The Ballad of Rodger Young

It was an odd request…

The company commander was a busy man that morning in June of 1943. He looked up sharply when Sergeant Young, a thin, pale, and bespectacled staff sergeant, walked into his tent, saluted and said: “Sir, I would like to request permission to be reduced to the rank of private.”

”What is your reason for wanting to be busted, Sergeant?” the captain asked brusquely.

“Well, sir–” The little sergeant reddened, and continued haltingly, ”well, you see, my ears are going bad. I can’t hear very well any more.” He swallowed, and then finished in a rush. ”And I don’t want any of my men killed in New Georgia because of me.”

The C. O. ‘s eyes narrowed suspiciously. Was this a new twist in the technique of getting invalided home? ”What’s the matter, Sergeant?” he barked. ”Don’t you want to fight?”

Young stiffened. ”Sir,” he said distinctly in a thin but firm voice…“I don’t want to leave the outfit. I want to go on — but as a private, so I’m only responsible for myself. I don’t want to get anyone hurt because of me….If I thought I’d be left behind because of this, then I’d rather drop the whole thing.” 

He half sold the captain, and an hour later the company doctor confirmed Young’s story. The sergeant’s ears were in bad shape.

”Shall we send him to the field hospital?” the doctor asked. 

”No!” Sergeant Young answered emphatically. 

The doctor shrugged and the captain made a gruff apology. He promised to get Sergeant Rodger Young reduced to the rank of private ”without prejudice,” which he did the next day. 

Three weeks later, Private Young’s outfit, the 148th Regiment, invaded New Georgia. The jungle was an almost impenetrable wall of vines and tangled undergrowth. The insects were unbearable, the food miserable, the water supply inadequate. At night, the 148th dug foxholes in mud and limestone. And, of course, there was always the enemy

The Japanese army in 1943 was formidable. They were totally committed to their Emperor whom they worshipped as a god. Their ‘god’ had led them to believe that they were the superior race, destined to rule the world. They were prepared to destroy and enslave every other race. Every man, woman and child were trained to defend their homeland by any means necessary.

An invasion of Japan was sure to be a horrific bloodbath resulting in thousands upon thousands of dead Japanese civilians and Allied soldiers. The controversial decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ultimately proved to be the means of ending the war. The arguable result was the salvation of the nation and the world from a protracted and costly war for domination in the Pacific. 

Can we think for a moment about our common enemy

There is another enemy that we have in common with all men…Japanese, Chinese, Iranian, Russian, etc…Regardless of nationality or genetics, this enemy is likewise an implacable foe, committed to the eternal destruction of every human soul.

He is a master deceiver, causing you to believe that you are the master of your world. This enemy is committed to total domination over you…keeping you pinned down by sin, unable to free yourself, in bondage to the fear of death…blinded to the truth about Jesus.

Let’s follow our story a little farther in the past…

Rodger Young was a small man. He grew up in the kind of blue-collar Midwestern town for which – then and now – high school sports is the heart of the community. That town’s name is Clyde, Ohio.

Rodger was too light for the football team and too short to be a threat in basketball. He is said to have had a strong, accurate arm as a baseball infielder, though, which later served his men well. In any case, he was a tough, enthusiastic competitor. In one basketball game his legs knocked from under him and he hit the court head-on. He was struck unconscious but revived later in a hospital, apparently unharmed.

Today, with better medical diagnostics, it might have been clear that he had suffered neurological damage. Soon, he began to complain of deteriorating eyesight and hearing. His parents got him eyeglasses, but he still began to flounder in school, having trouble seeing the blackboard or following what was being said.

He dropped out and went to work in a factory. Then in order to bring in a little more cash, he somehow passed an army physical examination when he signed up for the Ohio National Guard…

This is hardly the description of a man that 15 men would later describe as their savior…

This is a message about God’s plan of salvation for you and I. The story of this voluntarily demoted Private, Rodger Young, illustrates the predicament that you and I find ourselves in by nature. 

We have a relentless enemy that we are powerless against. We need a savior to deliver us. Yet too often when we look for a savior, we are looking for someone with bulging muscles and a toothy grin. We look for superheroes that can give us evidence of power…leaping tall buildings in a single bound, faster than a speedy bullet, etc. We aren’t looking for a small man with thick glasses and a low rank among men.

Yet, when we come to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we find these strange words:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being (existing) in the form of God, thought it not robbery (a thing to be grasped at) to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

In other words, He voluntary demoted Himself in order to put Himself in the position of being a savior to others. He is the only one has the power to deliver you and I from our enemy…

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

Acts 4:12

The name of Jesus Christ may be a name that you associate with weakness. It may be a name that you hear used with derision, or as an epithet in a string of curse words. Yet here is a man, not an ordinary man, but a man who eternally existed in the form of God, yet made Himself of no reputation…for your sake.

Let’s learn a little more about Rodger Young…

One evening the tropic sun took its sudden plummet into blackness just as 15 soldiers staggered into the company lines. Among them they carried five bodies, wrapped in blood- stained shelter halves.

The lieutenant in charge of the ragged platoon made his report to the captain. That morning, he had taken 20 men on a reconnaissance patrol a mile in front of the lines. He had led his men along an old, seemingly deserted Japanese trail, overgrown with vines and bushes. After a futile search for signs of enemy activity, he turned back at 4 o’clock, intending to be in his own company area before dusk. 

