VAFB's Young Road named for Oklahoma World War II pilot

  • Published
  • By Jim Malachowski
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Historian
Often the most frustrating projects are the most rewarding.
Team Vance's history states the Air Force renamed Enid Air Force Base for Lt. Col. Leon Vance on July 9, 1949. During the ceremony, the Great Salt Planes Air Force Auxiliary Field became Kegelman Auxiliary Field and the streets were renamed "in honor of Oklahoma men who were killed during World War II."
Unfortunately, the history of the men and women for whom the streets were named was not recorded. For example, research into the namesake of Young Street was difficult and continued to stall, as time had covered the details of his life.
Dogged determination sometimes pays off. A short note found misplaced in an old file drawer reported the street was named after Lt. Col. Ernest Young. A lucky search discovered Ernest Young attended Oklahoma State University. Soon, with the help of research librarians at OSU and in Redmond, Ore., some of his life was pieced together.
Ernest Young grew up in Indiana. He moved to Stillwater, Okla., in 1929 when his father, Dr. Vincent Young, took a teaching job at Oklahoma A&M College, now known as OSU. His mother, Gertrude, passed away in 1921. After high school, Ernest attended college in Stillwater, where he gained national recognition for his wrestling prowess. He graduated in 1938 and enlisted in the Army where he earned a commission and his pilot's wings. He commanded the 97th Fighter Squadron in North Africa in 1942 and served as the commander of the 82nd Fighter Group in August 1943 when it earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for actions in Italy. The 97th FS, now a flying training squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, is a sister squadron to the 5th Flying Training Squadron.
The group earned another citation less than two weeks later over Italy and again in June 1944 for a daring raid on Ploesti, Romania.
In just a few years, he had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with eight oak leaf clusters and the Silver Star. Colonel Young returned to the states and, with his wife, Alta, from Sentinel, Okla., and 3-year old son, Jimmy, moved in with friends for an assignment to the 4th Air Force's 317th Wing at Redmond Army Airfield, Ore.
Soon after, a C-45 transport plane carrying Colonel Young and Col. Earl Naiden, the wing commander, Lt. Col. William Moody, Maj. Frederick Zamboni, Chief Warrant Officer Clair Bensen and Sgt. James Barton crashed five miles north of the airfield on the morning of Sept. 20, 1944. Sergeant Barton catapulted through the side of the aircraft on impact and was the only survivor.
Colonel Young was buried in Stillwater on Sept. 30, 1944 and is remembered by Vance daily six decades later.