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LT. CMDR. IRENE YOUNG, USN (ret) 88-years-old

(November 11, 2009, Albuquerque, NM….)  Today is Veteran’s Day, 2009.  Each year I try to find a veteran and share a piece of history with those readers that follow my writings.  This year I had to look no further than two doors down the street where I live.  This is a brief story about my neighbor, Lt. Commander Irene M. Young, USN (ret). 

Irene is 88-years-old.  I’ve known here since 2004.  She lives two doors down from me.  All of us in our neighborhood know Irene because for the longest time she was the one heading up the neighborhood watch.  This little old lady was the one taking it upon herself to make sure the bad guys stay away from all of us.  Recently, Irene has not been herself.  Little by little her visits to the mailbox and to her neighbors began to decrease.  Then, last month, one of our neighbors found her in her home lying on the floor unable to help herself.  Emergency medical folks were contacted and Irene ended up spending three nights in the local hospital.  She’s back home now, but she’s not as strong as she used to be and she now has to depend a little more on others.  This is where I came into Irene’s world lately. 

Irene needs the help of the neighborhood and I happened to have some time these days to assist.  She needed a lot done and I figured this is what I must do for the time being while I’ve got the time and the opportunity.  So for the last ten days, I’ve spent hours on end each day, cleaning up Irene’s house, tidying up her yard and taking her to and from appointments all the while getting to know her life-story little by little, as she opens up about who she is and what she’s done.  Nobody in the neighborhood knew just how much work needed to be done at Irene’s home and most everyone else did not have the time that I have at the moment.  Irene and I came to an agreement of what needed to be done and I jumped right in to tackle the challenge of reorganizing her life and getting her back on her feet as best I could.  It’s been an interesting time but the most enjoyable part of this “job” has been the discussions about her life experiences particularly the parts about her time as an officer in the United States Navy.  Once again, I did not have to go half way around the world to meet a veteran to report on.  Again, it is one of my neighbors. 

Irene was born on November 5, 1921, in Westchester County, New York.  She was the fifth of six children and is of typical Irish-Catholic stock.  She is very hard-headed, stubborn may be a better word, but she has not lost one beat mentally and can keep up with me on current events.  She knows what’s going on all around her and all around the world.  When I’m working at her house reorganizing what seems to be a boatload worth of stuff from the past 20-years, she spends quite a bit of time talking to me about her life.  I think part of the time she keeps talking to keep me working, and the other part just to have someone listen to what she has to say.  Either way, it’s good for both of us and lots of work really does get done. 

In the summer of 1944, during WW2, Irene was 23-years-old and was already an accomplished registered nurse.  One day, she and two of her friends took ride into New York City to visit the Navy recruiting office to join up.  Turns out, Irene’s two friends, (whose idea this was) did not pass the physical and Irene did.  By the end of the day, Irene was on her way to Portsmith, VA for boot camp and her two friends were on their way back home to Westchester County, NY.  This would be the beginning of a 24-year career in the United States Navy for Irene. 

After a one month boot-camp in Virginia, Irene was sent to Brooklyn, NY for her first duty assignment.  She was quickly assigned as an operating room nurse and spent the rest of her career in Naval Hospital operating rooms all across the country and on a few continents as well.  As I listened to Irene rattle off the names of many of her duty stations I realized in short order that she really loved her life as a Navy nurse.  She has told me about her time in the Philippines, Japan, Washington State, Oregon, Camp  Pendleton, California and many other places.  Part way through her career she specialized in anesthetics and became an accomplished nurse in this field.  In those days, the nurse was in charge of administering anesthesia, a job that now requires one to be a doctor.  Irene has told me on numerous occasions that she knows more than many doctors, but being the good sailor she was, she kept most of that to herself.  But there were for sure times she got into situations where, as Irene puts it, “they got my Irish up” and she was forced to speak her mind, in order to save someone’s life. 

Now, looking at Irene these days, a frail, 5’4”, all of 110-lbs, and 88-years-old, one would on the surface think, “what a sweet little old lady”.  Well, after speaking with her for a while and especially working for her, it doesn’t take long to figure out that she also rose to the rank of Lt. Cmdr in the United States Navy at a time when it was pretty much an extremely male-dominated arena.  Lt. Cmdr Young can still hold her own and one must never forget that 24-years of working day in and day out in the operating room dealing with life and death situations makes one a pretty tough character, even at 88-years-old.  She is also a patriot who knows she pulled her own weight for almost a quarter century and is entitled to her views on world events.  Age has mellowed her to some extent and she is more concerned with all walks of life getting along rather than tearing each other apart these days.  But one thing still remains true in her being and that is her love for what she calls, “the greatest nation on the earth”, the United States of America.  And she has visited enough places around the globe to be able to make that statement. 

I asked Irene a pointed question today about what she feels about females serving their country these days while the nation is fighting wars on two fronts.  Without skipping one beat Irene replied directly and looked me in the eyes and said, “just this past week, the two heroes at the Ft. Hood, TX tragedy, were females.  The one police officer who took out the shooter, and the other female soldier who administered first aid not even knowing she had been shot”.  She went on to say how vital a role, whether male of female, each one has in serving their country.  She made a very good point. 

So, on this Veteran’s day, I must choose Lt. Cmdr Irene M. Young, USN (ret), my neighbor, two doors down, whom I’ve been working for this past ten days, to share with all my readers.  Lately, on several nights, my wife has made extra portions for dinner and we take it over to Irene’s house for her to eat.  Irene chows down pretty well and never complains about a thing.  We have had fun getting to know her a little more.  I hope the rest of the country enjoys this veteran of WW2, Korea and Vietnam as well.  I’m a better man for having gotten know this lady, especially this Veteran’s Day. 


Jim Spiri


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