COL. JACK JACOBS asked me to pass on his thanks for the warm hospitality he received when he visited Augusta last week. Jacobs spoke to 11 separate audiences including a large group of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, more than 100 middle-school children, to 800 soldiers at Fort Gordon and to a large group at the Augusta Museum of History.
He also personalized more than 500 copies of the new book, Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, in which the life stories of 116 living Medal-of-Honor recipients are profiled.
Since many Augustans were not able to attend his talks, let me share with you some stories he told, the points that he emphasized and the questions that he fielded.
HE WAS ASKED why he went into the military. He said that his father had fought in the South Pacific during World War II and that he felt an obligation to serve his country as his father had. He only intended to stay in the military for three years but ended up serving for 21.
He pointed out that he enjoyed the comradeship and sense of purpose of the military and learned many lessons that have served him well later in life. (Since he retired he has been an investment banker, the president of a real estate company and a television and radio analyst.)
A middle-school student asked him if he was ever really hungry and, if so, how long he went without food. Jacobs answered that on his second tour of duty in Vietnam (he earned his Medal of Honor on his first tour), his small unit was surrounded and all of the soldiers went without food for 10 days.
WHEN ASKED what he ate when he finally had food, he replied, "a large rat which had wandered into my bunker." He said it was delicious. He told the Boy Scouts about sleeping in a flooded bunker in chest-deep water only to wake up with an arm that was completely numb.
When he rolled up his sleeve his arm was totally covered by leeches. Time and time again Jacobs stressed that if you want to accomplish something important, you can overcome many obstacles and succeed if you try really hard and never give up.
HE ALSO TOLD stories of some of his fellow recipients of the Medal of Honor, all of whom are his good friends. He told the story of Jack Lucas, who was so anxious to join the Marines after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that he falsified one part of his application form and entered the Marine Corps at age 13.
Lucas earned his award on Iwo Jima for jumping on two Japanese grenades in order to protect his comrades from being killed. When he received his award from President Harry S. Truman in September, 1945, Lucas was still too young to fight.
He then went home to Hattiesburg, Miss., and reentered the ninth grade, since he had promised his mother he would complete high school when the war was over.
AT A NUMBER of his presentations, Jacobs showed a seven-minute video which featured very short interviews with more than 20 of his fellow Medal-of-Honor recipients. A few of their comments were especially powerful.
Brian Thacker: "I am the one who gets to talk about it. I get all of the glory. There are three grieving mothers still, whose sons were every bit as brave." Nicky Bacon: "There is something about the Medal of Honor. It is a privilege and an honor to wear it. We don't wear it for ourselves; we wear it for those who can't."
Lewis Millett, who fought in many campaigns in World War II, earned his Medal of Honor leading bayonet charges during the Korean War and served three combat tours in Vietnam, said, "We are a free country because a lot of people - white, black, yellow - gave their lives so you and I could live free, simple as that."
Ron Rosser: "A lot of people think that the great thing about the Medal of Honor is that it is awarded by Congress and presented to you by the president. But to me the real honor of the Medal of Honor was that a handful of young men who were with you at a difficult time thought you were worthy of it."
COL. JACOBS really enjoyed his visit. He kept saying to the audiences that he felt a real sense of community in Augusta, and he urged everyone to work hard to support both the community and the values that have made America such a great nation.
As I dropped Col. Jacobs off at the airport so he could fly on to Erie, Pa., for another series of talks and book signings, I asked him if he would come back to Augusta. His answer was, "Of course, with pleasure." When he returns, I hope even more people get a chance to meet and hear the message of this good and humble man.
(Editor's note: The writer assisted in the editing of the book, Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty. He lives in Augusta.)