By Greg Gielczyk
SPRING LAKE–Sam Young had a lot of firsts at Spring Lake High School.
He was a member of the first football team, the first wrestling team and the first graduating class in 1965.
He was what he called “a little bitty guard” on the football team and wrestled at 130 pounds.
“You start out as freshmen, and then we were sophomores so we were basically playing junior varsity teams and so on,” said Young. “But, we muddled through it okay. When we got to be juniors, and playing boys a little bit bigger than we were, it was a little tougher. As we gained experience, we got better.”
As far as wrestling went, Young said he had “ups and downs.”
Before each match, there would be wrestle-offs to decide who would get the varsity position for that night. Young says he competed in about two or three matches.
The Lakers wrestling team had a winning season in its very first year.
“It was a fun time,” Young said. “We had the best coach in the world (Tom Hickman).”
Hickman’s football teams were 66-38 in 12 years, with three conference championships, while his wrestling squads finished 68-13 and also won three league titles.
Young went to Ferris State University for a quarter, but decided it wasn’t for him.
“I’m a hands-on type of guy,” said Young. “That’s how I kind of got into the trades.”
He served in the United States Army from 1965-68, took his basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky and went to Fort Leonard Wood Missouri before shipping out to Vietnam.
A Specialist B-5, Young was a heavy equipment mechanic fixing bulldozers, cranes, earth movers … anything basically to do with road construction.
“That’s what I wanted to do when I went in,” said Young. “I had my choice of jobs and thought that would be kind of cool. I’d been working around town and stuff at a couple of the dealerships before I went in.
“We had some experiences while we were there. I traveled quite a bit with our earth moving platoon, that’s the guys that drive the bulldozers and heavy equipment.”
As earth movers, Young’s platoon occasionally found itself under fire, especially while working on Highway 1 in Vietnam, starting at the border gate at Huu Nghi.
It runs through the northern provinces (Lang Son, Cao Bang, Lao Cai) to Hanoi and Vinh through central Vietnam, including Hue and Danang, to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and south to Go Dau Ha in the Mekong Delta.
“We had mortar attacks, etc. at night, you know,” Young said. “It wasn’t any battlefield, so to speak, but there were some moments.”
Young was in Vietnam for the Tet Offensive, consisting of simultaneous attacks by some 85,000 troops under the direction of the North Vietnamese government.
The attacks were carried out against five major South Vietnamese cities, dozens of military installations and scores of towns and villages throughout South Vietnam.
“It was hell,” Young said. “I fought an ammunition dump fire. Like I said, there were experiences and moments that you go through.
“Being in the military definitely grew me up. It kind of set me on the straight and narrow, so to speak. Then getting married immediately after I got out kind of made me grow up some more.”
Young met his wife, Margaret, while he was in the Army and the couple were married immediately after he returned home from the service.
He has two sons, the oldest, Kenneth, and Jason. Both graduated from Michigan State University.
Kenneth Young lives in Dewitt and is a consultant for the Health and Human Services Department for the State of Michigan. Jason received his law degree from Southern Illinois University and works for the Attorney General of Illinois.
Sam Young has 13 grandchildren.
“I’ve been married going on 53 years, to the same woman,” Young, 75, said.
Young still volunteers selling tickets at football games and used to sell basketball tickets as well.