As they trudged along the gloomy trail, the Japanese machine gun opened up suddenly and killed two men before the platoon could flatten into cover. The gun was fiendishly placed on high ground, commanding the entire area. There was no way around it; to rush it meant sudden death. 

The lieutenant attempted a mass maneuver with his remaining 18 men, and two more died. The situation was critical. If they could not break out of the trap before nightfall, the Japanese would move in. With the machine gun cutting off the only possible avenue of escape, the enemy was in no hurry. ….

What went on behind Young’s thick spectacles and between his rather deaf ears no one knows. What is known is that he began to inch forward, cradling his rifle in his arms, past the lieutenant and toward the machine-gun nest. 

The lieutenant saw him slither by, and tried to grab his leg. But Young was in a hurry and evaded his superior’s grasp. Furthermore, the Japanese saw the rustle of grass and loosed a burst that singed the lieutenant’s hand and tore his collar. ‘

‘ Come back here! ” the lieutenant screamed at Young. ” It’s suicide. Come back– that’s an order!

” Young hesitated a moment, then twisted his head around and grinned at the lieutenant.

I’m sorry, sir,” he said, ” but you know I don’t hear very well.” 

He turned then, and continued to snake his way toward the Japanese emplacement. They saw him coming, of course. A stuttering burst cracked into Young’s left arm and splintered the stock of his rifle. Young let the useless weapon drop.

Still, he pressed forward. His buddies fired blindly at the emplacement, trying to divert the spitting stream of death. It didn’t work. 

Another burst of fire sewed a scarlet seam down Young’s left leg, from thigh to ankle. But he kept going, and finally reached a shallow hole about five yards from the machine gun. It was deep enough to afford him rather tenuous safety as the Japanese apparently couldn’t depress the muzzle of their gun far enough to get a clean shot at him. 

For God’s sake, Young,” the lieutenant shouted…”Stay where you are! We’ll get you out somehow.”

Maybe that time Private Young really didn’t hear. He might have been dying at that moment. In any case, he wasn’t in the mood for playing possum. Painfully, he reached into his belt with his good right hand for a grenade. He pulled the pin with his teeth. Then, rearing up and back– up out of his position of relative safety– he lobbed the grenade toward the machine gun. 

The gun answered with a blast that caught him full in the face. Rodger Young died as the grenade left his hand. Still, the well thrown grenade lit in the center of the machine-gun crew — and killed every one of the five Japanese manning the weapon. 

….the 15 survivors were on their interrupted way back to Company D. Silently they carried their five dead. Rodger Young didn’t need to worry any more about being responsible for the lives of his buddies… 

Two weeks later, the sweltering little island was in American hands… Company D’s captain composed a lengthy recommendation that Private Rodger Young be awarded the Medal of Honor.

You may never have heard of Rodger Young. You may have heard the name and even seen the roadside posting that honors Clyde’s Medal of Honor recipient. You probably have never heard of the ballad of Rodger Young…

The purpose here is that you hear about the Lord, Jesus Christ…

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”

2 Corinthians 8:9

“…Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

Philippians 2:9

Most of the branches of the military service had songs, but the infantry did not. The War Department assigned songwriter Frank Loesser…to write a piece for the infantry . . . suggesting he read the Medals of Honor citations for inspiration, and instructing him that he must only focus on infantry privates . . . not sergeants . . . not officers . . . but privates!

Oh, they’ve got no time for glory in the Infantry,

They’ve got no use for praises loudly sung,

But in every soldier’s heart in all the Infantry

Shines the name, shines the name of Rodger Young

Shines the name– Rodger Young–

Fought and died for the men he marched among,

To the everlasting glory of the Infantry–

Lives the story of Private Rodger Young.

If Rodger Young had not been demoted, there would have never been a song written and sung about him.

Is there a song in your heart for the Lord Jesus Christ who made Himself of no reputation for you and i? Can you praise Him as your Savior for His character that caused Him to desire to do the things that He has done for you?

“Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him…that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”      

Hebrews 2:12-15

I don’t mean that you are merely thankful for your food, for your family or your situation in life. I mean are you thankful for who God is that He would, through the Lord Jesus Christ, save your soul at a terrible cost to Himself?

If you are like me, you may have grown up knowing…and even believing… that Jesus Christ is God made man that came to die for the sin of the world.

Yet, like me, you may believe all of this and more and yet never have come to see Him as your personal Savior.

Is He your personal Savior?

In other words, have you ever seen yourself as a prisoner of the devil?

Have you seen that it is impossible for you to escape?

You and I by nature are doomed to share the same fate as the devil Himself in the lake of fire unless someone mightier than the devil saves us. 

In the Gospel, you and I are invited to a personal relationship with the eternal God. That relationship begins when we take the place that we deserve…Sinners bound for hell….Sinners incapable of eternal good…Sinners without a hope to stand before God without condemnation.

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation (the satisfaction) for our sins.”

1 John 4:10 KJV

It is an odd request for God to ask His Holy Son to be made sin for us. Yet that is exactly what has happened. (2 Corinthians 5:21) Receive His merciful offer of forgiveness now and you will also have a new song in your heart.


  1. Reply
    Marcy Sharman says:

    Great message, Steve! I can still remember the melody to the words you posted.

  2. Reply
    Jody Ospina says:

    I love the insight that the demotion of Roger Young was what put him in the position to save his 15 brothers and made it possible for a song to be written about him. God is always good all the time.

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