Sandra Stewart Holyoak: This begins an interview with Colonel Jack Jacobs on November 20, 2000 in Millington, New Jersey with Sandra Stewart Holyoak and …
Bryan Barroquiero: Cadet Bryan Barroquiero.
Matthew Angeleri: Cadet Matt Angeleri
Captain Paul Pigeon: Captain Paul Pigeon.
SSH: Colonel Jacobs, we'd like to thank you very much for taking time out of your day to talk with us. This is the first time we have been able to have the ROTC participate in these stories. And to begin, I'd like you to tell us when and where you were born and then talk about your family, your father and mother, please.
Jack Jacobs: I was born in Brooklyn in 1945, a few days before the Second World War ended. At the time, my father, was serving in the Army in the South Pacific. He had fought in New Guinea, and then when the war ended, he was in the Philippines, in Manila, I think, and then he came home. He was an electrical engineer by trade. He'd gone to Brooklyn College and, subsequently, to the University of Minnesota. I don't think he got an opportunity to finish his degree because in 1944, they needed everybody they could possibly get, and so off he went. When he came back from the war, he went to work for Western Electric, which through many evolutions is now Lucent. But at the time, after the war and for decades afterward, it was the manufacturing arm of AT&T. He became a microwave engineer and was instrumental in changing everything over to digital and microwave technology. He retired about 20 years ago, just before I retired from the Army. He also was born in Brooklyn, as was my mother. We lived in New York City after the war, in a Quonset hut just across Grand Central Parkway from LaGuardia. I recall that there was no fence around the airfield, so you could just walk across Grand Central Parkway, where there wasn't much traffic because not many people had cars, and up the slope and right onto the active runway, and I just marched across Grand Central, retrieved my kite, and walked back across to my house. My house was a converted barracks, made out of tin, fairly common at a time when veterans were returning, the economy was a mess, and there was something of a housing shortage. It housed two families, divided by a wall into two residences, each with a kerosene space heater. We lived there until the city built a number of housing projects, particularly in Queens, where they had a lot more space, and in '50 or '51, we moved there. These are six story projects. They still exist, and when I lived there, they were brand new and filled with the families of veterans and their families getting back on their feet after the war.
SSH: It was just in time for you to start elementary school.
JJ: Yeah, I started elementary school when I was still living in the Quonset hut.
SSH: Do you have any siblings?
JJ: I have a sister, who is two and a half years younger. She lives in Demarest, New Jersey. She's got two children. And I have a brother who lives in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, and he has two children. He's ten years younger than I am. Anyway, we moved to New Jersey in the mid-'50s, and my parents still live in the same house in Woodbridge. I went to Woodbridge High School, and then, from there, I went to Rutgers.
SSH: Why did you pick Rutgers to go to school?
JJ: It was a very good school that was also inexpensive. And to be quite honest, I was intolerably lazy. I did very well in high school, as a matter-of-fact, but I just couldn't be bothered to go through the gyrations of applying to seventy-three thousand different schools and getting interviewed. The administrative hassle was more than I could bear. So I just applied to Rutgers early and got accepted, and that was the end of it.
SSH: [laughter] Well, tell me a little bit about growing up. Did your father talk about World War II at all?
JJ: No, not when I was growing up. He does now, though. With the experience of living with me all these years, my wife will tell you, the older an old soldier gets, the more he talks about the past. When the family gets together now, my father tells the same stories over and over again, and it's a tribute to their veracity that they don't change, so he's not embellishing them all. We've heard the same stories for years, but it wasn't until he was older that he started telling stories.
SSH: Did you have extended family? Were your grandparents living in the same part of New York?
JJ: My grandparents came from different backgrounds. My father's parents emigrated from Greece during the Balkan Wars, but they met in Brooklyn, where many Greek Jews had settled, and were married there. My father's family was quite small: he is an only child and only had a few cousins, all but one of whom are now dead. My grandfather, my father's father, died the week my parents had planned to get married in 1942, and so they postponed it a little while. But his wife, my grandmother, lived until she was well over ninety, and her father, who also emigrated from Greece, lived to be one hundred. I remember them both. … I was about six or seven years old when my great-grandfather, a genuine character, died. So they come from very long-lived family. My father's eighty-one now, and he's in great shape, plays racquetball every day…and now tells stories about the Second World War. My mother's family came over about the same time, but they came from Eastern Europe when the first serious pogroms of the Twentieth Century were taking place. Her father came from Czestochowa, Poland, and her mother came from Romania. My mother's family, unlike my father's, was very large, and I have hundreds of cousins. We used to have a family get-together on my mother's side of the family and you had to hire Yankee Stadium for room big enough for all of them. Hundreds of cousins, many of whom I've never met. When their names are mentioned, I often don't know who they are. "See, you remember Joe." "Which Joe?" "You know, Uncle Max's Joe." "Which Uncle Max?" There were four Uncle Maxes, and twelve hundred Uncle Joes and so on, and so it was impossible to tell who's who without a photograph and a lineup.
SSH: Did your parents meet in school?
JJ: No, they met, near as I can understand it, and all this stuff you have to take with a grain of salt because everybody embellishes all this stuff, at a party. My mother was going with some guy and he was having a party for some friends and my father was one of his friends, or his friend's friends. … He went to the party and my parents met there, and that was the end of that between my mother and her old boyfriend.
SSH: Did they marry at the time because of World War II?
JJ: Oh, no. They'd known each other for quite awhile before they got married, I think. And I don't think they got married because of World War II because they married in '42, and my father didn't go overseas until '44.
SSH: Do you know if your father used any GI benefits?
