Local WWII veteran, 96, writes, speaks about war experiences

On Veterans Day each year, our nation honors the brave men and women who have served their country as members of the military. And though 16 million soldiers fought during the second world war, from the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, until the war was over in August of 1945, fewer than 200,000 are still living today.

One of those is Navy veteran, Ralph Young, who lives in Centerville. He joined the Navy when he was 17 and told his parents he couldn’t wait until he was 18 to be drafted or he wouldn’t have a choice of branch of service.

“My parents agreed and said I had their approval,” Young said. “I did my boot training at (Naval Station) Great Lakes and then went to the West Coast and boarded the USS J. Franklin Bell.”

Young ended up serving as a gunner’s mate for three years on the Bell – an Amphibious Personnel Assault or APA ship and was involved in some lesser-known D-Day invasions in the Pacific, including in Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa, Japan.

He was discharged from naval service in 1946 and returned home to Kentucky, where he decided to go to college at the University of Kentucky and study electrical engineering.

ExploreKettering moves for restaurants, housing in business park not expected to spur quick change

“I went to work all over the Midwest and the middle east,” Young said. “I ended up getting an extensive travel background.”

He and his late wife, Charlotte, raised three children and decided to purchase property in Lincoln County, Kentucky on which to build their retirement home. In 2000, Charlotte became ill and passed away in 2006. Charlotte’s first cousin, Janice, who had lost her husband just a few months before, reached out to Young.

“She sent me a note and that lead to us getting married,” Young said. “We’ve been married 15 years now and Janice was instrumental in encouraging me to tell my story.”

That encouragement has led to Young’s writing several books, including his first “The Power of a Mother’s Prayer,” which was inspired by his own mother’s prayers for her son’s safety to his most recent, “Forgotten Warriors II,” published in 2020. The book describes the amphibious march across the Pacific during WWII. Young said he wrote it and the first edition, “Forgotten Warriors” because he wanted people to become more educated about the war in the Pacific as well as honor his comrades in service.

“There were so many soldiers that gave their lives protecting others in this war,” Young said. “Many received the Medal of Honor but other than their families, how many would remember them?”

Like most veterans of war, Young said he rarely talked about his experiences. And then he began to notice that when people talked about conflicts during WWII, they spoke of Normandy and The Battle of the Bulge. The “Forgotten Warriors” books include details of all the battles in the “Pacific Theater” in WWII, a list of USS Franklin Bell crew members in 1942 and a list of Medal of Honor recipients.

Young moved to Dayton about 15 years ago because his new bride Janice, was from the area. Then in 2006, he was inducted into the University of Kentucky Engineering Hall of Distinction. In 2017, he and Janice traveled to Japan where Young received a Metal of Honor on the island of Saipan, given to him by the local people.

“The medal says, ‘Our Grateful Islands Remember,’” Young said. “The Chamorros found out who I was, and we were treated like royalty for saving their island. These people were mistreated by the Japanese during the war.

During that trip, Young and his wife also toured many of the sites of the battles in which he fought more than 60 years ago. And today, at the age of 96, Young is speaking to groups about his experiences in the war and his life during that time.

ExploreDayton experiences first snowfall of the season

“I’m a very modest person and I don’t like to talk about myself,” Young said. “But I like to talk about the Pacific because I’m talking about the guys I fought with, and they deserve all the credit.”

For about 21 years, Young and his remaining comrades held reunions, which continued until their last one in Texas in 2009, when only nine were in attendance.

“We are dying at a rate of about 300 per day,” Young said. “My doctor said because I’m in good health that I may end up being the last man standing. I don’t need to live that long, but I do want people to know that I’m willing to speak free of charge to any group. Because I want them to know our story.”

Contact this contributing writer at banspach@ymail.com.

About the Author