ESCANABA - When World War II was gathering steam in 1942 and men by the thousands were entering the military, Don Jacobs decided to jump the gun and enlist rather than wait for his draft notice.
"I wanted my choice of the military so I enlisted in the Marines," he said proudly. "I knew that's where I wanted to be."
Jacobs grew up in what he good-naturedly calls "the back woods country" in the Village of Ralph. He attended school in Ralph through the eighth-grade and then went to high school for two years in Felch.
Holly Richer | Daily Press
It’s been almost 70 years since Don Jacobs, at right, served in the Marine Corps during World War II, however, the retired professional log-birler still wears a cap with the Marine Corps emblem with pride. He is pictured with fellow log-roller, Pat Ogle, as the pair watch a log-rolling demonstration in the harbor of Ludington Park during Escanaba’s Sesquicentennial Celebration in August 2013.
When his family later moved to Escanaba, Jacobs completed his last year of high school, graduating in 1942. After his enlistment, it wasn't long before he found himself being deployed to the Pacific where he was assigned to the Third Battalion, Eighth Regiment of the Second Division with a light/heavy machine gun unit and fired 81mm mortars.
"I was the No. 1 gunner in combat," said the 89-year-old veteran. "I was also trained in hand-to-hand Ka-Bar knife training. That's the best knives there were because they were made out of the best steel in the world."
When asked if he ever had to put his knife training into practice, he responded, "I was good at hand-to-hand use of that knife but not real often. But often enough," he added.
While serving in the Pacific for more than a year, Jacobs was involved in fierce fighting on Saipan and Tinian in the Mariana Islands and also in Okinawa where Jacobs said most of the fierce fighting took place. Although the Marines suffered many casualties during the battles, Jacobs said he was fortunate that he never sustained any serious injuries.
In 1945, while troops were amassed off-shore of Japan for an impending invasion, all activity was halted, much to the surprise of the invading forces.
"That's when the Atomic bomb was dropped on Japan," Jacobs said. "After that happened, we were all informed that the war was over. Some of the guys didn't believe it and asked 'What kind of joke are they pulling?' But it wasn't long before we learned it was true."
Despite the announcement of the war's end, military activity wasn't over for many of the Marines, including Jacobs, and he found himself a part of the first occupation troops in Japan.
"When we got to Nagasaki, there were hundreds of us that actually slept in the crater left by the bomb," he said. "We were never informed there might be a danger in doing that."
Even though the war was officially over, a number of Japanese military personnel staged attacks against the occupation forces.
When asked if there was any specific times when he was afraid during his months of fighting, Jacobs answered matter-of-factly, "Everybody gets afraid once in a while. Even during the occupation, we were afraid because most of the attacks were at night."
In spite of the dangers, Jacobs said the interaction the Marines had with the Japanese people was a very positive experience.
"The Japanese are truly some of the most wonderful people I've ever met," he said. "Unfortunately they were misled by the warlords and convinced they could actually take over the world."
Shortly after his discharge from the military, Jacobs married his wife, Norma Jean, and together they raised three daughters, Connie, who lives in Nebraska, Diane, who resides in a Chicago suburb, and Patty, who is at home in California. He also has one grandson, Alex.
Despite his many months of combat in the Marines, Jacobs never regretted his choice of military service and said if he had had a son, he would have been proud to have him serve as a Marine as well.
"Everyone knows that the Marines have the finest fighting forces in the world," he declared. "They have the greatest reputation and it's the toughest branch to get in. It's the kind of toughness I've lived all my life so I had no trouble at all fitting in."