APTOS — Don Young, a longtime Cabrillo College instructor and local author, died in his Aptos home on Oct. 22, at the age of 94.
He went from being a prisoner of war in Germany bombed by his own air force to becoming a revered teacher and scholar and writer of multiple books of prose and poetry.
As a young soldier during the Battle of the Bulge, Young and his comrades were swept up in the massive invasion of the Wehrmacht in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium in the frigid winter of 1944-1945 (beginning on Dec. 14). His regiment, the 422nd Infantry of the U.S. 106th Division, lasted only hours in the face of the German advance and he was captured along with 9,000 other GIs. The 106th Division was completely destroyed.
Young was wounded during the battle and was taken as a POW, first to a German hospital, which was the mistaken target of U.S. B-17s, even though it had the usual red cross markings on its roof. (It was later learned that one of Young’s fellow English faculty members at Cabrillo was a B-17 pilot on those runs.)
Then he was moved to a series of POW camps as far east as Poland.
Along with other POWs, Young managed to escape toward the end of the European war. After serving a second, brief imprisonment (they were held by the advancing Russian army), what followed was a long, dangerous trip on foot across war-torn Poland, Germany and final release in France. There, he spent more than a year in the hospital, being treated for wounds he had incurred and frostbite.
One of Young’s early novels, “The Lion’s Share,” is based on his war experiences.
Back in the states, he received a master’s degree from Harvard University and began teaching writing and literature at various schools (notably Williams College and the Webb School of Claremont, California) including 30 years at Cabrillo, before retiring.
Along with another Cabrillo English instructor, Fred Levy, he formed the Porcupine Theater Company on campus, staging short plays Young wrote and Levy directed.
After retiring, Young formed an off-campus Shakespeare study group which has been meeting for more than a dozen years. His partner in the endeavor, the late Jeff Towle, would present analytic insights into the plays studied while Young would explore the bawdier material and earthier interpretations.
In retirement, he wrote at least three novellas, a book of short stories, and 11 books of poetry.
Young is survived by his wife of 50 years, Viviane Young, a daughter, two sons and grandchildren.
There will be a private ceremony at the California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery later in the year.