Douglas T. Jacobson, a Hero of Iwo Jima, Is Dead at 74



This photograph was taken in 1995, at the 50th anniversity of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

These men received the Medal of Honor for actions during the battle

Robert Dunlap, Jack Lucas, Douglas T. Jacobson and Joseph McCarthy


By Richard Goldstein,, September 18, 2000


Douglas T. Jacobson, who received the Medal of Honor as a Marine private for single-handedly storming enemy positions on Iwo Jima, an action resulting in the deaths of 75 Japanese soldiers, died Aug. 20 at a hospital in Port Charlotte, Fla. He was 74 and lived in North Port, Fla.

He had congestive heart failure and pneumonia, said his wife, Joan.

Iwo Jima is often remembered for the photograph of five marines and a Navy combat medic raising the American flag over Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945. But the carnage on Iwo Jima, an eight-square-mile speck of volcanic ash, continued for 31 more days in what Lt. Gen. Holland M. Smith, the top Marine commander in the Pacific theater, would call "the most savage and the most costly battle in the history of the Marine Corps."

Private Jacobson, assigned to the Fourth Marine Division, had come ashore on Feb. 19 in an invasion by 75,000 marines ordered to seize Iwo Jima, which had immense strategic value.

Iwo Jima, halfway between Tokyo and the Mariana Islands, held two airfields needed as bases for short- range American fighter planes escorting B-29 bombers in raids over Japan and as emergency airstrips for crippled bombers unable to return from Japan to their bases in the Marianas. Defending Iwo Jima, about 700 miles south of Tokyo, were more than 20,000 Japanese in caves and concrete blockhouses.

Three days after the flag-raising, Private Jacobson, a 19-year-old from Long Island, carried out one of the war's most extraordinary feats in the assault on Hill 382, the highest point on northern Iwo Jima, at a sector so violent it was called "the meat grinder."

When the advance of Private Jacobson's platoon was halted on the hill, he grabbed a bazooka and a satchel of explosives from a fallen marine. The bazooka was designed to be wielded by two men, but he carried it alone. First, he destroyed a 20-millimeter aircraft gun and wiped out its crew. Then he knocked out two machine-gun positions, two large blockhouses and seven rifle emplacements. After that, he destroyed a tank and continued his attack on blockhouses.

When Private Jacobson had finished his foray, 16 enemy fortifications had been destroyed, and 75 Japanese soldiers had been killed. But it would take four more days before Hill 382 was captured. On Oct. 5, 1945, Private Jacobson received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman.

"I don't know how I did it," he said later. "I had one thing in mind - getting off that hill."

Douglas Thomas Jacobson was born in Rochester, N.Y., and raised in Port Washington on Long Island, the son of a carpenter. He left high school at age 17 to join the Marines and fought on Tinian and Saipan before the Iwo Jima invasion.

He came home to a hero's parade, but found that receiving the nation's highest award for valor did not necessarily bring a smooth transition to civilian life.

"The jobs turned out to be either $20-a-week office-boy jobs or being a salesman in order to wave the medal in a customer's face and dare him not to buy the product," he told a reporter.

He re-enlisted in the Marines in April 1946, graduated from officer candidate school after serving in China, saw duty aboard helicopters in the Vietnam War and rose to the rank of major.

When Major Jacobson was preparing to retire, his commanding officer decided there was unfinished business at hand.

"During my last month in the service, in 1967, the old man told me I was among the few majors in the Marines who did not have a high-school diploma and asked me to consider taking the general equivalency diploma test," Major Jacobson remembered. "After seeking the help of two of my captains, I returned the test and got my diploma."

After retiring from the military, Major Jacobson lived in Marlton, N.J., and Willingboro, N.J., and sold real estate. He moved to Florida in 1987.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Katherine Cheeseman and Joanne Jacobson of Punta Gorda, Fla., and Barbara Bernard of Lawrenceville, N.J., and two grandchildren.

On the 50th anniversary of the Iwo Jima battle, Major Jacobson joined President Clinton and other Medal of Honor winners in ceremonies at the Marine Corps Memorial.

On the 40th anniversary, he had spoken at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, Calif. He reflected on a 36-day battle in which almost 7,000 marines died and all but 1,000 Japanese defenders were killed.

"Those were the days when men were men and proud of it," he said. "They never asked if this island was needed, or if the war was just. When they were called to do their duty, they stood up and were counted."

Doug Jacobson was one of 27 Americans to receive the Medal of Honor at Iwo Jima, and one of only thirteen to survive to wear their award.  His death, along with the death earlier this year of Robert Dunlap, leaves only 3 surviving Medal recipients from the action at Iwo Jima.  They are:  Jack Lucas (USMC), Hershell Williams (USMC), and George Wahlen (US NAVY). 

Medal of Honor




Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 3d Battalion, 23d Marines, 4th Marine Division.


Place and date: Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 26 February 1945.


Entered service at: New York.


Born: 25 November 1925, Rochester, N.Y.




For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3d Battalion, 23d Marines, 4th Marine Division, in combat against enemy Japanese forces during the seizure of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Island, 26 February 1945. Promptly destroying a stubborn 20mm. antiaircraft gun and its crew after assuming the duties of a bazooka man who had been killed, Pfc. Jacobson waged a relentless battle as his unit fought desperately toward the summit of Hill 382 in an effort to penetrate the heart of Japanese cross-island defense. Employing his weapon with ready accuracy when his platoon was halted by overwhelming enemy fire on 26 February, he first destroyed 2 hostile machinegun positions, then attacked a large blockhouse, completely neutralizing the fortification before dispatching the 5-man crew of a second pillbox and exploding the installation with a terrific demolitions blast. Moving steadily forward, he wiped out an earth-covered rifle emplacement and, confronted by a cluster of similar emplacements which constituted the perimeter of enemy defenses in his assigned sector, fearlessly advanced, quickly reduced all 6 positions to a shambles, killed 10 of the enemy, and enabled our forces to occupy the strong point. Determined to widen the breach thus forced, he volunteered his services to an adjacent assault company, neutralized a pillbox holding up its advance, opened fire on a Japanese tank pouring a steady stream of bullets on 1 of our supporting tanks, and smashed the enemy tank's gun turret in a brief but furious action culminating in a single-handed assault against still another blockhouse and the subsequent neutralization of its firepower. By his dauntless skill and valor, Pfc. Jacobson destroyed a total of 16 enemy positions and annihilated approximately 75 Japanese, thereby contributing essentially to the success of his division's operations against this fanatically defended outpost of the Japanese Empire. His gallant conduct in the face of tremendous odds enhanced and sustained the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov