Godspeed Art Jackson, a Good Rifleman
Art Jackson died last month on Flag Day, at age 92. It was a fitting day to pass because Jackson loved and honored the flag. Every day at his Boise home, he flew the American and Marine Corps flags.
Most Idahoans know Jackson as the World War II hero who received the Medal of Honor for his bravery on the Pacific island of Peleliu, a fight called “the bitterest battle of the war for the Marines.”
But late in life Jackson championed respect for the flag, alerting those who failed to provide proper care for the stars and stripes and saying, “A lot of people died for that flag.”
PFC Jackson was prepared to do just that on Sept. 18, 1944, when three superiors asked if he could reach a large bunker near the water’s edge that was sending heavy fire at Marines.
“I told them that I thought maybe I could,” Jackson said in a remarkable 2002 interview with Gayle Alvarez of the Idaho Military Historical Society.
Jackson reached that pillbox and 11 others, single-handedly killing 50 Japanese soldiers. His Medal of Honor citation describes his “valiant one-man assault” that “contributed essentially to the complete annihilation of the enemy in the southern sector of the island.”
Jackson was 19 years old. Three days later, he was shot in the neck. After his recovery, he participated in the April 1945 invasion of Okinawa, where he was again shot, also in the neck. He later nearly died of malaria. When he finally sailed home in August 1945, his bunkmate was baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams.
The medal citation is full of superlatives. Jackson was “stouthearted and indomitable despite the terrific odds,” moved forward while “courageously defying heavy barrages,” and “stormed one gun position after another, dealing death and destruction to the savagely fighting enemy in his inexorable drive.”
Jackson had the Medal of Honor pinned on him by President Truman at the White House, rode in a New York ticker-tape parade, and rubbed elbows on a Hollywood set with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
And while Jackson was thrilled to have met so many famous people, he simply called himself a good man who had a lucky day.
“I have never considered myself a hero for doing any of the action I engaged in on 18 September 1944,” he told Alvarez. “I felt like I was always a good automatic rifleman….I have also been very proud to be able to wear the award on behalf of all those who were killed or severely wounded during the war.”
Jackson continued to serve, in both the Marines and Army. In 1970 he joined the Veterans Administration, carrying on his commitment to his brothers and sisters in arms. He retired in 1981 as manager of the Veterans Services Division in Boise.
Like so many American heroes, Jackson always honored the memory of fallen comrades and remained an amazingly humble man. Godspeed Art — we are honored to have met you and will keep your memory in our hearts.