Friends, family of fallen soldier remember his life, smile

By Daniel Silliman


It was a funny sort of smile.

It was a smirk, a grin, a sort of "smirky-grin," a good-humored tweak of his mouth, and it was infamous.

At Mitch Young's memorial services Thursday morning in Jonesboro, those who knew the man as a boy, and those who knew him as a Special Forces soldier, kept coming back to that smile. They kept remembering that expression.

Young's brother, Brent, said the last time the family took pictures, their mother kept telling Mitch to smile, but he wouldn't. He would pinch his lips, and stand at attention.

"But you could catch him," Brent said, "when he was relaxed, with that smirk."

Mitch Young died in Afghanistan on July 13, ten days after his 39th birthday. It was his fourth tour as part of the War on Terror, since he joined the Army in 1999. A Master Sergeant Green Beret, with a large collection of metals, including the Purple Heart and four Bronze Stars, he was on a combat reconnaissance mission when his humvee hit an improvised explosive.

He was the 546th American to die in that country during Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Green Berets who served with Mitch in Afghanistan in the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, said he loved his men and he loved a good fight, and they said they loved his "half-cocked grin."

"Mitch was a fighter and you always knew where to find him in a gunfight -- right in the middle of it," said the captain who was over him, in a letter read during the memorial.

Mitch's machine-gunner, the staff sergeant who rode in the back of his humvee in Afghanistan, said that "in a firefight, Mitch would get into a rhythm, and it was a comfort knowing he was beside you ... He would say, 'It's in my blood to fight, because I'm Irish,' and then he'd give you that infamous Mitch grin."

Those who knew and loved Mitch Young's grin gathered at Pristine Chapel on Wrights Lake, where he once played in the woods, and remembered him. To the music of "An Old Rugged Cross," his friends and family filled the pews, packed the aisles and crowded the chairs in the foyer in the back.

Bill Lacy, the family's pastor, said he asked everyone who knew Mitch as a child and, "it's entirely unanimous that everyone has great and fond and appreciative memories of Mitch, even the nursery workers."

Those gathered recalled the motto of the special forces, "De Oppresso Liber," which translates, "To Free the Oppressed," and they judged Mitch by the words of Jesus: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

"We are here," Bill Lacy said, "to say, 'Thank you Mitch. Thank you for my country.'"

L.C. Thomas, a family friend, said he was glad he got the chance to tell Mitch, before his last deployment in October, that he was his hero.

"God must have a special place for the Mitch Young's of this world, who give their all for freedom," Thomas said. "I call that real patriotism."

Thomas and others also remembered Mitch before he was a soldier, when he was a boy "full of energy and red hair." Everybody attempted to express the absence they felt, and struggled to say how much they will miss him.

"For me," said Brent Young, "Mitch will always be deployed."