JJ: No, I don't think he did. Although there was no GI Bill until after the war, I believe he may have gone through ROTC when he went to the University of Minnesota. I think he was supposed to get a commission, but the Army needed soldiers and said, "All you guys whose name starts A through M get on the boat." It was one of those kinds of things. "But what about my commission?" "Shut-up. We'll make you a sergeant instead." You've got to remember, there was something like sixteen and a half, seventeen million people under arms. It was now late in the war. And there was a point system, as you know, as well. If you were in combat, you got a certain number of points, wounded, more points. If you were married, points, children, points, and so on. So guys who were married and had children, who had fought in combat more than n months, got shipped home. It required a constant supply of people. So it's not surprising that towards the end of the war, in many respects the toughest part of the war, saw a requirement for enormous numbers of fighting men. The government also expected that we would have to invade Japan eventually, requiring still more men. So they really needed lots of manpower by '44. Anyway, my father was going to go in at any case, and the only reason that he was deferred at all was because he had a relatively important skill set. But in the end everybody went.
SSH: Okay. Well, tell us about your education in New York and then coming to New Jersey. What was the move like? At that point, had you already picked something that you were really interested in? Were you in the Boy Scouts?
JJ: Okay. My education. I went to public school, to PS 83 in Queens, which is now probably a rehab center, or something like that. I lived in a, don't forget I was living in the projects. The housing projects, populated predominantly by veterans' families, were more or less a cross section of society. There were guys whose fathers were ditch diggers, and there were guys whose fathers were rocket scientists. But it was not a cross section in another respect. In this neighborhood everyone was either Catholic or Jewish. Nobody in my neighborhood knew what a Protestant was, and I didn't meet a Protestant until I was eleven years old. There was a kid named Billy. He had some sort of Welsh name, Thompson, or Evans, or something. Anyway, he seemed like a nice kid, and we asked him if he was going to St. Rita's, or he was going to the synagogue. He said, "I'm not going to either one of them." "What are you talking about?" And the kid says, "Well, I'm Protestant." And I remember, there must have been a dozen of us looking at one another incredulously, thinking, "What is he talking about? What is this kid? What's a Protestant?" So it was a fairly closed society as far as religion was concerned. Otherwise, though, in terms of socioeconomic strata, it was very, very diverse. That would be very, very evident some years later, like in the mid-'50s, when people started to disappear to the suburbs. If you made more than three thousand dollars a year, you were no longer eligible to live in city housing, and they threw you out. So in the mid-'50s, the professional people began leaving the neighborhood: to New Jersey, to Long Island, to Connecticut and bought their own houses. So that's when the tight fabric of this post-war New York society started to change a bit and to unravel in a way. It was not necessarily in a bad way, but the neighborhood wasn't the same afterward.
SSH: Did you suffer from any sort of anti-Semitism?
JJ: No. We were all just the guys, you know. So you had Joe Rinella and Jack Jacobs and Mike Meleski and Eddie Dwyer and Harry Salomon. And it was a very cohesive place. We rolled cuffs into our jeans and played stickball and did all the things that you see in movies that try to evoke the era. And it was a very, very cohesive neighborhood. You could walk outside without any danger of being accosted or attacked. It was a very tight neighborhood, I recall.
SSH: What were your interests then?
JJ: Baseball. And a girl named Bonnie who lived around the corner. [laughter] She had blue eyes. And school. My life was baseball and school and girls named Bonnie.
SSH: How hard was it to make the move to Jersey?
JJ: Not difficult. Maybe it was easy for me because I'm very flexible and I love an adventure. But I think sometimes adults overestimate the stressful impact of change on children. Children are very flexible. My recollection is I didn't want to leave, but we're going someplace new and I made friends right away, and that was the end of that. By that time, in New Jersey, I was in sixth grade, and I made friends and I made enemies, as everyone does. It was not difficult for me to move.
SSH: Did you have any contact back with the old neighborhood?
JJ: Never did. No. Never met, or saw, or heard of anybody again.
SSH: What did you do for interests now in this new area that you were in?
JJ: As always, baseball, school, and girls. [laughter] And, of course, new vistas were opening up to me because I then went to junior high school: Barron Avenue School in Woodbridge, which had been the high school and is a very classic building. It's exactly what you'd expect of a high school that was built in the late Edwardian era to be: high ceilings and big windows and a big auditorium. It actually had grass and trees. This was hot stuff. I mean, when we lived in the city I never saw any trees unless we went out to Central Park, which was infrequently, because it was across the river. So this was the big time, a real school. There were a lot of new activities for me, like writing and being involved in extra curricular activities. Of course, it's not any different than any other kid goes through. I mean, you make the move from going to elementary school to middle school, it's like aging ten years. Overnight, you grow ten years, and so that was very exciting to me.
SSH: What were you favorite subjects?
JJ: What did I enjoy the most? I enjoyed English and history. And I enjoyed gym because, instead of engaging in much physical education, we goofed around, singing a cappella and generally acting immature. And we made fun of everyone else. Convinced that we were infinitely more intelligent than the gym teacher, who was the football coach and actually a very nice guy, we made fun of him all the time. We were convinced that he was brain damaged in some fashion, so we'd drive him crazy all the time. In retrospect, it's clear that he was just tolerating us. Subjects I disliked the most, the single subject I disliked the most was reading. And not because I disliked reading, but reading was taught in the most oppressive manner imaginable. We were not streamed in any fashion, so in my reading class, there were guys who had already read Tolstoy backwards in the original Russian, on the one hand, and at the other end of the bell curve there were people who were barely literate. I recall a kid named, I think, John Hall, a big, hulking character. I hope he doesn't come over and kill me, or something like that, but he was a complete and utter numbskull. He was more or less functionally illiterate, and he was so old in eighth grade, we were all convinced he already had a couple of kids. I'm exaggerating, but you know what I mean. And so instead of streaming us, they throw us all in the same class. They'd go up and down the row, and they'd say, "Okay, Bob, read this paragraph." And Bob would read the paragraph in about three microseconds. And they'd say, "Okay, John, now you read it." The whole rest of the period was taken up, painfully, listening to poor John Hall trying to read this paragraph. It was oppressive, and, of course, it made that one forty-five minute period seem like the whole rest of the day combined. It wasn't until I got to high school that it finally dawned on them that maybe what they ought to do is to put people who can think properly together in the same class. But back then, we weren't as enlightened, theoretically, as we are now. So my junior high school days were intellectually extremely painful. It's not that I was a rocket scientist, or anything like that, but it was just, it was very, very slow. It was geared dimly to the most common denominator.
