Scheduled to post a blog here today, I knew exactly what to write about: my father. William Douglas Jacobs was born on August 9, 1903, and died August 7, 1990, two days short of his eighty-seventh birthday. He lived a long, rich life and left behind a legacy to be proud of. I’ve mentioned him before, so please indulge me while I take another walk down Memory Lane on this special day.
Dad would have been 115 today. Not that he wanted to live that long, but it’s amazing to me that he’s been gone for 28 years as of last Tuesday. I think of him often and remember so many good things about him.
We often hear about the importance of a mother’s influence on her children, and my sweet mother was the best. But fathers influence us, as well. While my dad wasn’t a hugger, he was a doer…a hard-working, self-motivated man. I never saw him back down from a challenge. If there was a job to be done, he would pitch in and help. I once saw him save a man who was falling down an elevator shaft on a naval ship we were visiting.
That volunteering was also evident ninety-nine years ago, right after The Great War ended. In August 1919, Bill “Red” Jacobs, age 16, joined the United States Navy. A family rumor claimed he lied about his age, enlisted when he was just 15, and fought in WWI, which ended on November 11, 1918. From his records, I discovered he enlisted after the war ended. Still, he saw a lot of action. Our navy sailed all over the world during those between-the-wars years. (At right is Dad in his Navy days. I always thought he looked like movie actor Spencer Tracy. My siblings and I own this picture. It’s not to be copied.)
Dad served as a hospital apprentice and later a machinist’s mate on the USS Henderson, USS Rochester, and USS Milwaukee and traveled to many places. Last month in this blog, I posted some pictures he took on his travels. It was an enriching experience to “see the world,” but he came to appreciate the United States more than ever. (At left is the USS Henderson from Wikipedia.)
While he was in the navy, he became a boxer. His once perfect nose had a bump in it from being broken…several times. He played football at a time when the men wore thin leather helmets and very little padding and often got hurt. But he came through all right. Back then, it was a mark of manliness to show off one’s injuries earned in a good, friendly fight. He always laughed while telling the stories of his scrapes.
Dad was discharged from the Navy in 1925. He worked at several Chicago newspapers as a machinist and photographer. In time, he met pretty Ruth Cain, a legal secretary, and they were married in July 1934 and started their family.
When World War II broke out, Dad wanted to go back in the Navy, but was considered too old. Not one to sit by while others defended our country, he served in the Merchant Marines, a vital auxiliary to the other branches of service. They carried supplies to various ships that were actively engaged in the fighting. That, of course, made them a target for the enemy.
Sometime in 1945, during a Japanese aerial attack on his convoy in the Philippines, Dad was injured when he was knocked from an engine room ladder deep within the cargo ship Katrina Luckenbach. It took some years for him to fully recover from that injury, but he never let it hold him back. He also faced danger when he was part of an armed landing party in Honduras or Nicaragua. Details of that event are sketchy. This may have happened in his navy days. (Above, Dad as a Petty Officer in the Merchant Marines during World War II. Copyrighted photo taken in 1944.)
After the war, Dad and Mom worked hard to raise their four children. My three siblings grew up to earn doctoral degrees in their areas study, and each became an esteemed college professor, earning many accolades along the way that made our parents proud. While I didn’t aspire to earn a PhD, I did earn a master’s degree and went on to teach college English and humanities while writing my twenty-five published novels (and more to come). (At right are our parents sometime near their fortieth anniversary.)
Although he worked as a newspaper linotype machinist for many years, Dad’s dream was to become a professional photographer. In his late fifties, he bought a photography studio and produced some wonderful pictures, from weddings to babies to graduations. But his favorites were the gorgeous scenic pictures he photographed. He was so eager to get deep into the mountains of Colorado that he bought a horse and learned to ride after turning sixty! His courage and determination taught me never to give up on my own dreams.
Even after retirement, Dad took a job as a school crossing guard. He loved to chat with the children under his care and scold them if they didn’t mind the safety rules. And yell at drivers who drove too fast in the school zone. Once again he was taking care of others, as he’d done all his life.
Dad was honored with a Navy burial, and his flag is in the box below. His last years were spent in Seattle, WA. At his request, his ashes were scattered over Puget Sound.
I clearly remember my father’s patriotism, integrity, and decency. He had a rough life early on, but he remained a man of character who taught his children to be responsible citizens. We could use more men like my father these days.
Happy birthday, Dad! And thank you for being such a good man.