Bernie Young, Snowmass staple and WWII vet, dies
Bernard “Bernie” Young, a decorated World War II veteran who later fell in love with Snowmass Village and was a major part of the community, died April 23 at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 96.
Young helped start the Rotary Club in Snowmass in 1991, but his contributions to the area started before that. His son Ronald said this week that his father, who was born in Syracuse, New York, and went to college in Arizona, felt at home in Snowmass.
“We vacationed there when I was in college, and he fell in love with place in late 1960s,” Ron Young said Monday. “He bought a house on Sinclair (Road) a few years later and just loved being there.”
Bernie Young did well after the war when he returned to Arizona and started building houses. He built more than 600 custom homes and was able to retire at age 45, his son said.
After retiring he lived full-time in Snowmass and eventually built a house in Fox Run in the 1980s. He remained in the village until about 2012 when he became a snowbird, splitting his time between Snowmass and Arizona, Ron Young said.
In addition to his work with the Rotary and the Snowmass Chapel and being a ski instructor at Highlands, Bernie Young took great pleasure in attending a Bible study group in Aspen. Raised Jewish, Young enjoyed bringing a different perspective to the conversation.
“When he attended Bible study he attended as to give the Jewish view of the Bible in the world,” Ron Young said. “He liked the people there and had great respect for them. It was enlightening on both sides.”
Friends said Bernie Young was about engaging people in conversation and helping wherever he could.
Debbie Shore, who was a friend to Young later in life, said he was gracious, caring and an intellect. And he took great pride in discussing the Bible.
“He knew more about the New Testament than me and I’m a Sunday school teacher,” Shore said. “He was such an avid reader to the very end. He’d give us books and suggest books. He was so very up on every bit of politics and everything going on in the world.”
Perhaps it was his time in Europe toward the end of World War II that pushed him to be concerned and passionate about life. Shore said Young was haunted by some of the things he witnessed, including coming into a concentration camp after the Germans had left.
“He was in one of the first units at a concentration camp, and everyone had left but the prisoners. They saw the starving people and gave them their C-rations,” Shore recalled. “He said hundreds of people died the next day because they ate the food and it actually hurt their bodies. That added to their horrors.
“To have the food they gave them kill them was something I don’t think Bernie ever got over. It took great courage for him to talk about it.”
Young represented World War II veterans every summer in Aspen’s annual Fourth of July parade and was a regular at Memorial Day and other military-related events. He never held public office, but his life experiences were beneficial to those running Snowmass.
“I think his World War II experiences started his legacy as a dedicated community citizen,” Snowmass Village Mayor Markey Butler said. “He was outspoken in a constructive way, especially on development, and his advice and counsel to myself and on committees was always helpful and constructive. … You could ask Bernie to help with anything, and he always was the ‘yes’ guy.”
During a 2007 interview with The Aspen Times, Young said it took him more than 50 years to talk to his friends and family about his war experiences.
Young was part of the Army’s 75th Infantry that marched from Normandy in 1944 toward Berlin before V-E Day in 1945. During a Memorial Day service in 2007, Young said of his service in World War II: “I’m not a hero. I’m just lucky.”
He recounted his weeks along the front lines at the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944. He was 21 years old and a graduate of the University of Arizona. He watched as thousands of Americans were killed before the tide turned and the German forces were defeated by Jan. 25, 1945.
“The front came to us. … We got mauled,” Young said. “Half of our division was either wounded, killed or captured.”
Young later accepted the surrender of German General Fritz Heinrich Buechs and owned the parade sword he took from the commander.
Young said he did not talk about the war for so long because there was no therapy for battle fatigue in the late 1940s. Only after he read “Citizen Soldiers” by Stephen E. Ambrose, about the experience of a college student becoming a warrior, was Young able to open up about his experiences.
“I was just another of the dog faces,” Young said. “I left a lot of my buddies in Europe. … There’s gotta be a god up there watching me.”
Young, who was twice married and divorced, is survived by three sons and six grandchildren. A celebration of life is being planned for later this year.