SSH: Did you participate in sports in junior high school?
JJ: Not in junior high school. There weren't any organized sports, but we did things like dancing, which I thought was great. I looked forward to it. It was every Tuesday. I thought that was first class. Not ballet dancing, dancing with the girls. [laughter] We played a lot of baseball, of course. We played baseball even when there was snow on the ground, and so on, 'cause we loved baseball. But no organized sports.
SSH: Were you involved in Little League?
JJ: I was in Little League, and I was actually pretty good. I was a shortstop for a while, but my arm was not so good, so they put me on second base. I was a much better second baseman because I didn't have to throw so far, and I hit well and I was fast. And then, of course, everybody grew up. There were kids, even then, kids who were my thirteen-year-old height but who were only ten years old. They were huge, and, of course, I couldn't compete with them, so I dropped out of organized sports by the time I went to high school. But I found other pursuits. I worked for the literary magazine and the newspaper, and I liked making fun of people, and so on I was in the drama club, at least partially because it was an easy way to meet girls. And, you know, anything for an audience. You didn't meet a whole lot of girls if you play baseball with guys all day long, but if you were in plays and all that stuff, you met lots of girls
SSH: You said administratively that's how you wound up at Rutgers. Can you tell us what it was like to come to Rutgers then?
JJ: It was exactly as I expected it to be. You know, very few things are like that. There are a few things in my life that have been exactly as I expected them to be. You know you see pictures of places and you say, "Oh, yeah. I know what that's like." You know exactly in your mind what the ambiance is like, and then you go there, and you realize that they cropped the photo. I'll tell you a great example of this. Have you been to Egypt? Anybody been to Giza where the pyramids are? Do you know what he area really looks like? It's not what you imagine. If you do an about face and look the other way, there are strip malls in Giza, a suburb of Cairo. Cairo is the biggest city in the world, in terms of the population. They have no idea of how many people are there. They think there may be twenty-five million people in Cairo. So you look this way, and there's the Sphinx and the pyramids, and so on, and it looks exactly like a Ronald Coleman movie. And you do an about face, and it looks like East Brunswick. I mean, I'm exaggerating, but not much. But Rutgers was what I expected. By the way, another place that was as I expected was Vietnam. It had the same ambiance that I expected. Rutgers did, too. I knew that you had to work very hard and nobody was going to help you. I'll give you a great example of this. I started out in engineering. You don't mind my drinking all this coffee? Good, because I'm too lazy to get up and make myself some more. I was an engineer to start with. I had visions of being a chemical engineer. Eventually, I got a degree in political science because I wasn't focused enough to be an engineer. Are you an engineer?
PP: History, sir.
JJ: How about you?
BB: Bio, sir.
JJ: All right, well, you had to take calculus as a freshman, didn't you?
BB: I am a freshman.
JJ: You are a freshman, so you are taking calculus?
BB: No, I'm taking pre-calculus, sir.
SSH: [laughter] Eventually.
JJ: Well, so much for that, ladies and gentlemen. [laughter] You're supposed to say, "Yeah, I take calculus." Never mind, anyway, so I took calculus. You had five-credit calculus. So it's every day, it was an hour and fifteen minutes, five times a week. My professor, I don't know if he's even still alive, let alone still there. He was the head of the department, the math department. His name was Barlaz. My calculus class was in the river dorms. Blackboards on three walls and windows on the fourth. Professor Barlaz would walk in, grab a piece of chalk, and start writing equations. He'd silently write equations across to the windows, move to the next blackboard, and when he got to that point where he came in, he'd walk out, never having said a thing. [laughter] And if you didn't do your homework, you had no idea what this guy was doing. It was all hieroglyphics to you, not a clue. I didn't do very well because I didn't have the sense enough to say, "Well, you're not doing very well, you need to do something about it." So I wasn't necessarily intellectually immature, but I was not as disciplined as I should have been. Part of it's because high school had come so easily to me. I didn't think I necessarily had to work hard, and I eventually realized I did have to work hard. So from that educational standpoint, I was surprised. And some of the other courses were similarly rigorous. I don't know if they still have it, I had two-credit physics. Now physics is not that difficult, if you're paying attention, and because it's only two credits, there are only two forty-minute periods a week, no lab, no nothing. You can't cover anything in that time, so you either do what you're supposed to, you either teach yourself, or you're out of luck. They just assumed that people who were going to be engineers would be able to figure out all this stuff by themselves, and if you were mature enough, you would. Actually, I did okay in physics, only because it's a relatively easy subject. But if I was surprised about one thing, it was the amount of work that was required of me on my own. Otherwise, the physical plant, ambiance was exactly as I had expected.
SSH: Where were you housed?
