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Opinion

With Veteran's Day only several days away and talk of war and heroism dominating the headlines, I feel compelled to tell you the tale of a forgotten hero.

It's the story of an average young man from a small town. He couldn't wait to get into the service. He tried to enlist at the age of 15 but had to wait two years before he could get his parents' consent to join the Marines.

He went through the usual basic training and within a short time he found himself on a military transport headed to some unknown Pacific Island called Roi. He went in with the first assault team and within a short time became a battle hardened veteran. The Marines took Roi in one day, then it was on to Saipan. Here the battle took a little longer and the fighting was much more intense. There were 260 men in his company when they hit the beach yet only 60 responded to rollcall when the battle ended. The next stop was a brief encounter on Taiwan. Here the young Marine was stricken with malaria. He recovered just in time to rejoin his company before they were thrust into the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history on the island of Iwo Jima.

The young Marine, now 19-years-old, hit the beaches of Iwo on Feb. 19, 1945. He described it as an ugly dirty island, barren and rocky and along with his fellow Marines they wondered why the US would ever want an island like Iwo.

Right from the beginning it was a battle of survival. He spent a lot of time crawling around on his belly while the Japanese threw everything at them. It was a matter of shoot and advance, shoot and advance, a few yards at a time. Much time was spent in foxholes fending off enemy counter-attacks. The Marines were encountering heavy resistance and the casualties were high.

On D-Day +6 this young Marine and his company were pinned down by enemy fire while trying to take a hill. After several Marines in his company were killed by the heavy fire, the young Marine at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, with his bazooka crawled into position and knocked out an A-20 millimeter gun. With enemy machine gun fire running down, he went after and destroyed two machine gun positions. He sighted a blockhouse (a big pillbox) that was picking off advancing Marines, He called for some TNT and attacked the blockhouse, blew it up into smithereens. Two Japanese soldiers managed to escape the blast and he went after them with grenades. He continued the one-man assault and destroyed six more pillboxes.

While his company regrouped, another company requested a bazooka man. The young Marine volunteered his services. He knew he was stretching his luck, but he went anyway. He neutralized a pillbox then opened fire on an enemy tank, smashing its turret making it inoperable. In the continuing battle he destroyed another blockhouse with his bazooka and neutralized its firepower. All in all the young Marine destroyed a total of 16 enemy fortifications and annihilated approximately 75 of the enemy.

For his heroic extraordinary actions the young Marine not yet 20 years old was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman. He came back to his hometown and received a hero's welcome, a parade in his honor, several dinners and many handshakes.

But it wasn't long before the glitter of the medal wore off. Offers and promises never materialized. Transition to civilian life did not go smoothly. He re-enlisted in the Marines, graduated from officer candidate school, served in China and saw duty in Vietnam. He retired with the rank of major and enjoyed a successful real estate career in New Jersey before moving to Florida. He died last year and is buried in Arlington. All the while, back in his hometown it was a case of out-of sight, out-of-mind. The town grew after the war, it expanded and flourished. New parks, new schools, new roads were built, many dedicated to prominent citizens, educators and other important distinguished residents. Many years passed and the hero faded to not even a memory. Nowhere in the town is the hero's name recorded for posterity. The forgotten hero is Douglas T. Jacobson. His hometown is Port Washington.

Bart Cosolito


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