Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Thursday, December 06, 2001
by Deb Nicklay

Harold Younger: 56 years later, understanding

MASON CITY - Harold YOUNGER returned home from his war service in 1945, on the mend from a German sniper's bullet that almost cost him his leg.

In the succeeding years, he had no intention of dredging up memories of those terrible, brief days he spent in France, when Allied troops were finally finding a successful path into the heart of Nazi Germany.

As a member of the Army's 70th Infantry Division, known more popularly as "The Trailblazers," YOUNGER knew few details about his division's key role in Germany's fall.

"When you're in the middle of it, you're not sure what's going on around you," said YOUNGER, 76.

Today, like many of his contemporaries, YOUNGER is opening the door to painful memories, "to help write my own life history," he said. His interest in the events of 56 years ago may also find their way to a book, he said.

Writing a book about the war was the last thing he had in mind when he joined the Army in May 1944 at the age of 18. He completed basic training at Camp Joseph T. Robinson, near Little Rock, Ark., and was transferred to the 70th Division in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

He spent less than a month in combat before he was shot on a scouting mission. He doesn't remember much about that day, Jan. 9, 1945, except that he was scared, not knowing whether he should try to run from his location or keep down.

"I was the second scout; the first scout didn't make it," he said.

When he returned to the United States, "I didn't want to dwell on the war, the bad things. I wanted to forget about it, and my time there was very short," he said.

"I never, ever, heard him talk about it," agreed his wife, Erna.

A native of Missouri, YOUNGER settled in Omaha, Neb., after spending 13 months in military hospitals. He earned a degree in accounting. The move was the first step to almost 40 years in the insurance business, which eventually brought him to Mason City. He married Erna and had two children.

Life was good, with only a bum leg reminding him of the waning days of World War II.

That changed in March of just this year, when the YOUNGER grandson Cole began pressing his grandfather for information about his service in the war.

Cole, a student at Nora Springs-Rock Falls Community Schools, was researching his grandfather's history for a class project.

When Cole began asking questions his grandfather couldn't answer, YOUNGER began searching out information about the Trailblazers.

"I realized the major contribution my division made to the war," he said. "Me, I was only there 25 days. That was nothing.

"But the division - I am so proud of what they did. Not many know what they did. They were only in active combat only 86 days, but they did so much."

YOUNGER was only 19 when he sailed with the newly-formed division in December 1944, to Marseilles, France, as part of a massive build-up of troops sent to turn back Hitler's desperate attempt to claim a strong hold near the English Channel.

The "connected" battles, of which the first was the Battle of the Bulge, were brutal. Caught in one of the coldest winters on record, members of the 70th Division drove west, serving as the shotgun riders for the 7th Army that finally helped break the back of the German army.

The march to the west did not happen without cost, YOUNGER was to learn. The Trailblazer casualties were the third highest of the European Theater - more than 58 percent.

"There were a lot of men who never saw the final days of the war," he said quietly.

Amazingly, YOUNGER said, the division's unrelenting heroism is not well known by the general public. The "connected battles" of December 1944 through January 1945 are too often overshadowed by more famous conflicts, such as Normandy.

He would like to change that, he said. He has begun to connect with his fellow infantrymen, and attended his first ever 70th Division reunion this year.

He has begun to hear the stories that were written so long ago, by fellow Trailblazer veterans whose memories are as vivid as his own. He has continued his research into the war, trying to place events, to make sense of the war.

"As short a time as it was, it was a part of my life," he said.

Recently, YOUNGER and 650 other Iowans were on hand at the State Capitol in Des Moines to receive a special thank you diploma from the French government, for their service to helping liberate France during the war.

"It was a humbling experience," he said.

His return to the war years marches on.

YOUNGER has pulled out his old pictures, as well as his medals, which include the Purple Heart. Erna said she may display them now.

An old safety pin, which carries an old and discolored metal casing, lies nestled among the mementos. It is the sheathing of the bullet pulled from his leg 56 years ago.

"I was very fortunate to have survived," Younger said.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2011


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