JJ: I was in Demarest, on the third floor in a room about the size of a broom closet, with a guy named Peter Van der Sluis. Peter Van der Sluis was, according to him, a direct descendant of William of Orange. I believe it because he was not the kind of guy who would just drop names. He was from Jersey City and was majoring in agricultural engineering. He made it through one year, and he disappeared, never to be heard from again. I made friends with a number of guys. There was a three-man room on the floor below, and it had the strangest assemblage of guys that you've ever seen in your life. One of them looked like and acted exactly like John Lennon. You've got to realize, this is before the Beatles. One of his roommates was a guy named Dave Beronato, who ultimately left because his grades were very poor. Then, I think, he became a cop in Jersey City, or something like that. Dave Beronato was a nice guy, and though not necessarily intellectually challenged, he also was not going to win the Nobel prize, either. The third guy, was absolutely brilliant but had no discipline whatsoever and drank too much beer and got thrown out. He was the biggest waste because he was smarter than all of us combined, and [he] just didn't focus his attention and got thrown out. There were two other students who were in this friendly mob: a fellow named Al Tannenbaum. We called Al Tannenbaum "Boo Boo." To this day, he's the only guy from Rutgers I ever remember seeing again. Al hated being called "Boo Boo," but we called him "Boo Boo" because of JD Salinger. In Salinger's Nine Stories, one of the stories is Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut, and the protagonist of the story is a woman named Boo Boo Tannenbaum. So, naturally, we called Al "Boo Boo," because Salinger was all the rage back then. By the way, although everybody should read Catcher in the Rye, it's amazing, in my old age now going back to read it, how puerile it really seems. I'm not surprised it appeals to youngsters and adults who are puerile. [laughter] It's not that it's bad writing. It's perfectly good writing. It's just that it's not very sophisticated writing. In any case, the five of us were great friends. Everybody wound up leaving Rutgers early, except for me, and I graduated on time. Boo Boo dropped out initially. Actually, he got kicked out and then reapplied and finally got a degree in philosophy from Rutgers. He became … and is still is…a very, very accomplished, award-winning photographer. He's had many covers on Time and Newsweek. I saw him some years ago, and "Boo Boo" had not changed a lick. You know how you say that about people, and it's something of a cliché. You can't say, "Gee, you disgusting person, you look like you're a hundred fifty-three years old. I can't believe it." Right. So you say, "You haven't changed a bit." But Boo Boo is one of those guys to whom you could say, "You haven't changed a bit," and you wouldn't be lying. The guy had not changed. He was, you know, fifty years old and looked the same as he did when he was eighteen. Anyway, so that was our mob, and I was the only one that went through in four years. You know how it is. You make friends very, very quickly. There are people to whom you gravitate right away. For one reason or another, they become your pals, and if they last long enough, they stay your pals for four years or more. I got out and left Rutgers and left the academic environment altogether and went to work for the government and then started a new life all together. I never ran across anybody from Rutgers until years later. But when you realize that I led a relatively unusual life, in the Service, it's not surprising that I never ran across my Rutgers mates
SSH: Tell us a little bit about the social life at Rutgers.
JJ: I was married and I had no social life. I went to school full-time, and I had a full-time job and a part-time job.
SSH: Did you marry after your freshman year?
JJ: Yes, and I lived in married student housing.
SSH: Where was that at that time?
JJ: That was across the river. But to quote Yogi Berra, "It was "deja vu all over again," because I lived in a tin hut with two families, one on either end, married students, with kerosene space heaters, all over again, more than 20 years after living in the same sort of accommodations in New York.
SSH: Did you have mandatory ROTC?
JJ: I got there just as they made it elective.
PP: Were you happy about that, sir?
JJ: I was ambivalent. I joined it for a number of reasons, not the least significant of which was that they paid me twenty-seven bucks a month. When I got into the Army, I went airborne for the money. It was a hundred and ten a month. There's no particular reason why, necessarily, I would jump out of an airplane. But I was making two hundred dollars a month in basic pay and got a hundred and ten a month for jumping out of airplanes, so I said, "Sign me up." The same thing was true about ROTC: a bit of extra money, and then you got paid during the summer camp, too, on top of everything. There were few scholarships then, but twenty-seven bucks is twenty-seven bucks a month.
SSH: Did you join as a freshman?
JJ: Joined as a freshman and I quite enjoyed it. It was the camaraderie, and I realized that I was doing something that was quite serious. I thought that the whole prospect of being involved in the military made a great deal of sense to me. I didn't think about going to war, I can tell you that. I thought about being in ROTC and studying and working and so on. I did not think about getting shot at. Now at that time, this was '62, so the number of people we actually had in Vietnam, at the time, was exceedingly small. So that was not on anybody's mind.
PP: What made you, sir, gravitate towards ROTC? Was it from the influence of a friend?
JJ: That's a very interesting question. No, no friend talked me into it. When did I decide to join ROTC? I'll tell you when I decided; it's very interesting. I decided the summer before I went to Rutgers. Rutgers sent me an information packet, which I read voraciously, and I pre-planned my whole four years. I'm going to take this course, you know, Advanced Engineering Materials, and Uses of Polyvinyl Chloride 101, and so on. And they included a pamphlet on ROTC. I said, "This is kind of interesting. Yeah, I think I'm supposed to be involved in that." I can't tell you what the thought process was other than that at an early stage of my looking at the catalog that I decided that I was going to be in ROTC. The prospect of making twenty-seven bucks a month came afterwards, because the first two years, you got nothing but credit. You didn't get any money. So it was kind of one of those things when, over the summer, I decided I was going to do it.
SSH: When you signed up for ROTC for the first two semesters, where did you go that summer?
JJ: Nowhere. It was just an academic course like any other academic course. I don't know what they do now, but then it was military history, which I found very interesting. You had drill on Wednesdays, when 1500 students marched around in Buccleuch Park. By the way, as an aside, let me say that there is a Duke of Buccleuch to this day, and he lives in a manor house in Hampshire in England. He also has a fabulous automobile museum, which finances maintenance of the estate. But in any case, there is such a guy and he used to own much of what is now New Brunswick, I believe. The other thing which motivated me were the military professors, active duty Army officers who ran ROTC. We had a couple of very good ones, smart guys who, just by example, convinced me that I should go into the Army. They never said, "I think you need to go into the Army. I think you should go on active duty." They never said anything like that. I encountered one, Captain McVey, years later when he had become a Brigadier General. The other was Captain Blackledge, and I recall running across his son when his son was a Lieutenant Colonel. Perhaps the biggest influence on me was a Captain named Word G. Bizzell. Ultimately, he resigned from the Army and became a lawyer. He went as a captain and got promoted to be a major, and I went over there as first lieutenant. They all impressed me because they were grown-ups. They had what I thought was a very good, a very mature take on life. They were educated men. They impressed me because they weren't so completely eaten up with the vagaries of the intellectual life that they didn't understand what life is really about. They were balanced people. Their personalities were balanced, too. These people were selected to be ROTC instructors because they were good performers in their chosen line of work. So they had also had a good balance of seriousness, on the one hand, and a sense of humor, on the other. You could sit down and talk to these guys. You could make a joke with them, and they'd find it funny. [laughter] I mean, I don't want to name any names, because maybe some people are still in academia. But there were people in the History Department, for example, and in the English Department, whose intellectual capabilities one could never question. But Jesus, you couldn't have a conversation with these people. You couldn't make a joke about Dryden, for example, or construct a double entendre about something that Barbara Tuchman wrote. To get back to my original point, I think the single most significant independent variable in my decision to go into the Army, as a career, was this handful of instructors in the ROTC I mentioned. Those three officers, in particular.
