Former pilot recalls 'a very interesting life'

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FREMONT, Neb. (AP) — Don Young has had high-flying adventures.

From flying dignitaries, including a vice president, to soaring into the middle of hurricanes, the Fremont man has traveled the world.

Now 83, Young has many stories from his days of fighting polio to the months he spent in Vietnam.

"I've had a very interesting life," he told the Fremont Tribune (http://bit.ly/1snOFHd).

That life began during the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression. Born in 1931, Young was 6 when his dad quit farming and moved their family to Hubbell.

One night, Young went to bed with a terrible headache. The next morning, he couldn't get out of bed. His right arm and leg were paralyzed. A doctor told Young's parents that he had polio and to keep him in a dark room for 30 days. After that, Young was taken to Lincoln General Hospital. There were many polio patients. Some were inside the large iron lung breathing machines.

"Sometimes, they would lose somebody, because they didn't have enough iron lungs," Young recalled. "They had about seven. If a kid would come in and couldn't breathe and they didn't have an iron lung, he'd just pass away."

Doctors used the Sister Kenny treatment of hot compresses to help Young, who eventually regained strength and went home, but had to wear a metal brace for six months.

He began working at a blacksmith shop, which proved beneficial. Using a hammer built strength in his right hand and arm.

Young graduated from high school in 1950 and went to the Omaha School of Barbering. After getting his license, he worked in downtown Lincoln, where he earned 50 cents per haircut.

He later moved to Fairbury, where he earned 25 cents a haircut — but actually made more money from farmers who'd come to town for haircuts. He'd cut hair until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

"I cut a lot of hair," Young said.

Young joined the U.S. Air Force in 1951 and was in the upper 2 percent of his class at the aircraft engine and mechanics school. He became a mechanic and later a waist gunner on B29s. He later entered a cadet pilot training program and went to school, but had to leave after he married his first wife, June. Cadets had to be single.

He was stationed with the U.S. Air Force in Okinawa. The Youngs then went to Florida and as a flight engineer, he flew embassy runs, delivering mail and packages to Europe, Saudi Arabia, India and other places.

Next, Young was a flight engineer and crew chief stationed in Germany, where he flew aboard C-118 transport planes, hauling passengers and cargo.

One passenger was then-Vice President and former Presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey.

Humphrey and his family were going to a funeral in Norway for Trygve Lie, secretary general of the United Nations. Afterward, Humphrey, the son of Norwegian immigrants, wanted to visit the place where his parents were born and see relatives.

During the flight, Young went back to check on Humphrey, his wife, Muriel, their daughter, Nancy, and her fiancé.

Music was playing.

"His daughter grabbed ahold of me and danced in the aisle of the airplane with me. She just whirled me around a couple of times," he said, adding that Nancy's mom and fiancé laughed.

The crew accompanied the Humphreys to family picnics. Young remembers Humphrey as a nice, easygoing guy. Humphrey gave Young a pen and pencil set. Young still has the pen.

Besides Humphrey, Young would fly several generals, senators, congressmen and Sam Nunn, then chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services.

Young and his family, which included three children, Donald Jr., Donna and Regina, were in Germany for three years, before he went to Vietnam as a flight examiner on aircraft that flew American and Vietnamese soldiers and cargo. Often the Vietnamese soldiers came aboard with family and farm animals.

And while pigs may fly, they apparently don't do it so well.

One time, a 200-pound pig got out of a crate and went toward the nose of the plane and began tearing up wires. The owners didn't intervene so Young shot the pig.

"I didn't want him to tear all the wires loose and the nose gear not come down. We'd crash," Young said.

The owners were not happy.

After the plane returned to the base, the pig was butchered and put on a spit and cooked.

"And we ate it," Young said.

Another time, Young was on a plane when a bullet came up through the belly of the aircraft and ricocheted, sending pieces of aluminum flying everywhere. He still has a scar on his shoulder from that.

Young has a keepsake from a Vietnamese soldier, whose father had died, and wanted to go home. Young's aircraft wasn't going that way, but he found a plane headed toward the soldier's hometown. The soldier was so grateful that he pulled a ring, he'd made, off his finger and gave it to Young as a gift. Young knew it would be an insult not to take the ring, which has two crossed swords. It's too small for Young to wear, but he still has the ring.

After Vietnam, he was a flight engineer for C130 aircraft and had 20 engineers working for him.

He then went to Ramey Air Force Base in in Puerto Rico. Senior Master Sgt. Young was a Hurricane Hunter. As part of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squad, he and other crew members flew inside hurricanes, taking various measurements.

"When you get inside (the hurricane), it's nice and calm, but they want you to go down about 50 feet above sea level and look for water spouts," he said.

A water spout is a rotating column of water and spray formed by a whirlwind occurring over the body of water.

Did he have close calls?

"Everyone was a close call," he said.

Young retired from the military in 1974. He moved back to Nebraska and later became manager of an Elks Club. He did that for four years. He later sold insurance for Mutual of Omaha for 10 years.

After his second wife, Marcy, died in 2011, he moved to Fremont to be near family. He has several grandchildren and twin great-granddaughters.

"I still do a lot of things," he said. "I have a very good life."

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Information from: Fremont Tribune, http://www.fremontneb.com

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