Remembering Sgt. Tom Young

Remembering Sgt. Tom Young, USMC

by Dale Dye

THOMAS FRANKLIN YOUNG is honored on Panel 37E, Row 16 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.


We were sitting in one of the huge old blimp hangars at the Marine Corps Air Facility, Santa Ana, Calif., in the late summer of 1967, contemplating orders to pack our trash and say our goodbyes. We were headed for Vietnam. Cpl. Tom Young said he thought he’d better submit his leave papers in a hurry and try to squeeze out 30 days with his family back in Arkansas. The anxiety over leave was perfectly understandable.  We all knew in those days when the war seemed to be simmering toward a boil, that pre-deployment leave might well be the last any of us saw of our loved ones. But, Tom was even more anxious to get to Vietnam and talked about leave as though it were just an expected step along the way to some momentous journey of discovery. 

“Hemingway was right,” he once told me.  “War is man’s greatest adventure.”  He was the kind of guy who could say things like that without eliciting catcalls and harassment from his fellow Marines.

On a previous tour, I’d seen that elephant and heard that owl, as the saying goes, so I wasn’t as romantically inclined about my orders. But Tom was an irrepressible spirit who saw humor and excitement every time the sun rose to bring us another day.  I said I would cover our duties at the base and let him get on with it. 

As Marine Corps Combat Correspondents, we could be assigned anywhere in-country where Marines operated, as well as in a few interesting billets that did not involve accompanying line units into combat.  I got orders to one of the line units, and Tom got assigned to an American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) radio and TV outlet in Hue.

I managed to visit him at that station, and he took me on a tour of the city to include a very interesting look at the ancient Citadel on the north side of the Perfume River. Tom seemed envious of my assignment involving regular combat operations vs. his, which pretty much kept him out of the action.  I volunteered to trade places, but Tom—by now a newly-minted sergeant of Marines—felt the experience would help him achieve his goal of studying broadcast journalism at the University of Missouri. It didn’t keep me from harassing him about a cushy rear-echelon job and reminding him of his reference to Hemingway’s infamous quote.

That meeting was in January 1968. There was no way for either of us to know what lay in store during the Tet Lunar New Year just a few weeks in the future. 

When the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) staged its offensive during the country-wide Tet celebrations, Hue was one of their primary targets. Tom and the other civilians, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines assigned to the AFVN station were quickly under siege in the first days of the attack on the city.  They fought a gallant but hopeless battle with no real reaction plan and minimal firepower as the NVA pressed their attack.

After a gallant stand-off involving vicious firefights, the station was overrun. Six men were captured.  Five of them became long-term POWs in North Vietnam.  One was captured and then executed. Two were killed in the action—and one of those was my friend Sgt. Tom Young.

Later in the fighting to retake Hue, I was assigned to assault units and managed to get a close look at the battered and shattered AFVN station where I’d visited Tom prior to Tet. The evidence was clear: the NVA made a major effort to take the station, and the people resisting that effort had put up a hell of a fight to prevent it.  It was cold comfort for the loss of a friend, but it was obvious that Sgt. Tom Young had experienced man’s greatest adventure—and greatest tragedy.