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SSH: This is side two of tape one.
PP: When you decided to enter ROTC, were you deciding on a life afterwards?
JJ: I was decidedly not doing that. Don't forget the ROTC has gone through a number of phases. When I came to Rutgers in 1962, ROTC was not mandatory, and even if you got a commission, it was a commission in the Reserve and active duty was not only not mandatory. Don't forget that the world had changed dramatically by the time I was graduating in 1966. They needed lots and lots of officers, particularly infantry officers. But at the time, in 1962, ROTC was not mandatory and getting a commission did not, perforce, mean that you were going to serve any active duty. If they need lieutenants, then it's mandatory. They don't need lieutenants, then it's not mandatory. Do you have a scholarship?
MA: Yes, sir.
JJ: Do you have a scholarship?
BB: No, sir.
JJ: All right, if you've got a scholarship, they want their pound back. So they're going to get it one way or the other. I'm not being pejorative here. So back then, there were no scholarships. You got paid, as a junior and a senior, twenty-seven bucks a month. Then they instituted a scholarship program, but now, there's ultimately a cost to the student. There's a cost to everything, you'll discover. The ROTC program has gone through a number of changes all tied to manpower requirements and how easy it is for the services to fulfill their manpower needs. Now it's tough, so you're going to serve. Back then, early on in the war in Vietnam, they didn't need anybody, so, no, they didn't want you. You had to apply for active duty, and you didn't always get it. You would have served two years on active duty, with a Reserve commission, and then you were in the Reserve for years afterward. By the time I graduated, I was highly motivated to be in the Army in any case. Later on, still in the Army, I returned to Rutgers for a Master's degree at in International Relations and Comparative Politics and then went to the Military Academy at West Point to teach.
PP: Sir, at the time, was Army ROTC your only choice, or was there an Air Force program or Navy?
JJ: Never Navy. I don't what you've got now. There was only Army, Army and Air Force.
BB: That's what we still have, sir.
JJ: That's all you have? I joined the Army for a number of reasons. First of all, my vision isn't perfect, I wore glasses, and if you wore glasses, you couldn't fly. The end. And so I didn't know what I would be involved in, if I weren't flying I didn't want to be in the Air Force, so I decided that I was going to go into the Army ROTC instead. Also, there were a lot of things of interest to me that I could do in the Army and far fewer things that I could do that were of interest to me in the Air Force. I thought it was a binomial exercise in the Air Force. Either you were flying jets around, having a great time shooting the bad guys out of the sky, on the one hand, or on the other hand, sitting behind a desk. But in the Army you could be infantry, or armor, or artillery, or something else interesting. Don't forget now, I was too young to realize that, in actual fact, there are other guys on the other side of the trenches, who were also infantry, armor and artillery, trying to kill you. This didn't even dawn on me. [laughter] This did not enter at all into the calculation. It didn't dawn on me until later when people were actually trying to kill me. But, at the time, I just choose the Army because I thought there would be more interesting, exciting things to do.
PP: So you were looking for something more hands on?
JJ: Yeah, I think so. That's a good point. I was looking for something more hands on, and I don't know why that is, I'm easily amused, perhaps. [laughter] Maybe that's the reason.
SSH: Could you talk a little about your ROTC experiences and how you became a Ranger?
JJ: I think the same thing that motivated me to be in the Rangers was the same thing that motivated me to be in the Army ROTC rather than the Air Force. It was a perception that it was not particularly interesting to me to just kind of march around, which is all those guys did, by the way. I can tell you after having been in the Army for twenty-one years, if I had a dollar for every parade I've been in, I would be a very wealthy man. I'd be sitting on the beach. I've been in a lot of parades, and I hated them all. I hated being in parades. I hated practicing for parades. I hate looking at parades now because I was in so many parades, and I didn't like any of them. And all the Army ROTC guys did, and near as I can tell, and all the Air Force ROTC guys did, was march around. What's the name of the drill team?
SSH: Scarlet Rifles.
JJ: Yeah, do you still have that? Scarlet rifles: marching. It's marching. It's just more marching. It's better marching, but it's still marching. But I joined the Rangers because they did other things. Now, forget for the time being, and especially in retrospect, the stuff that they were doing, was only marginally more interesting than marching around, but it was more interesting. They ran, for example, and you did tactical exercises. You sort of employed the things that these instructors were talking to us about. It was more interesting. It was also a smaller coterie of cadets. They became friends. It's a bit like forced perspective. You're jammed into a smaller unit with men who are doing the same thing you were doing and, of course, you made friends. So it was marching…or real Army stuff. So no matter how onerous it was, low-crawling through mud, for example, and being on patrol all night, it was still more interesting than marching around.
SSH: You truly hated parades. [laughter]
JJ: I did not like parades, even then. And I remember, one time, when I was battalion commander down in Panama, we had a changed-of-command parade. It was a separate brigade, so the brigade commander was not a colonel, he was a brigadier general. And he had this absolutely enormous, spectacular change-of-command ceremony because the general was a complete nut of a martinet. The ceremony rivaled any inaugural, and it was only missing a live firing of atomic weapons to be truly spectacular. This general was a total numbskull. And I'll talk about him, perhaps, later on. But in any case, we had to practice this parade for what seemed like most of my adult life, for weeks and weeks, thousands of troops practicing marching. By now I'm, thirty-seven years old. I don't want to do that any more than I wanted to do it when I was seventeen, and I've got all these poor soldiers standing out in the hot sun doing this. All it did was reinforce my original, untutored perception that marching stinks.
