Bob Young’s welcome to Europe in World War II started on Omaha Beach.
He went on to serve with George S. Patton’s vaunted Third Army during its lightning dash across France. He served in the Ardennes Forest with the 9th Army during the Battle of the Bulge, and later did occupation duty at a Nazi concentration camp. He was called back to duty in Korea, landing at Inchon and fighting along the Pusan perimeter. And that was just the beginning of his adult life.
This is Bob Young’s amazing life story.
He was born Robert Young in Montgomery, Ala. on July 2, 1924. He was the oldest son of Robert A. Young and Louise Williams. He has one sister named Betty who lives in Alabama. His father was an educated man (Auburn, Cornell, the Sorbonne) who owned an architecture firm before World War I. After the outbreak of World War I, his dad joined the United States Army. His father was an NCO, and he served in the 35th Infantry Division alongside future President of the United States Harry S. Truman, who was an artillery officer in that division.
“My dad was very smart, but he had an eye for art,’’ Young said at his Gonzales home last week. “He was an architect, but the war changed him. After the surrender in 2018, he decided to stay in France and then studied at the Sorbonne. When he came home, he went to work for Rand McNally and made that his life.”
Meanwhile, Bob came along in 1924. He grew up in Alabama tinkering with machines and loving every minute of it. In high school, he played football, but he “was more interested in art than playing sports.”
On Dec. 7, 1941, Bob was out flying his model airplane when he learned of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I went to enlist on Monday, Dec. 8, 1941, but a kind officer told me I should graduate from high school first,” Young recalled. “It was the best advice I ever got.”
Before he graduated, Bob continued his love with model airplanes. One day when he was flying his model plane, a man came up and tapped him on the back. It was the governor of the state of Alabama, and he asked Bob if he could tinker with engines. Bob replied that he could, and the governor set him up with an office in his house and Bob worked on the governor’s equipment all through high school.
In 1943, Bob was drafted into the United States Army. Immediately after graduation, a bus was waiting to take the boys from his senior class to be inducted. He went to Ft. Riley in Kansas, where he attended two different schools in communications. One of the schools taught him Morse Code. After completing his training there, Bob was about to be shipped off to the Pacific to serve with amphibious tracked vehicles when he was suddenly called off the train destined for California.
“They told me my gas mask was not fitted with the proper lens, so I couldn’t leave at that time,” Bob chuckled. “So I sat around for a few weeks and then got my orders to report to Ft. Bragg, N.C.”
At Ft. Bragg, Bob was assigned as a radio operator to a National Guard artillery outfit from the state of New York. After more training in early 1944, his outfit boarded ship on the Queen Elizabeth and then sailed to Wales where they were stationed until heading over to Normandy.
“Our unit was one of many that were used as a decoy to fool the Germans. They believed we were the real invading force that was going to invade at Pas De Calais instead of the Normandy invasion,” Young said. “When the real invasion took place, Hitler was still convinced that our outfit and others were the real invasion force. We weren’t. We didn’t land at Omaha Beach until two months later.”
Young’s outfit landed at Omaha on Aug. 6, 1944. He was part of the 256th Field Artillery and was attached to George Patton’s Third Army.
“We were constantly moving and on the attack,” Young said. “I remember we spent a lot of time attacking German submarine bases. There was one that didn’t want to surrender, and they had a big gun hidden in a tunnel. It would come out and shoot at ships and then go back into the tunnel where it couldn’t be spotted.
“One day, some members of the French Underground told us they knew the location of the gun. We snuck up in an apple orchard and located the position of the gun. When it came out, we took one shot at it and hit it. The Germans knew where we were and completely leveled that apple orchard with their 88s. The base never surrendered or was taken.
“I dug a very deep fox hole that day,” Young smiled.
After fighting his way across France with the 30th Division in the 2nd Armored, Young’s outfit was transferred to the 9th Army under the command of General William Hood Simpson who was born in Weatherford, Texas. In December, his unit was on the receiving end of the German’s last great attack in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge.
“It was one of the coldest and most severe winters on record in Europe,” Young recalled. “It was so awful that no one could really move about. Our main job was mainly to listen and report. We could hear German tanks moving even though they might be five miles away.”
