The fighting to take the small volcanic but the strategically vital island of Iwo Jima was the site of the some of the bloodiest fighting in the U.S. Marine Corps history. Admiral Chester Nimitz said of the battle, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue”, where in fact 27 Medals of Honor were presented, 22 to members of the Marine Corps and 5 to US Navy personnel, four of which were Corpsman assigned to the Marine infantry units.
One of the most heroic of those stories was that of Douglas T. Jacobsen, a PFC in 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, 4th Marine Division. Jacobsen single-handedly in one day knocked out 16 Japanese positions, killing over 75 of the enemy including a tank which led to the successful operation of his entire unit. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman on the White House lawn on October 5, 1945.
Jacobson was born on November 25, 1925, in Rochester, NY and grew up in nearby Port Washington. He worked for his father as a draftsman and as a lifeguard before enlisting in the Marine Corps in January 1943 at the age of 17 before he graduated high school in New York.
After his recruit training at Parris Island, SC, he was assigned to the 23rd Marines at Camp Lejeune, NC before shipping overseas late in 1943. He there fought in the campaigns for Tinian, Marianas Islands, Marshall Islands, as well as Iwo Jima.
The 23rd Marines and Jacobson went ashore on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, and three days after the historic flag raising at Mount Suribachi, the 23rd Marines were fighting for mere feet at a time at Hill 382, the highest elevation on the northern part of the island, opposite of Suribachi. The fighting was so brutal there, the men called it “The Meat Grinder”.
With his unit pinned down, the 19-year old grabbed a bazooka and a satchel charge off a fallen Marine. Normally a bazooka was a two-man operation, but Jacobson was on his own. Moving forward under heavy fire, he blew up a 20mm anti-aircraft gun and killing the entire crew. Then under heavy fire, he moved forward and destroyed two machine gun positions. But he was far from done.
Still, under heavy fire, Jacobson knocked out two large pillboxes and seven gun emplacements. Then a Japanese tank which was putting heavy fire on the Marines was taken on.
An adjacent infantry company was attacking the flank and Jacobson volunteered to aid them. With the tank pouring fire into the Marines. Moving forward he fired several rounds of the bazooka into the tank’s turret, finally disabling it and taking out the crew. For good measure, he destroyed another blockhouse single-handedly moving forward and neutralizing it and the men inside. So fierce was the fighting, that despite these heroics, it still took the Marines three more days to take Hill 382.
Jacobson was asked by President Truman how he accomplished such an incredible feat, he said simply, “I don’t know how I did it,” he said. “I just had one thing in mind… to get off that hill.”
Jacobson was discharged in December of 1945 but found the job market stifling and decided to give the Marines another shot. He re-enlisted in April of 1946. He later went thru Officers Candidate School and rose to the rank of Major. He served aboard helicopters in Vietnam before retiring for good in 1967. But before that, there was one final test. His commanding officer informed him that Jacobson was one of the only officers in the Marine Corps without a High School diploma, having enlisted early during World War II.
His commander asked him to consider taking the general equivalency exam (GED) to accomplish this. He sought help from two of his captains and finally took the test and got his GED in 1967.
On the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, Jacobson was asked to speak at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, CA. There he remembered the brutal 36-day battle where over 7000 Marines died trying to take a small eight-square-mile speck of an island the Japanese were determined to hold onto or bleed the Marines dry in taking it.
Jacobson said, “those were the days that men were men and proud of it.” He added, “They never asked if the island was needed or if the war was just. When they were called to do their duty, they stood up and were counted.”
After retirement Jacobson and his wife, whom he met in Okinawa when she was a DOD School teacher from California, lived in Willingboro, and Marlton, NJ. He moved to Florida in 1987 and passed away there on August 20, 2000, in Port Charlotte, FL.
The state of Florida named a veterans nursing home after Jacobson in Port Charlotte.
Medal of Honor Citation
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to
PRIVATE FIRST CLASS DOUGLAS T. JACOBSON
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE
for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Third Battalion, Twenty-Third Marines, Fourth Marine Division, in combat against enemy Japanese forces during the seizure of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands, February 26, 1945.
Promptly destroying a stubborn 20-mm. anti-aircraft 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 February 26, 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 pillbox 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 ten of the enemy and enabled our forces to occupy the strong point.
Determined to widen the breach 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 stream 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 firepower.
By his dauntless skill and valor, Private First Class Jacobson destroyed a total of sixteen enemy positions and annihilated approximately seventy-five 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.
/S/ HARRY S. TRUMAN