Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 1

History remembers the celebrated. Genealogy remembers them all.

Frederick L Jacobs has been a topic of genealogical curiosity for me. Like most my research subjects I never met him. He has been the topic of many stories, most of which are long on vagueness and short on detail. Fred was my husband’s grandfather.

Fred Jacobs spent a fair portion of his life haunting a bar stool at the bar in a small Michigan town by the name of Paris. His wife tended that same bar. Every day he could be found wearing blue jeans, a pocket t-shirt, suspenders, and his highly decorated American Legion hat. Fred was a popular relic in the small town farming community where he spent most of his life.

This blog series is my attempt at trying to trace his life during World War II.

Just a small town boy

I had all the genealogical vital stats on him. Fred Jacobs was born to Joseph Jacobs and his wife Eula Payton. Fred was the third son. He was born in Michigan on December 12, 1922. His family had recently made the move to the region from Cabell County, West Virginia in the months before he was born. His father, Joe, worked in the road construction industry.

In the Army now.

Fred was just shy of his 18th birthday when he enlisted in Big Rapids, Michigan on 15 October, 1940. He lied about his date of birth by a year when he signed paperwork to join the Army. He would spend the next 5 years experiencing some of the most brutal jungle warfare of World War II.

During his time in combat Fred Jacobs would be awarded the purple heart three times. With the passing of time, information about the circumstances of those awards is undoubtedly lost to time. The medals remain a token to his sacrifice while the sacrifice has been lost to history.

Like so many soldiers who served during World War II, Fred’s service record was destroyed. The disastrous fire in 1973 of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri resulted in near total destruction of a majority of the Army records held there. A request to the National Archives turned up one of the disappointing form letters and the offer of a scant scrap in the form of a last pay statement. So much valuable information up in a puff of smoke.

It would be easy to admit defeat and stop the search there. Call it a day and a lost cause. For years I did just that as I avoided devoting any precious research hours to the cause. I wasn’t motivated to dig deeper. Time and again conversations would turn to that old box of medals and those three purple hearts. Like a book unread it was time to crack the cover on this tale.

I turned my attention to the box of medals and military memorabilia. Inside was a red arrow patch. I had an enlistment card transcription. A mystery….and this series…was born with the effort to sleuth out details about Fred Jacobs and his service during World War II.

Dig Deeper

I started by learning more about the unit patch. He kept that red arrow, it had significance. The Red Arrow Division, a nickname for the 32nd Infantry Division, is a military division with a long and storied history. One of the units in the 32nd was 126th regiment. Company E was the National Guard unit called up from Big Rapids, Michigan on October 15, 1940. Big Rapids, Michigan was the station where Fred enlisted on October 15, 1940. Using this information I have tried my best to retrace what were his possible steps over the next 6 years.

In the fall of 1940 the United States was not officially at war. Tensions in the world were growing more strained and it seemed inevitable that the U.S. would be pulled into the world’s conflicts. That was the circumstance which led to President Roosevelt ordering over thirty-five thousand men to active duty on September 15, 1940 with a report date of October 15, 1940. The United States was preparing for war. Fred Jacobs enlisted in the Army.

Training

During the last week of 1940 the 32nd Infantry Division was ordered to Louisiana for training. The division would participate in a training action known as the Louisiana Maneuvers. The units traveled by train to Camp Beauregaurd in Louisiana for the first step in what would be a long journey around the world.

Infantry Soldiers of the 32D Division stand at attention in a company street at Camp Beauregard, LA.

Stay tuned for more about Fred Jacobs in my next post in this series.

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13 replies »

  1. I like how you describe previous stories about your husband’s grandfather: “the topic of many stories, most of which are long on vagueness and short on detail.” He sounds like an interesting person.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m thrilled you went and searched for the information on your husband’s grandfather! So many stories have been lost, many taken with them to the grave. I’ll be looking forward to more on Mr. Jacobs!!

    Liked by 1 person

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