SSH: Can you discuss how the Rutgers campus was changing and how the ROTC was changing?
JJ: Rutgers was changing in a number of different ways. The physical plant at Rutgers was changing, growing in size and scope. Don't forget that my age group was the beginning of the big bulge. I was born at the tail end of the Second World War, and most of the administrators of most of the universities were at least prescient enough to recognize the effect that the Baby Boom was going to have on enrollment. They said, "Let's build." Scott Hall had recently been erected, in the summer of '62, when I got there. You know what it was called? There was an oak tag sign on it, "General Classroom Building." That's what it was called. It had not yet been named. And under it, some wag wrote, "Named in honor of the late General Beauregard T. Classroom." [laughter] All right. The River Dorms had just been built. To me, Demarest was hot stuff because it had some character. The College of Engineering and Physics building across the river had just been built, too. The whole school was changing. The faculty of the University was changing as well. You could sense it. You had more people, and, as a result, you couldn't have this old-time collegial atmosphere that you had in the decade before. Mason Gross was the president of the University, and he was something of a national figure, appearing on television at a time when there were only three channels. The University developed a number of fiefdoms, exactly what happens at any big university, and the character of the place changed. The student body was changing, too, bigger, more diverse. And overlaid on top of that was the change in the role that America was perceiving for itself in the world, and the natural reaction of the majority of liberal thinking and young people. The United States was an adolescent institution, from my standpoint, coming of age, too. We are, characteristically, an isolationist country. We had to be dragged kicking and screaming into both World Wars. We weren't much interested in getting involved anywhere, and that perspective changed dramatically in the '60s. We couldn't shun our global responsibilities anymore, and that was happening just at the time that the baby boomers were coming of age. How many years passed between the end of the Second World War and my freshman year at Rutgers? Seventeen years, twice as much time as has passed between my going to Vietnam and now. I don't think I'm such an old guy. Twice as much time. Our country was changing, the school was changing, America's role in the world was changing.
SSH: How did civil rights play into what you saw at Rutgers as a young man?
JJ: It was not a significant factor, except insofar as there was obviously a great deal of support for what was perceived to be the righting of a social wrong. Well, the Supreme Court had said that a black man was worth three-fifths of a white man. I mean, does that make any sense to anybody? [laughter] So … it was just not extending the franchise; it was establishing equality, by all names and in all things. There wasn't a big battle for civil rights on the campus, however, because you couldn't find anyone to take the opposing view. The Civil Rights Movement obviously was part and partial of the growing pains of the United States, a part of the social and political and economic growing pains of the United States, but it was not a big issue at Rutgers, as I recall.
SSH: Was the ROTC Rangers integrated?
JJ: Yeah, sure. You have to understand that, I don't know what it's like now, but at Rutgers University in 1962, there was not a very large number of minority kids. It was a northeastern, liberal, white establishment institution. There was a handful of Hispanic kids, a handful of black kids, you know, the odd Samoan, probably. [laughter] But it was not a cross-section of the American public. But don't forget that was '62, and the world was different in '62 than it is now.
SSH: Being part of your ROTC, did you ever find that you felt disconnected from the University because you were ROTC?
JJ: No, not at all. I wore my uniform to classes on days when I had drill. There was not this bifurcation of the college society. There may be today. But we're rediscovering the contribution of people in uniform now, all of a sudden, as if it's something that we just unearthed. We've discovered, in fact, that liberty is no accident, that people actually have to pay for it. I didn't have any bad experiences and there wasn't the perception that there were two campuses. The boys in the ROTC who were warmongering, baby killing, troglodytes, right? And there was another species, and this was homo intellectualis? There wasn't any of that at all. I mean, we went to the same classes and had to take the same bloody tests.
SSH: What about the fraternities, how did they fare?
JJ: Well, very interesting. I am not a fraternity guy. First of all, I was already in a fraternity. That is, I was in ROTC, and so I had my pals. Second, it didn't make a great deal of sense to me to pay money to live in a different place, in a house, that actually was not as well kept as where I was. Third, and this is probably the most significant my from my standpoint, I was already married. So for me it was not an issue. I never did understand why anybody necessarily joined a fraternity. It was very interesting, different from a fraternity. In fraternity life, you live with a bunch of people, and you also have the same social life together. In ROTC we had different social lives. When drill was over, or we went on a field training exercise, and so on, when that was over, everybody disappeared and went about his business. So we bound together on the military side, but not necessarily on the social side. None of us found that particularly disadvantageous.
SSH: You said that in high school you participated in the literary magazine. Did you get involved with that at Rutgers?
JJ: I didn't because I just didn't have enough time. I mean, there were just so many things one has time for. If you had the option to be involved in everything that you possibly could, you would not have enough time to sleep. That's part of the problem when you go to a university, you have this enormous plethora of things that you can do. I think the reaction is either to try to do them all, in which case your head falls off, or you do nothing. It's only the really mature people who pick and choose, and forget about all the other things they'd really like to do but can't. There's not enough time in the day to do all this stuff and go to school. You've got to go to school, too. You've got Professor Barlaz walking in and scribbling, you know, for seventy-five minutes on the blackboards and walking out. Or Professor Curtis, in the Political Science Department, saying, "Now, you should be able to compare and contrast the political system of the People's Republic of China with that of Great Britain. So are there any questions about that?" And you say, "What's he talking about? I better do some reading. I don't know enough to even ask the guy a question." I mean, it's debilitating in many respects, because we're exposed to so many different things, and it takes a really mature person to pick something. I picked nothing. I didn't have the time to do it.
PP: You picked ROTC, sir.
JJ: I did. I picked ROTC, and, for me, that was enough. I wanted to do more things, but I didn't have enough time.
PP: It does take up a lot of your time.
JJ: It takes up a lot of your time.
PP: It's worth it, right?
JJ: For me, it was worth it. I enjoyed it. I thought I was doing something serious. As a matter-of-fact, I thought I was doing something more serious than I would were I in some play, or something like that, which was great fun for me, but, I thought, not as serious.
