A note on Frank Loesser

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, my law school classmate and friend, writes to add a note on yesterday’s post on Frank Loesser. Justice Anderson comments:

Loesser also wrote “The Ballad of Rodger Young,” a song based on the true story of Rodger Young, a Medal of Honor recipient. The lyrics to “The Ballad of Rodger Young” can be found here. Rodger Young’s Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division. Place and date: On New Georgia, Solomon Islands, 31 July 1943. Entered service at: Clyde, Ohio. Birth: Tiffin, Ohio. G.O. No.: 3, 6 January 1944. Citation: 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 machinegun 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 machinegun 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 handgrenades, 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.

There are two other points about Young worth noting. First, as he was gradually losing his hearing, he voluntarily sought a reduction in rank from Sgt. to private, because he felt his hearing loss endangered the men he led. Second, Young’s bravery, and Loesser’s ballad, were also recounted in Robert Heinlein’s terrific 1950s novel Starship Troopers (which is where I first encountered his story; I didn’t learn of the connection to Loesser until much later).

Loesser’s “The Ballad of Rodger Young” was commissioned by the United States Army with the specific goal of honoring the Infantry private, not officers or NCOs. Absent Young’s insistence that his military rank be reduced, Loesser might very well have passed him by.

We should remember, always, the sacrifice of the Rodger Youngs. But we should also remember those who tell their story and, in this case, it’s the wonderful Frank Loesser.

Justice Anderson adds this note: “Stanley Frankel, in his online account of his war experiences, tells of witnessing the courage of Rodger Young. Chapter Four, found here, tells of these events. Frankel was, among other things, a speechwriter for Hubert Humphrey.”


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