Don Youman has rushed to the front lines to save guys in war; he knows how to perform a life-saving tracheotomy using only a knife and the tube from a ballpoint pen. But what is most special to him now, in his 80th year, is faith—both the spiritual kind and its embodiment in the person of his 12-year-old daughter, Fayth.
Youman has eight children ranging in ages from 12 to 60. Four of his children were adopted. Three children still live with Youman and his wife Sharon. Their youngest was born at 24 weeks; she was only 12.5 ounces. Fayth Youman was called the “Coke can baby” by nurses because of her size. She has cerebral palsy, asthma and is blind.
“They keep us young,” said Youman. “I really don’t know why I am forgetting dates since I’m so young!”
Youman is known in the area as the go-to person when you lock your keys in the car. His business is called Moriarty Lock Service and he’s been locksmithing for 29 years. Recently he’s been thinking about retiring and selling his business. It will be the third or fourth retirement of his life.
Youman’s story began in Long Beach, Wash., where he would go oyster digging at the beach before school. Back then you would miss school if it was time to bring the hay in. No questions were asked. He hauled wood and did chores. Then, right out of high school, he joined the Army. When he returned home in 1955 he saw how hard his family members worked—always tired, always just scraping by. He decided to re-enlist. This time he joined the Air Force and trained to become a medic.
He remembers being at Kirtland Air Force Base after finishing his medic training. It was before there were highways and he took a drive east on Route 66. The East Mountains and the flatter land beyond were appealing and would call him back several years later.
As a young man he had been in Korea for the end of that war. The Vietnam War began while he was in medic training in 1955. “I saw heroic things and bad things during my time stationed in Thailand and Vietnam. Whole families laying dead; that was terrible. The blood and guts. I knew God was there because I would be in the middle of a battle just trying to stop a bleeding wound and call a helicopter. And somehow I never took a bullet myself.”
There was one special surgeon he remembers. As they worked together Youman learned the doctor was a veterinarian by trade. “He told me, ‘All the parts are basically the same’ and he was good, very good. It was great to work alongside him.”
When Youman retired the first time, he was at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque and he was 37 years old. It was 1973 and he had a pension. He decided to start his own business security service, spending nights on patrol. He had also spent time as a sheriff’s deputy. “But I didn’t like getting shot at. One time I had to shoot a young man,” he recalled. “It was most unfortunate but when someone is threatening you, you don’t have time to hesitate or think twice. The young fellow survived.”
In 1987, Youman let the daughter of a friend ride with him on a patrol. She was quite a bit younger than he, but they fell in love, and Youman’s second family began. His wife’s father taught him the locksmithing trade.
“I do this because I love it. It’s about helping people. I heard one lady’s little girl ask if they could go to McDonald’s and the mom said, ‘No. We have to pay the locksmith.’ I shook my head when she handed me money and told her to get that little girl a burger.”
Youman works out of his 1989 Toyota station wagon. “My hand shakes and I’d like to retire and just take care of Fayth,” he says. He is most grateful to his church family at Valley View, in Edgewood, because they recently donated a van with a chair lift so the family can get around.
“When I hear what is happening to some children in Albuquerque I get angry,” Youman said. “We like it out here in Moriarty, away from some of that violence. We moved here to be closer to Fayth’s doctors.”
As Youman reflects on his life and what he would like young people to know, he remembers a fellow who was seriously wounded. “I used his boot lace for a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. He was praying hard. I looked at his dog tag and it said he was an atheist. But like they say, there are no atheists in foxholes. I tell young people to get to church and believe in the Lord.”
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.