Marine Corps Maj. Douglas Thomas Jacobson was one of more than two-dozen men whose valor earned him the Medal of Honor at Iwo Jima. The five-week fight on the tiny Pacific island was the Marines’ bloodiest battle of World War II, and Jacobson played a major role in winning a crucial part of that fight.
Jacobson was born Nov. 25, 1925, in Rochester, New York, but moved with his parents to Port Washington on Long Island when he was still a baby. He was an only child.
Jacobson attended high school, but he left before graduating to work as a draftsman for his father, Hans, who was a carpenter. He also worked as a lifeguard.
By 1942, World War II was raging, and he wanted to serve. Jacobson enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in January 1943 at the age of 17.
By December 1943, Jacobson was a private first class on active duty who had been transferred to the Pacific war zone as part of the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. He spent the next year battling in campaigns in the Marshall and Marianas islands. But the biggest fight of his life — and that of many Marines — was still to come.
On Feb. 19, Jacobson and about 70,000 other Marines stormed ashore on tiny Iwo Jima, an 8-square-mile island made of volcanic ash. Iwo Jima was crucial to the allies because its airfields were necessary for U.S. bombers to be within striking range of Japan’s mainland. Once the fight began, it didn’t let up for more than a month.
On Feb. 26, 1945, Jacobson’s Company I was called upon to assault Japanese defenses on Hill 382, the highest point north of Mount Suribachi that was used for field artillery and anti-tank positions. According to his Medal of Honor citation, it was the heart of Japan’s cross-island defense.
When the company’s anti-tank missile gunner was killed, Jacobson grabbed the man’s bazooka and destroyed an enemy 20 mm antiaircraft gun and its crew. The bazooka was a weapon meant for use by two people, but Jacobson managed to use it with deadly accuracy by himself when his platoon was pinned down by heavy enemy fire. He destroyed two enemy machine gun positions, neutralized a large observation fortification known as a blockhouse, then he took out the five-man crew of a pillbox before blowing up the bunker.
Jacobson kept moving up the hill, wiping out a hidden rifle emplacement. When he realized there was a cluster of similar emplacements near him making up the perimeter of the enemy’s defenses, he continued forward anyway. He was able to take out all six guns and 10 enemy fighters, which allowed allied forces to take over the position.
Jacobson wasn’t done, though. He was determined to widen the allied breach of Japanese defenses, so he volunteered to help an adjacent assault company. He neutralized a pillbox that had pinned down the company, then he opened fire on an enemy tank that had been raining gunfire on an allied tank. Jacobson then smashed the enemy tank’s gun turret and singlehandedly subdued another blockhouse.
With his fearless actions, Jacobson destroyed 16 enemy positions and took out about 75 enemy fighters. Hill 382 was finally captured by the allies after four days, and Jacobson’s efforts were an essential contribution to that victory.
The Battle of Iwo Jima didn’t end until May 26, 1945, and it was the bloodiest in Marine Corps history. Aside from Jacobson, 26 other Marines and sailors earned the nation’s top honor for valor for their actions.
After Iwo Jima, Jacobson was promoted to corporal. When the war ended a few months later, he returned to the U.S. and was assigned to Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
He received the Medal of Honor on Oct. 5, 1945, from President Harry S. Truman during a White House ceremony. Thirteen other men received the award that day, including fellow Marines Cpl. Hershel Williams and Lt. Col. Gregory Boyington.
Jacobson was discharged from the Marines in December 1945 but reenlisted the following April. He was discharged again in 1949 and spent a few years as a civilian before rejoining again in 1953. At that point, he went to Officer Candidates School to earn his commission, which he received in March 1954.
Jacobson was assigned to Camp Pendleton, California, before being sent to Japan, where he commanded a company of the 9th Marines. He met his wife, Joan, while he was there. According to a 2000 article in the Newsday newspaper out of Melville, New York, she was working for the Defense Department in Okinawa as a schoolteacher. They married in 1962 and had three daughters.
When the couple returned to the states, Jacobson spent several years serving at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. He went back to Okinawa for a stint before retiring out of LeJeune as a major in 1967. Before he did so, however, he completed one more milestone: he earned the high school diploma he never got as a teen.
Jacobson lived in New Jersey and sold real estate for many years before moving his family to Florida in 1987. His wife said he rarely talked about the war unless someone asked him about it. However, in those later years, he did spend time talking with schools and veterans’ groups, and he remained active in the veteran community.
Jacobson died Aug 20, 2000, at a hospital in Port Charlotte, Florida, not far from his home in North Port. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In his honor, the Douglas T. Jacobson State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Port Charlotte was named for him.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.