Rodger Young: the deaf and nearly blind Medal of Honor recipient

Rodger Wilton Young may not be a household name, but his heroics, bravery and selflessness exhibited everything the Medal of Honor encompasses. In 1944, the Medal of Honor committee awarded Rodger Young the nation’s highest honor for military personnel. Unlike most – or perhaps all – of the other 3,473 Medal of Honor recipients in U.S. history, Rodger Young was deaf.

Born in Tiffin, Ohio in 1918, Young was diminutive in stature but big in heart — a gifted athlete whose tenacity more than made up for his lack of physical size. In high school, he suffered an injury on the basketball court that severely affected his sight and left him almost completely deaf and yet, undaunted. Not only did he later manage to pass the necessary exams to enlist in the Ohio National Guard, but Young also found himself posted to B company, 148th Infantry Regiment of the 37th Infantry Division. Rodger was deaf, nearly blind and — at 5’ 2” — the shortest man in the company.

Young grew up in rural Ohio and acquired excellent marksmanship skills which he honed as an avid hunter. Ironically, his vision loss, and subsequent use of corrective glasses, didn’t prevent him from maintaining and applying those skills. Young quickly found himself as a rifle instructor and sergeant leading his infantry squad. It wasn’t long into his enlistment before his unit was called upon to do their part in WWII.

According to Ohio History Central, “Eventually Young’s unit was sent to the Fiji Islands and then to the Solomon Islands to battle the Japanese. Believing that he could not safely lead his unit due to hearing difficulties, Young requested and received a demotion to private.”

Young reflected the same sense of selflessness when his actions saved the lives of his platoon in the summer of ’43. His official citation reads:

On 31 July 1943, the infantry company of which Pvt. Young was a member was ordered to make a limited withdrawal from the battle line in order to adjust the battalion’s position for the night. At this time, Pvt. Young’s platoon was engaged with the enemy in a dense jungle where observation was very limited. The platoon suddenly was pinned down by intense fire from a Japanese machine gun concealed on higher ground only 75 yards away. The initial burst wounded Pvt. Young. As the platoon started to obey the order to withdraw, Pvt. Young called out that he could see the enemy emplacement, whereupon he started creeping toward it. Another burst from the machine gun wounded him the second time. Despite the wounds, he continued his heroic advance, attracting enemy fire and answering with rifle fire. When he was close enough to his objective, he began throwing hand grenades and while doing so was hit again and killed. Pvt. Young’s bold action in closing with this Japanese pillbox and thus diverting its fire, permitted his platoon to disengage itself, without loss and was responsible for several enemy casualties.

For his heroics, Young was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in January 1944. Ohio’s governor declared March 25, 1945 “Rodger W. Young Day.” Soon thereafter, famous songwriter and musical composer Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and others) even wrote a song about him called, “The Ballad of Rodger Young.” Here’s the West Point Cadet Glee Club performing it:

Unlike so many veterans who return from battle with hearing loss (learn how hearing loss is the top service-connected disability), Private Rodger Young headed into battle with it. Heroically sacrificing his life to save his comrades, Rodger proved that hearing loss is something that needn’t stop anyone from achieving anything they set out to do. He was truly a Hero With Hearing Loss.

March 25 — the anniversary of the awarding of the first Medal of Honor to Private Jacob Parrott in 1863 — is the day we recognize and remember the valor of our nation’s bravest heroes. Join us in saluting our heroes and read more about the Medal of Honor.

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