Thursday, June 30, 2011
On rare occasion in life we are fortunate to meet a person who, although unheralded, is nonetheless larger than life. Several years ago I was granted such a privilege. Yet sometimes the full extent of the story does not surface until the very end.
I met retired Marine Corps First Sergeant Dan Jackman in 2005. He was standing outside our church in Victorville, California. He was in his late seventies, yet on this crisp Sunday morning he was waiting for an “old” man, nearing ninety, who lived across the street in the retirement home. The elderly man used an electric scooter and needed help transiting the slight incline on the ramp leading into the church. At seventy-six, rain or shine, every Sunday morning Dan Jackman waited to assist this gentleman in his passage. I came to learn this was only one of the things Dan did in service to his community.
Born in 1929, Dan was a farm boy from a small, central Utah community. In 1946, at seventeen, he enlisted in the Marine Corps as a private. Under the watchful eye and firm hand of the Old Breed—China Marines and WWII veterans—he became familiar with legendary historic Marine battles; Tripoli, the Halls of Montezuma, Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima, unaware that he would contribute to the legend of the Corps in yet another seminal and epic battle which would enter the annals of Marine Corps history.
In 1950, at twenty-one, Corporal Jackman was a squad leader with Able Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Division, one of Colonel “Chesty” Puller’s boys. As their company climbed the steep, rocky slopes of Hill 1081 and Horseshoe Ridge in the Chosin Reservoir of Korea, they had no idea of the critical nature of their mission. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops had entered what the United Nations called a “police action.” Faced with overwhelming and unexpected opposition, the 1st Marine Division was staggering from the onslaught and began to withdraw, a very difficult and dangerous maneuver. Able Company was assigned to guard the flanks as the division regrouped and ‘advanced in another direction’ through bitter winter weather with the temperature dropping to minus thirty-five degrees.
By the time elements of the division had passed beneath their tenuous hillside position, less than half of Dan’s company was alive to descend those slopes and join the remainder of the 1st Battalion. Their stalwart performance earned the praise of their division commander, General O.P. Smith.
As Corporal Jackman loaded his wounded Marines onto a jeep, they left in search of a medical aid station. One of his critically wounded Marines was a young, black private first class, newly in the Corps under President Truman’s recent integration of the military. As this small group of desperate Marines proceeded down the snow-covered, mountainous trail, they came upon another cluster of wounded men scattered by the side of the road.
A crusty sergeant raised his hand to halt the Jeep. He looked at the occupants, back toward his squad, and then turned to face Jackman. With a deep, southern drawl and remnants of nineteenth century racism, he spat out his words at the young corporal.
“I’ve got two wounded Marines that need medical help. Get that N----- off the jeep now.”
Without hesitation, Corporal Jackman slowly shifted the barrel of his M-1 Carbine toward the sergeant and looked the southerner in the eye. “Stand down, Sergeant. This private is one of my Marines. He stays.” A tense moment ensued and then Dan ordered the driver to proceed. The sergeant backed down.
Dan Jackman earned three Purple Hearts in Korea and fifteen years later, Gunnery Sergeant Jackman went on to be awarded two more in Vietnam. In between wars, Dan was Drill Instructor of the Year in 1958. He finally retired in 1968 as First Sergeant Dan Jackman and then continued to serve through a local Marine Reserve unit, giving speeches to service clubs and high schools for the remainder of his life. At the time I met Dan, he was still inspiring youth to fulfill their purpose in life.
I had over a two year friendship with Dan until he died in 2007. His home was a museum of Marine Corps memorabilia and I learned more than I ever knew about the Corps. At the request of his wife and with the assistance of a mutual friend, we prepared his body in Marine Dress Blues, replete with twenty-four medals and commendations, including the five Purple Hearts. As we respectfully dressed him, I could see the battle scars by which he had earned those tributes from a grateful nation. A former Marine myself, I was unable to stem the flow of tears as I performed this last service for my friend, thinking all the while of his selfless sacrifice to a nation he loved. He was, to me, the epitome of what Marines call The Old Breed.
I was honored to deliver the eulogy for First Sergeant Dan Jackman, a Marine’s Marine. Current and former Marines of all ranks and ages were in attendance. But that was not the end of the story.
As I concluded my remarks, an elderly black man rose to address the audience. At seventy-five, with silver hair and a weathered face, he recounted as if it were yesterday, the incident in the Jeep so many decades ago in Korea. He said that in 1950, long before it was politically correct to respect all races, Corporal Jackman had not seen a black man; he had seen a fellow Marine who was wounded and had saved his life. Not one Marine in the congregation was unmoved by his remarks.
As an author of military political thrillers, always using the Marine Corps as a backdrop for my stories, I dedicated the first volume of the State of Rebellion series to Dan Jackman. It’s the smallest of honors that I can provide for this quiet, unassuming patriot whom I call Friend, and who spent his life serving humanity.
As the Marine’s Hymn states: “ If the Army and the Navy ever looked on Heaven’s scenes, they would find the streets are guarded . . . by United States Marines.”
First Sergeant Dan Jackman has reported for duty.
By such men are we free!