Thomas D. Young, known by us as Tommy, was born October 8, 1949 and was killed in action in the Quang Tri Province of Vietnam on December 15, 1970. He was the son of Tom and Ardith Young and he was my big brother. Tommy grew up in the Dibrell community and attended school at Dibrell from 1955 to 1967. Tommy was a "Wildcat" and played on the junior high and varsity basketball team as a guard.
Our father was a veteran of World War 2 and served our country in the United States Navy. He had experienced the horror of war and like any father, he was concerned for Tommy's safety and urged him to join the Navy during the Vietnam Conflict due to the fact that the Navy was playing a less active role in Vietnam. Tommy feared that if he joined the Navy and something had happened to him my father would blame himself so he therefore like so many other young men during those times waited to be drafted into the Army.
He reported for duty on April 30, 1969 at Fort Campbell Kentucky where he received Basic Training. Tommy had a natural ability of being able to fix anything and this gift prompted the Army to send him to Fort Eustis Virginia. It was there he learned how to repair helicopters. After training, he was sent to Fort Stewart Georgia to implement his newly aquired skill.
During the Vietnam War, it was customary that the "minimum" tour of duty in Vietnam was 12 months, so when Tommy had less than twelve months remaining in the service, he along with our family was hoping he would be one of the lucky ones and finish his tour of duty here in the states, but as fate would have it this would not occur.
With only eight months remaining of his two-year tour he received orders to report to Vietnam as a Crew Chief on a Helicopter.
Tommy arrived in Vietnam on September 31, 1970 and was assigned to the famed 101st Airborne Division (the "Screaming Eagles"), which was based at Camp Eagle located just a few miles from the DMZ zone. He was very proud of being assigned to such a famous unit as the 101st, which gained their fame during World War II in Europe. The recent series being shown on HBO called "The Band of Brothers" features Company E of the 101st Airborne Division and Tommy always said that they had the coolest looking arm patch, which depicted the Screaming Eagle. Tommy was assigned as the unit commander's Crew Chief. This, he felt, provided a certain amount of safety due to the fact the commander, Major Jack Clark, was an experienced pilot. Like Tommy, Major Clark was from Tennessee, he being raised in Knoxville. In Tommy's letters home he often referred to the Major as the "Old Man".
A Crew Chief is charged with the responsibility of making sure the helicopter is flight ready and acts as a backup Door Gunner in the unfortunate event that the primary Door Gunner is injured or killed. Door Gunners were extremely vulnerable to enemy fire and their occupation had a very high casualty and loss factor in the Vietnam War. Helicopters were primarily used for reconnaissance missions and transporting troops into and out of front line offenses. During the brief time Tommy was in Vietnam he would fly over 36 of these dangerous missions. In one letter we received he would write "It rained all day today. I have grown to look forward to rainy days because on those days we don't fly".
It was on the morning of December 15, 1970 Tommy was flying a reconnaissance mission with Major Clark and the door gunner, Sergeant Gene Reyes. Flying along with Tommy's helicopter, which was referred to as a ship, was a Cobra Gun Ship to provide additional support in the event enemy forces were encountered. Tommy's ship encountered 51-caliber anti-aircraft fire and was struck in numerous places. A fire developed onboard but due to Major Clark's expert flying capability in maneuvering the helicopter the fire was extinguished. It was during this process that the onboard cargo became un-strapped and was causing the ship to become unstable due to the weight shifting. The door gunner, Sergeant Reyes, told Tommy to strap down the cargo and when Tommy left his seat, he was struck by one 51 caliber round which entered his body in the lower back and exited the side of his head. There was no doubt that Tommy died instantly. However, Sergeant Reyes, the door gunner, administered first aid during the flight back to Camp Eagle where Tommy was pronounced dead on arrival at the base Hospital. He was only 21 years old when he died.
Tommy had never been away from home during Christmas and had written in one letter how he wished he could be home with our family to celebrate the holidays. My parents had his body brought to our family home where many friends and family mourned his passing.
A short time later I received a phone call from Sergeant Reyes's wife. She said that her husband was distraught and somehow felt responsible for Tommy's death and had attempted to take his own life. He had been placed in an Army Hospital for treatment and was soon released from active duty. In 1998, more than 27 years after Tommy's death, I contacted the Reyes family to better understand the details of that tragic day but was informed that Sergeant Reyes had led a tormented life and had committed suicide in 1995. He too had become a victim of the Vietnam War.
Tommy was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, the Air Medal with 6 oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart and numerous other awards presented by the Vietnamese Government for his supreme sacrifice.
Over the years many of Tommy's friends have stopped by our family home after they had visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. and presented my mother with a pencil sketch of Tommy's name traced from the wall. These kind acts were very comforting to my mother and I. Honoring Tommy today is another event which I will always cherish. Thank You