The timing of their reunion in Gainesville — just before Veterans Day — couldn’t be more appropriate.
Combined, the military lives of Robert Young and his son, Marc, stretch back nearly 60 years and span the globe, including tours in some of the world’s worst trouble spots.
Their love for country and each other is deep and abiding, as quite evident.
“I try to get back home to see my dad every November around Veterans Day as a sign of respect for his service,” said Marc, traveling home from Maryland.
Robert, 77, struggling to speak because of a stroke suffered in 2004, also beams when speaking of his son, recalling once when the two shared a few moments on the front porch of his Gainesville home.
He recalled recognizing the potential in his son and saying, “They’ll promote you if you’re good, and you’re good.”
Robert joined the Army in 1955 and, in his first stint, served until 1958, including in Korea. He then returned to Gainesville, where he worked for the city Parks and Recreation Department.
“He held other odd jobs wherever he could find work,” said Malinda, his wife of 45 years.
Robert, who was a member of the Army Reserve, decided to re-enlist in the Army in 1966.
“He wanted to go back to school and he felt that the Army would afford him that opportunity,” Malinda said. “And that’s what he did.”
Robert ended up earning an associate degree at a college in Iowa, but he also saw combat duty in Vietnam.
“I liked the Army,” he said. “I’m a soldier from my heart.”
“You had to, to give them that much time,” said his wife, with a short laugh. “He had regrets when he got out, but he was set on getting out.”
During his service, Robert was a drill sergeant. He also taught marksmanship, a skill he had refined.
“He taught combat skills, so he enjoyed that portion of the military,” said Malinda, also a Gainesville native.
“He has nightmares of Vietnam now, but while he was doing it, I think it was something he wanted to do.”
Robert retired in 1985 at the rank of sergeant first class.
Marc, who graduated from Gainesville High School in 1990, didn’t consider the military until his father suggested North Georgia College, now University of North Georgia, in Dahlonega.
“I was going to go to the University of Georgia just because that’s where my brother (Lance) went,” he said.
He ended up getting a scholarship offer, which he accepted, and going to the school.
“My mother thought I took the scholarship because I just had this hidden desire to somehow be in the military, but really it was because my father was already working two jobs to put my brother through school,” Marc said in a phone interview from his Maryland home.
“It just seemed really selfish to turn it down and put more burden on my parents.”
But a military career apparently was in his future. Marc graduated from North Georgia and was then commissioned into the Army as a second lieutenant in 1994.
He later served in Haiti as part of Operation Uphold Democracy, as well as in Bosnia and Iraq. Along the way, he married a Gainesville High grad, Dawn Randolph, and the two have a 13-year-old daughter.
Marc said he didn’t start out particularly enthusiastic about the military, recalling how his first year at North Georgia was “pretty tough.”
“I wasn’t real sure, so I told myself, ‘Look, just give it a year and see how you like it,’” he said.
But then, in his second year within the Corps of Cadets, Marc got some responsibilities and “earned some rank.”
“It was a small assignment — I was a squad leader — but it was big to me,” Marc said. “I came to realize I was pretty good at it. I enjoyed it. I liked the leadership part of it and the camaraderie.
“It just jumped out at me that this could be my career.”
During his stint, he commanded tank companies at Fort Knox, Ky.
“I guess what I started to see there was how you leave your legacy in the military, how you touch a lot of people,” Marc said.
He later became a public affairs officer, with an assignment in Iraq in 2006-07.
Marc, 41, retired from active duty in May at the rank of lieutenant colonel after putting in his 20 years.
“I can do something else and retire again if I want to,” he said. “I wanted to get out at a time when I felt like I was at my prime. I’ve dragged my wife all over God’s creation, although I think she liked it. It’s just time to put some roots down.”
Today, he works as a consultant for the Army in Washington, D.C.
Looking back, Marc believes he was influenced by his dad’s service — even though he may not have known it at the time.
“He never really said I should consider the Army as a career, which is kind of surprising for my dad,” he said. “But what he did was instill Army values in our lives … and we just didn’t realize he was doing it.”
Those values included discipline and respect for others, “things I find I’m doing to my daughter,” Marc said.
Robert said he also talked to his son about leaving the Army.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you retire? Make the Army send you a check every month,” he said. “I felt good to retire.”
Watching their son rise in the ranks produced plenty of worry for his parents.
“Everywhere that there’s been conflict ... he was there,” Malinda said.
“The only thing that put me at ease a bit was when Marc called home,” she said. “I worried about him, with roadside bombs and all that.”
But they said they’ve otherwise been filled with pride.
That’s something Marc certainly feels for his dad, something many Vietnam vets didn’t get when they returned to a cool reception from the American public during that era.
“I was proud of my dad’s service,” he said. “I’m always proud to tell people my dad is retired from the Army.”