During the Battle of the Bulge, the 9th Army was transferred from Omar Bradley’s command to Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery’s English Army.
“We stayed attached to him for the rest of the war,” Young said. “We attacked the Ruhr area, and were the first units across the Elbe River. Near the end of the war, there were literally tens of thousands of Germans trying to surrender to us so they didn’t have to surrender to the Russians. Heck, there were even Russian laborers who didn’t want to go back to Russia and wanted us to protect them, but we had to send them back to Russia at gun point.”
After the end of the war, Young was assigned to interrogation duty at what he called a “Nazi-filled concentration camp.” In the camp were high-ranking Nazi officials and officers.
“Those rotten [expletive] were the worst kind of people,” Young said. “Almost every day we would find Nazi’s hanging in the barracks, or someone would be told they had to escape and would try climbing the fence. We didn’t have any trouble shooting them at all.”
After the war, Bob sailed back to the United States and landed in New York. He spent time at Ft. Dix and Ft. McPherson before returning home to Alabama. He stayed in the Army Reserves.
Later he went to visit a friend in Louisiana and the friend talked him in to attending Centenary College in Shreveport.
“I didn’t have good grades in high school so the president of the college allowed me to enroll because of my military background,” Young said. “He told me he would be monitoring my progress, and by God every six weeks or so I would get a note from him with regard to how I was doing.
“In my last year, I was elected president of the class, which made me pretty proud given that I almost didn’t get admitted.”
Bob majored in physical education, and even earned money as a model for the art students.
“They paid me $2 an hour and that was a lot of money back then.”
It was during his time in college that he met Sydney Brewster. He was smitten, and they were married. From his modeling money and the G.I. Bill, the Youngs made it through the college years. They had three children, Robert (Rocky) Young III, Camille and Carolyn.
Bob wanted to teach and coach football at Lake Charles, LA, but he found a job on an oil rig that paid him $400 per month.
That was Bob and Sydney’s life until the outbreak of the Korean War. He was called up to serve again, and had 10 days to report for duty.
“I was told we would be in for one year,” Young said. “We sailed to Japan and from there to Korea. I landed on the beach at Inchon, and then we were assigned to serve throughout Korea. We saw a lot of action but what I remember most was the cold of the winter. Between the Ardennes and Korea, those were the worst two winters on record and I was a part of both of them,’’ he laughed.
Young returned one year to the day later and came home. He worked his way up the corporate ladder at Brewster-Bartle Drilling. During his way up the corporate ladder, Young went to La Grange, Ill. to learn how to fix diesel engines. His company was using steam engines for drilling, but when the move to off-shore drilling became the move the company wanted to make, they had to convert to diesel. Young mastered his craft. Later, when the two founders of the company decided to retire at age 65, Young moved from New Orleans to Houston, Texas to take over as CEO of the company.
He served in that role until 1965 when George H.W. Bush’s college roommate from Yale bought the company. Young decided he wanted to go out on his own, and he bought the tug boat business and operated that for years.
“I operated over 29 rigs and 800 men, but the tugboat business was a lot of fun and I enjoyed that more than anything,” Young said.
In the early 1970s, Sydney’s father died, leaving her and Bob his 15,000 acre ranch in Gonzales.
“I didn’t know the front end of a cow from the back end,” Bob laughed. “So I worked with the ranch hands and learned the business from the ground up.”
Together with his son Rocky, who had attended Texas A&M and knew all about soil, grass and animals, Bob learned the cattle business. He worked with Lee Carnes, and his business prospered. At the same time, Bob became involved with the electric co-op, and became secretary of the board for over 20 years. “I convinced the board to purchase the co-op from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,” Young said. “We were the first to ever do that.”
Young stayed on the board until he retired at age 85.
“It was the worst decision I ever made,” he sighed.
Bob now lives in Gonzales and is still blessed with a sound mind. His wife passed away 25 years ago, and his son Rocky suddenly died at the age of 50 in 2006. His daughter Camille lives in Houston, enjoys sailing, and recently sold her very successful advertising agency. His daughter Carolyn married a successful pipeline superintendent and they live in Galveston.
Bob Young will turn 94 on Monday, Oct. 8. He was just notified that he will be enshrined in the Centenary Circle of Honor this year.