SSH: Was Vietnam discussed in your political science classes?
JJ: Vietnam? Yes, but not to the extent that it is today and not to the extent even several years after I was graduated and we had a half million people there. We didn't talk about Vietnam because we didn't know anything about Vietnam. Go talk to William Westmoreland, and he won't be able to tell you any more than we were told when I was in ROTC in 1962. Nobody knew about it. Look, if we had learned the lessons that we should have learned in '63, if we learned those lessons in '63, well, maybe the war would have been different when I went in '67, wouldn't it? So no, nobody taught it. We didn't learn about Vietnam.
SSH: It seems to be the same story that we've heard when we've talked to the veterans of World War II.
JJ: Sure, we're going to fight the bad guys. The view is very much different from the mud than it is from some exalted elevation. Did you ever study the campaign of the Dardanelles in the First World War, the ANZACs in Gallipoli?
PP: No, sir.
JJ: There's a general named Hamilton, who was English and in charge of entire joint task force. They landed a huge number of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli, and they were slaughtered in battle by the Turks. It was just a complete and total mess. After losing a quarter of a million on the Allied side, a quarter of a million on the Turkish side, after eight months, Hamilton, finally, comes ashore. The beach is only as wide as this room and then rises straight up to this, a shear cliff. Hamilton says, "Oh, this looks very much different here than it did from the ship." He sent half a million men ashore, many to die. You bet it looks different. It looks different from the trenches than it does from the ship, or from the airplane. If we ever get to it, I'll tell you, I had the same experience myself talking on the radio to an officer, a major when I was a lieutenant, telling him we were in a hell of a mess and he told me, to "drive on." I asked him for tactical advice and he said, "Drive on." [laughter] If I ever get my hands around the throat of this idiot, I'll kill him. [laughter] Drive on, indeed. [laughter] So it looks very much different from some exalted level than it does from the ground. We didn't have any experience. Now we know everything.
SSH: Can you talk a little bit about the way you were the leader for the ROTC Rangers? Did you interact with the other ROTCs?
JJ: No, not very much at all. We were totally separate because we did completely different things.
SSH: So when you were in advanced ROTC in the summer of '64 you went to …
JJ: No, '65. You're right, '64, and in '65 I went to Fort Devens for summer camp.
SSH: How long did that last?
JJ: Eight weeks, I think it was. It was not as bad as infantry officer basic course at Fort Benning. The reason was that the students ran everything, and the students, almost by definition, had a significant number of brain cells, well organized. So things administratively were okay. In any case, when I went to the infantry officer basic course, the senior students there, the senior lieutenants, were all National Guard people, many of them not particularly well-endowed intellectually. Some of these people, unfortunately, were the student commanders. So, administratively, it was a complete disaster. I did not have a particularly good attitude when I was at this course, basically because it was very poorly run, and, collectively, the student leadership in my basic course had the IQ of a houseplant. It was infuriating to me. I mean, things that typically should take about three microseconds took hours. We would have formations at one o'clock in the morning, after we had come back from an exercise, and the student leadership had a difficult time trying to figure out how to dismiss everybody, or whether they should dismiss everybody and then make an announcement, or make an announcement and then dismiss everybody. I just have a low threshold of pain for stupidity. But when I went to the summer camp at Devens, it was student run, by kids who were going to be college graduates, and it went very smoothly indeed, thank you. So the irony is that I enjoyed summer camp more than I enjoyed the infantry officer basic course, where we were doing important stuff, which was going to save lives in combat, but was run by numbskulls.
PP: Sir, how long was the infantry officer basic school?
JJ: Basic was also eight weeks.
JJ: Basic was eight weeks, but, don't forget, the war was going on, so I got my assignment, I went to the 82nd Airborne Division. I showed up at the 82nd and I was a platoon leader in Charlie Company of the Second Battalion, 505th Airborne Infantry. No basic course, no airborne school in an airborne unit. They were waiting for a school slot. I mean, this happened not just to me but to everybody. Then they sent me to jump school. Then I came back to my battalion, went out and trained with my men. Took my boys out on company live fire attacks and so on. Then they sent me to the basic course, all backwards. So that's another reason why I was not interested in their telling me anything because I'd already done it. I was already airborne and here were these guys, who didn't know what they were doing, trying to tell me what to do, and, of course, I knew better than they did. And, of course, I obviously didn't, but if they had tried to tell me what to do in a more efficient way, I probably would have been more receptive to what they had to say.
PP: Which had a greater impact on you as an officer, the formal or informal training?
JJ: Well, it depends on how you look at it. In terms of my ability to organize other people to do things, training in ROTC was much more significant. First of all, it came at an earlier age when I was more impressionable, and second, I got a great deal of responsibility at an early age. It's one of the things that people forget about the service. That is that young officers and non-commissioned officers are young, and they get much more responsibility at an earlier age than you ever would in industry. When I went into the Army, I was twenty-one years old, but I had a hundred people working for m. In terms of my tactical expertise, obviously, I learned a lot more on the job, with live rounds, and so on and so forth, and having real live soldiers, some of whom were not particularly interested in doing what I told them to do, as contrasted with compliant cadets, who would do anything I tell them to do. Also, the students were in the process of getting college degrees, were certainly educable, if not very easy to teach, and were eager to learn, whereas you had a lot of soldiers who were not very eager to learn, nor were many of them particularly educable. So it was more difficult on active duty than it was in ROTC.
SSH: How did you compare the training in the four years of ROTC you received at Rutgers to, say, the Academy?
JJ: Well, I taught at West Point, and West Point is predominately an educational institution. There are classes in tactics, of course. They have a summer camp, the same as you have a summer camp in ROTC. So my guess is that there's not an order of magnitude of difference between the two. Yeah, there's more tactics taught at West Point. There's more military history taught at West Point. But the big difference is that you don't have a compartmentalized life at West Point, as you do at Rutgers. At Rutgers, you have your military life and you have student life, and the two don't necessarily overlap.
PP: No, sir.
