Bob Young was born in Bakersfield, CA., on January 15, 1916. As a relay runner, he was to compete in the 1936 Olympics and would go on to win a silver medal. But despite these two historic (and very cool) accomplishments, Bob Young’s “coolest ever” accomplishment was a very unique one. He gave the finger to Adolf Hitler.
Bob was born and raised in the Weedpatch area of California. He attended Kern County Union High School (later renamed Bakersfield High). After graduation, he studied and ran track at Bakersfield College. It was at Bakersfield College that Bob met his future wife, Alice. Although giving Hitler the finger may have been Bob’s coolest moment, his greatest achievement in life would undoubtedly be his happy, storybook marriage to his beloved Alice. The couple were married for an astounding 71 years.
Bob and Alice only went out on one date at Bakersfield college before he headed off to UCLA. There, Bob studied economics and lettered three years in a row. Now 20 years old, he headed off to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, the youngest member of Team U.S.A. that Olympics. At the Games, Bob recalled “Every day, Hitler would come into the stadium and everyone would give him the ol’ “Heil Hitler” salute… sometimes, if the gestapo wasn’t around, we’d give him the finger.”
As mentioned, Bob’s relay team won a silver medal in Berlin, though of course he, and everyone else, were overshadowed by the immortal Jesse Owens and his capturing four gold medals at the legendary Olympic meet.
Young later graduated from UCLA in 1937. He and his amateur relay team set the two-mile relay world record shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, Bob’s promising amateur athletic career ended in 1938 when he pulled a hamstring. But this was to be a bittersweet moment for Bob Young. After his injury, he landed a job with Standard Oil, which brought him back to his Bakersfield hometown. And back to Alice.
They met again at the La Granada ballroom. The couple renewed their ties and fell in love. They were married on July 14, 1939. Bob and Alice raised two sons together, Michael and Gary. During World War II, Bob became an auditor and civilian administrative officer for the U.S. Navy at Terminal Island Naval Base & Shipyard in Southern, CA. After the war, Bob and Alice moved back to Bakersfield.
In 1955, he became a pioneering grape farmer in Paso Robles. The young family lived on their vineyard for 22 years, made friends, and sold their grapes to the Paul Masson Winery. Bob began enjoying a happy and deserved retirement in 1977. Bob’s happy retirement included being the proud grandfather of 9 and the great-grandfather of 22. “He was a very humble man”, recalled his son Mike, “He was just a regular guy.” Bob Young died on February 3, 2011, at the age of 95.
Bob was many things: husband for 71 years; proud father, grandfather and great-grandfather; winner of an Olympic silver medal; part of a world-record-setting relay team; successful grape farmer; and a guy who directly gave Hitler the finger. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.
If you liked this article and the Bonus Facts below, you might also like:
- The Olympic Swimmer Who’d Never Been in a Pool Until a Few Months Before the Olympics
- Origin of the Olympic Flame Tradition and the Nazi Origin of the Olympic Torch Relay
- The Official Olympic Salute Strongly Resembles the “Heil Hitler” Salute
- How Much Olympic Gold Medals are Worth
- Why Olympians Bite Their Medals
- There is a story that Hitler snubbed 4 time gold medal winner Jesse Owens by leaving the Olympic Stadium when he was supposed to be congratulating medal winners, including Owens. Owens denied the claim that Hitler snubbed him during the games, “Hitler had a certain time to come to the stadium and a certain time to leave. It happened he had to leave before the victory ceremony after the 100 meters. But before he left, I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back.” Hitler also later sent Owens an inscribed commemorative photograph of himself. Owens further went on to say, “Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The President didn’t even send me a telegram… When I came back to my native country, after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn’t ride in the front of the bus. I had to go to the back door. I couldn’t live where I wanted. I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler but I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the President either.”
- To make matters worse, when Owens arrived at his own reception party at the Waldorf hotel after a parade, he was not allowed to enter via the main doors and also was not allowed to use the normal elevators, once inside. Instead, he had to use a freight elevator to get to his own party.
- As to why Hitler didn’t seem overly bothered by black men winning over his “superior race”, Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, stated, “Each of the German victories, and there were a surprising number of these, made [Hitler] happy, but he was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. ‘People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive’, Hitler said with a shrug; ‘their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future Games.’”
- “The sportive, knightly battle awakens the best human characteristics. It doesn’t separate, but unites the combatants in understanding and respect. It also helps to connect the countries in the spirit of peace. That’s why the Olympic Flame should never die.” Hitler was already planning what would become WWII when he said these words during the 1936 Olympics.