COMMENTARY: “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
In my mind, the “Day that will live in Infamy” will be less remembered by history than what happened the very next day — Dec. 8, 1941. That Monday many Americans walked into military recruiting offices and volunteered to serve.
One of those, Jesse Jacobs, passed away last week at age 93. He was a friend of my uncle and myself for many years. While his death was not a surprise, the loss of this national treasure hurts. His friends and family mourn, of course, but there is mourning for the passing of a way of life symbolized by Jesse Jacobs and many more like him.
Even at an early age there were things he would die for. Country singer Randy Travis has a song, “Points of Light” that starts: There is a point when you cannot walk away. When you have to stand up straight and tall, and mean the words you say. There is a point you must decide just to do it because it’s right. That’s when you become a point of light.
Colonel Jesse Jacobs, Air Force Retired, was born in August 1923, so he was just 18 when WWII started. Like many in his generation he volunteered to serve in the military and was a B-17 pilot. Part of his training to fly the B-17 was in Hobbs, N.M.
Eventually he ended up in England. After the war he continued his military career and happened to be stationed in Japan when the Korean War started suddenly. That day he left his wife and child in Japan and flew to Korea to fight for freedom.
Jesse went as an F-80 fighter pilot. In the last seven years I have sat with Jesse as he talked about an America that went to war willingly and defeated the ones who intended to capture the entire world and hold everyone hostage.
Adolf Hitler intended to have his country hold all other countries for a thousand years. But he did not reckon on Jesse Jacobs and other Americans who ended his reign of terror at just 12 years.
Even talking about WWII is difficult in today’s world because we already know that the allies won. Italy, Germany and Japan were defeated and present no threat to us now. But in 1941 young men had to step forward and do their duty without knowing the outcome.
Some came back, and 420,000 Americans did not. Who knows what good they might have done if they had lived.
My uncle, who served in the Navy as a radar specialist for naval aviation, sat with Jesse many years. They talked quietly about that long-ago generation. I took my uncle to the senior citizen’s center Mondays through Fridays for lunch and enjoyed the history lessons.
My father entered WWII out of high school, at the outbreak, and retired in 1966 with 25 years of service. He was a combat photographer, and later taught photography at the Air Force School of Photography in Denver and Lowery Air Force Base.
My sadness is that, years ago, my parents died, while my uncle, who I cared for over many years, died last year. Now Jesse. We are losing those of that generation as, of course, age takes them. It will be my generation next. What bothers me is that, growing up with my “I like Ike” button, I was steeped in the understanding of what it took to defeat the forces of evil the last time there was a world war.
Much of that history is no longer taught in schools and we have people disrespecting our aged military veterans. That is their right, but it doesn’t make it right. I wonder: What will these who bash the military do if a country decides to take us over… a country like Russia, which is effectively a dictatorship?
Will they fight? It is doubtful. Even with patriots left, there is little leadership. I bid a farewell to Jesse Jacobs and all he stood for as a point of light. We are a lesser nation for his passing.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com.