For 38 years Joan Jacobson was the wife and then the widow of Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Douglas T. Jacobson USMC.
It was a big responsibility. When she married her Marine officer husband she knew nothing about the Medal of Honor or what it represented.
“I had no idea what the Medal of Honor was. I had never heard of it. I came from this little town in northern California. I was petty naive,” she said.
On Oc. 5, 1945 Joan’s husband-to-be received an engraved invitation to be present at the White House in his Marine dress uniform. President Harry Truman was going to present him this nation’s highest medal for bravery under enemy fire.
As a 19-year-old Marine, Pfc. Jacobson, a member of Company L, 23rd Regiment, 4th Marine Division stormed ashore on Iwo Jima. On Feb. 26, 1945 he knocked out a couple of Japanese machine gun nests with a bazooka, blew up an enemy blockhouse, killed the soldiers in a third pillbox and destroyed an enemy tank for good measure.
This was almost 20 years before he met Joan, his second wife. After graduating from college she taught grade school in northern California for four years before she set out to see what the rest of the world had to offer a 29-year-old unmarried teacher.
“I decide to go to work as a teacher for the Department of Defense. I wanted to go to Europe, preferably France or Germany,” she said. “In 1960, when I went down to find out more about a job as a teacher working on a military base, I got talked into going to Okinawa.
“When the teachers arrived at Okinawa (then under United States control) the Marines were waiting at the dock. They told us where the parties were. We could have gone to a party every single night,” Joan recalled with a smile.
A month later she went out on a date with Doug, a captain and company commander. The chemistry was right and they continued to date.
She didn’t know it at the time, but the new light in her life was in the process of extracting himself from a failed marriage. She also didn’t know he had three children, aged 1 to 6 years.
The year she spent on Okinawa she taught second grade at the Army base on the island. Doug returned to the states before she did and was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. When she got back, late in 1961, she found a nearby place to stay and continued her teaching at a school 20 miles from the Marine base.
“In February 1962 Doug’s divorce was final and we got married right away. The kids came to live with us,” she said.
Joan realized what the Medal of Honor meant when she and Doug were invited to President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Medal of Honor recipients are always invited to presidential inaugurations.
“At my first inauguration Kennedy was president. Kennedy really liked veterans. He did a lot for the Medal of Honor people,” she said.
“The accommodations for us when we attended something like this were usually wonderful. We stayed in the most beautiful hotels in Washington.”
However, that wasn’t the case when Jimmy Carter was elected president.
“When we went to Carter’s inauguration the accommodations were terrible,” Joan recalled. “We were stuck in an old motel in Arlington.”
Generally speaking, life as the wife of a Medal of Honor recipient was a never-ending curtain call for the two of them. Every time the Marines got a chance to put Doug on display for the rest of the world to admire, he was in the limelight and so was Joan during the 28 years he was in the service.
Then there was the annual or biannual reunions of the Medal of Honor Society. The group met all around the country year after year and those who received this country’s decoration for courage above and beyond the call of duty were expected to fall out.
These trips were paid for by the federal government. The host city, where the reunion was held, provided the accommodations and the state also kicked in some bucks.
“The first reunion I went to was held at the Los Angeles Hilton in 1965. The Medal of Honor recipients were honoring Bob Hope for all he did for the troops over the years,” she said. “We couldn’t go in the front door because there were hippies outside with signs that read: ‘YOU’RE KILLERS!’ They brought us in the side door,” Joan said.
It wasn’t all fun and games and parties for the Jacobsons.
“Doug had a lot of enemies. There were many higher ranking officers who were very, very jealous of his medal,:” she said. “One man, who had been at Iwo Jima with Doug, tried to have his medal taken from him.”
He didn’t get very far, because it was Doug’s company commander who nominated him for the Medal of Honor. He watched Doug’s heroics on Iwo Jima through his binoculars on the battlefield from a nearby hill.
Doug retired from the Marines in 1967. He and Joan moved to Punta Gorda, Fla. in the early 1980s. After his death, in August 2000, the state built a veteran’s nursing home in Port Charlotte.
Because Doug Jacobson was active in veterans’ service organizations, he helped establish the Marine Corps League and was one of three men with local connections who had received the Medal of Honor, his name was tossed in a hat when it came to naming the new soldiers’ home.
However, Joan credits the late, Clyde Prior, a fellow Marine and former head of the Charlotte County Veterans’ Council, and Roger Bumgardner, an Arcadia veteran, with spearheading the drive to have the new home named for her late husband.
‘I was still grieving for Doug when they had the ground breaking for the home. Watching the building go up really helped me with my grieving process,” she said. “Since it opened I’ve spent a lot of time at the home. I just feel closer to Doug when I’m there.
“It was thrilling being married to him. I just adored him. I guess I put him on a pedestal.”
In the two years since the home opened, Joan has become the matriarch. Whenever there is anything going on at the home she is there.
What was Maj. Douglas T. Jacobson’s view on being a Medal of Honor recipient?
“Doug told me: ‘I didn’t even think about it at the time because your adrenalin is pumping so hard. It’s kill or be killed. So you charge ahead and do what you have to do,’ Doug use to say. ‘There were so many others who deserved the medal, but were not observed.'”
MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION
The President of the United State of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of the Congress the Medal of Honor to:
DOUGLAS T. JACOBSON
Private first Class, USMCR
for service as set forth in the following:
Citation: Private First Class Douglas Jacobson for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, 4th marine Division, in combat against enemy Japanese forces during the seizure of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, 26 February 1945.
Promptly destroying a stubborn 20-mm antiaircraft gun and its crew after assuming the duties of a bazooka man who had been killed, Private First Class Jacobson waged a relentless battle as his unit fought desperately toward the summit of Hill 382 in an effort to penetrate the heart of Japanese cross-island defenses. Employing his weapon with ready accuracy when his platoon was halted by overwhelming enemy fire on 26 February, he first destroyed two hostile machine-gun positions, then attacked a large blockhouse, completely neutralizing the fortification before dispatching the five-man crew of a second pill box and exploding the installation with a terrific demolitions blast.
Moving steadily forward, he wiped out an earth-covered rifle emplacement and, confronted by a cluster of similar emplacements which constituted the perimeter of enemy defenses in his assigned sector, fearlessly advanced, quickly reduced all six positions to a shambles, killed 10 of the enemy, and enabled our forces to occupy the strong point.
Determined to widen the beach thus forced, he volunteered his services to an adjacent assault company, neutralized a pillbox holding up its advance, opened fire on a Japanese tank pouring a steady steam of bullets on one of our supporting tanks and smashed the enemy tank’s gun turret in a brief but furious action culminating in a single-handed assault against still another blockhouse and the subsequent neutralization of its fire power.
By his dauntless skill and valor, Private First Class Jacobson destroyed a total of 16 enemy positions and annihilated approximately 75 Japanese, thereby contributing essentially to the success of his division’s operations against the fanatically defended outpost of the Japanese Empire. His gallant conduct in the face of tremendous odds enhanced and sustained the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2006 and is republished with permission.
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