was a part of General George Patton’s Third Army – specifically Company C 317th First Platoon. He was designated a rifleman and photographer. Because of a special request by his mother, Reford’s twin brother, Raymond, was assigned to the same outfit as his brother. Raymond had been wounded early in the fighting, thus the brothers saw limited service time together although they did see action almost immediately upon arriving in France.
The Company arrived at Omaha Beach in Normandy and were under fire within a few days at Argouten, France – a hilly part of the country still held by German forces. Being new to fighting, Reford would rise up to see what enemy was near only to be shouted out by his brother, “Keep your head down!” It was ironic that Raymond was the one who was wounded and Reford went unscathed through all the action.
Reford reached the rank of Buck Sergeant during this time in the service, but refused on numerous occasions to take a leadership role in his company. It was his feeling the majority of men in the command didn’t care to take orders, and he didn’t want to give them. He was content in remaining a member in the ranks – a foot soldier who wanted to complete the assignments given him, and do them as well as he could.
Toward the end of 1944, the war had reached a stalemate. The Allied forces were perched on the border of Germany just waiting for the weather to break so that a successful attack could be mounted. There had been talk about the Christmas Holiday and maybe taking some time off from the front lines. That all changed on December 16th, 1944, because Hitler had other plans in mind. He would launch one more major offensive through the Ardennes Forest to divide the Allies and to secure a port cutting off their supplies. This battle was to be called the “The Bulge” and brought the siege of Bastogne to the headlines of newspapers throughout the free world.
As history tells us, Hitler’s December offensive was initially successful. If it weren’t for the fortitude of a meager defensive group of the 101st Airborne in Bastogne under General Anthony McAuliffe, who refused to give ground, and a tactical chance taken by Patton’s Third Army, the outcome might have been quite different. Reford Young remembers the bone-chilling cold of foxholes and marching in mud and snow for miles to relieve the men fighting in the holding action in Bastogne. Even with their effort, the success of the operation depended upon the Army Air Corps to bomb an enemy that was dedicated to one last, desperate operation.
Reford remembers an icy, snowy day in December when the skies cleared and for the first time in days, he could see the bombers and fighters overhead seeking targets that would clear the way for the Allies to break out of “the Bulge.” He was deep in his foxhole, but he couldn’t help feeling a joyful relief even though he was bitterly cold. It was the beginning of the end for the war in Europe. Hitler had spent his last effort. General Patton is quoted as saying, “The war is almost over. The God of battles always stands on the side of right when the judgment comes.”
For Reford Young and his fellow soldiers, there was still plenty of war to be won.
They fought their way through Germany and doubled back to end up in Austria where he ended his active war service. To his credit, Young ended up with four battle stars and numerous medals to exhibit. He was discharged from the Army in October of 1945, having sailed back to the United States aboard a luxury German ship.
Today, Reford divides his time between Florida and Franklin, Indiana, where he can still be found on a local golf course tying to shoot his age which is ninety-six. We wouldn’t bet that he doesn’t do it!
The Battle for Bastogne was just one example of the fortitude and desires of the men and women who are a part of the “Greatest Generation.” And, even though their numbers are reduced, the American Spirit they represent lives on in their heritage. God bless them each and every one.
This article was written by:
A nationally recognized speaker and writer, Norman Wilkens has traveled to forty-seven of the fifty states speaking on topics of marketing, advertising and public relations.
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