JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
In a ceremony at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Oct. 2, the surviving family members of Bobby Joe Younger, a World War II bombardier killed in action in 1944, were presented with Younger’s military awards posthumously received from the Department of the Army.
Younger, the youngest of three brothers and two sisters, graduated from McKinney High School in McKinney, Texas, enrolled at Texas A&M University and then enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in June 1944.
The United States Army Air Forces was the premier aerial warfare service for the Army during, and immediately after World War II. At the time of his enlistment, Younger’s two eldest brothers and father were already in the service, supporting the war effort.
Younger was quickly promoted to staff sergeant while assigned as a bombardier in his first duty assignment. Within five months of his enlistment, at the age of 19, Younger would be killed in action Nov. 2, 1944, while serving as the bombardier of a B-17 Flying Fortress when it was shot down over Germany.
On Younger's 13th mission with the 91st Bomber Group, 8th Army Air Force, his plane, with a crew of nine, was critically damaged. Witnesses reported seeing the B-17 burst into flames and plummet toward the ground, crashing just southwest of the town of Barby. Three of the nine crewmembers survived and were captured; the rest were presumed missing.
In 1951, the American Graves Registration Command concluded that the remaining unaccounted for crewmembers perished in the crash. The exact location of their remains were unknown until three of the crew, Tech. Sgt. John F. Brady, Staff Sgt. Robert O. Shoemaker and Younger, were able to be recovered, and individually identified through DNA analysis, forensic identification and circumstantial evidence in 2017.
The recovered remains that could not be individually identified represented the entire long-lost crew, to include Tech. Sgt. Allen A. Chandler and 1st Lt. John H. Liekhus. The entire crew was honored with a joint ceremony and full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery June 27, 2018.
Maj. Gen. Patrick D. Sargent, an aviator and the commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Center and School, Health Readiness Center of Excellence, or AMEDDC&S HRCoE, hosted the ceremony in the headquarters’ building Hall of Honor at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.
“I can tell you that, from just the brief time that I spent with the family, it is a great honor for us here at the AMEDDCS HRCOE to be a part of such a great ceremony,” Sargent said.
Flanked by Medal of Honor recipients on one side and a Warrior Memorial on the other, Sargent added, “It is appropriate that we are standing in the presence of such greatness and I will tell you that this story of this young man who gave his last full measure for, as the wall says, ‘uncommon valor beyond the call of duty’ is impactful.”
In addition to a good conduct medal, campaign medals and the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster for serving honorably in sustained bomber combat operations over Germany and German occupied countries, Sargent presented the family with the Purple Heart on behalf of the Secretary of the Army for Younger’s wounds received in action resulting in his death. The awards were presented exactly one month short of the 74th anniversary of the combat mission in which Younger lost his life.
Three of Younger’s nephews, John F. Younger, Jr., Charles M. Younger and Bubba Brice, along with several other family members, were present to accept the awards on the entire family’s behalf. They spoke of the pain that their family endured not knowing if Younger had lived or died in the crash.
Many in the family wrote letters and did research to find answers over the years; Younger’s father and at least one of the sisters even traveled to Germany looking for their lost loved one.
Bubba Brice, son of the sister who was closest to Younger in age, recalled how surprised and emotional he felt when he got the call that the recovery operation, which began in 2015, had finally been successful. He wept at the thought of how happy his mother, the other siblings and Younger’s parents would have been to know that he was finally coming home.
“After all of those years, you all never gave up,” Brice said. “We are so blessed that you brought closure to us. We are all just so happy and we can’t thank you enough.”
In addition to the veteran’s marker that now stands in the crew’s honor at Arlington National Cemetery bearing the name “Bobby J. Younger” and various other tributes in McKinney, the final commemoration of this life of service will take place at Ridgeview Memorial Park in Allen, Texas. Younger’s remains will finally be laid to rest between his mother and father, as his family had hoped for all of these years.
Though Younger’s name is permanently inscribed in the “Courts of the Missing” Memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission, he is now listed as “recovered.” The Department of Defense will place a rosette next to his name on the Honolulu memorial when Younger is ultimately at rest in a known gravesite.
“It is a testament that over 70 years later, we are able to come together in this way, to honor this hero and his family,” Sargent said. “This is truly our mantra, to never leave a fallen comrade.”