JJ: No, and as a result, in many respects, you have to be more mature at Rutgers. You have to create two lives for yourself. At West Point, you don't have to go do that. You have less freedom, socially, than you do at Rutgers, and you don't have to create a separate life for yourself. It's all created for you. You have to be more of a self-starter at Rutgers.
SSH: All right. Do you have any other questions?
PP: I have one more, as far as the training goes. Back in your ROTC program, it was a cadet run program.
JJ: Oh, yeah.
PP: During training, how did the older cadets treat the younger cadets?
JJ: It was surprising to the extent that there wasn't the wide gulf that I expected there to be between younger cadets, who were basically kids, seventeen-years old, and the older cadets, who were basically twenty-two and twenty-three years old, quite a few of whom were married. They weren't as condescending as I expected them to be. Yeah, we did our share of low crawls and push-ups and so on, but it wasn't onerous. There was a great deal of instructional quality in the relationship between the older cadets and the youngest cadets. It was a teacher-student relationship, in many respects, and it was quite conducive to learning. Oh, yeah, there was plenty of yelling and screaming and foolishness, and so on, but it was in proper perspective and some of it was, actually, quite funny. We could make fun of it, and the older cadets thought it was funny, too, and I've got to tell you, the character of the professors of military science was such that they saw the humor in a lot of this as well.
PP: I think it's very much the same way now, sir.
JJ: Yeah, probably the three of you have a relationship that somebody who is outside the system would never posit. Somebody who doesn't have any experience in ROTC and you put them in a room and say, "Okay, write me a one page scenario of Air Force ROTC at Rutgers University, go ahead," and it would be completely different than it really is. But then again, nothing in life is the same as we think it is. Right?
SSH: Did you attend graduation at Rutgers?
JJ: I did, reluctantly. I thought it was for the parents, who pay the bills. It's not for the poor slobs who have to sit out there in the stands and go through the gyration of listening to absolutely everybody's first name and middle name and last name and junior appellation. I mean, it was interminable; we had a thousand kids in my graduating class. It was appalling, and listening to some deteriorating old man drone on for an hour was extremely painful. It was just awful, but I recognized what it was for. It's like a funeral. A funeral is not for the dead guy; that guy's dead. It's for the live people. That's what funerals are for, and so are graduations. It's not for the students.
PP: What about commissioning?
JJ: Commissioning was different. Commissioning was done before graduation. I think commissioning was on 1 June, '66, which, by the way, made me senior to every man who in 1966 was graduating from West Point. I outranked Wes Clark, who finished first in his class and who is now retired, four stars, retired as a NATO Commander. Wes and I were captains together and we taught at West Point together. I outranked Wes by five days for my entire career. But commissioning was vastly different than graduation. It was not just a rite of passage. You were taking on more responsibility, not just moving on to something else in your life.
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SSH: You were talking about the commission.
JJ: There was an automatic responsibility that went along with commissioning that didn't come along in the envelope with your diploma. You could do something with the diploma, or not do something with the diploma. You could be a responsible person, or be a thoroughly irresponsible person, or something in the middle.
But with a commission in the Army, or the Air Force, of the United States of America, you were actually swearing to uphold the Constitution of the United States against "all enemies foreign and domestic." With that came the task of being responsible for people's training and lives and supplying them and feeding them and making them do the right thing. You didn't get that with a diploma. So there was an unexplainable something that came along with commissioning that made that ceremony much more significant than graduation and the diploma. The diploma may, or may not, mean something, but commissioning meant something momentous.
SSH: Do you know who commissioned you?
JJ: Can't remember. A very large, florid colonel. I don't remember his name, a very nice, avuncular gentleman, a very nice fellow, probably on his last tour. He was probably not a whole lot older than I am, you know. When you're twenty, everybody's old.
SSH: Do you want to move forward then and tell us how your career evolved?
JJ: Well, I was commissioned in the Reserve. At that time, you didn't automatically come on active duty. When we got our branch assignments, I got my assignment in Transportation Corps, which I decidedly did not want. I put in my three requests: for infantry, armor and artillery, in that order. In any case, for whatever reason, it came back that my branch was to be Transportation Corps. I said that I was not going to accept a commission to the Transportation Corps, and they told me, "You want to go on active duty?" I said, "Yes, I do." They said, "Well, we will send a telegram." Back in those days they sent telegrams, "to First Army headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland. They had the authority to change my branch and authorize my commission in the regular Army, which they did in twenty-four hours. I think they called me up and I went into the ROTC Headquarters, which at that time was in the gym. The colonel said, "All right, stand here. Raise your right hand." And I recited the oath, and I instantly became an officer in the Regular Army.
SSH: Before you went to camp …
JJ: Fort Bragg. Yes. I left the following morning to go to the 82nd, got in my car and drove down. Reported to the 82nd Airborne Division with just my ROTC uniform and this telegram. [laughter] That's how I came into the Army, knowing nothing.
SSH: Where did you leave your family?
JJ: In New Jersey, and about a month later, I got quarters, and my family came to Ft Bragg.
SSH: Tell us a little bit about your experience during your training, you talked earlier about it.
JJ: Well, I went immediately into a platoon. I mean, I reported to a company commander, a guy named Hunter Shotwell, now deceased, got killed in a second tour in Vietnam, who happened to be the captain of the hockey team at West Point in 1963. The executive officer was another, slightly older second lieutenant. I think he practices law in Mississippi now. I reported into my company. Well, I first reported in division headquarters, and they sent me down to Third Brigade. I reported into the brigade commander and the third brigade commander said, "Yeah, nice to meet you, get out of here." I walked into the company commander's office, and reported to him, and he said, "You're the platoon leader," and I said, "Which platoon?" Shotwell said, "They're all yours. We only have one platoon leader and you're it." He says, "You can make your headquarters anywhere you want." So I said, "Well, second platoon." "Good." My first platoon sergeant was a drunk. God bless him. He'd been a POW in the Korean War. I didn't know anything, had to grow up very, very quickly. The very next day, they went and got a bunch of uniforms and stuff from CIF and gave it to me, and the very next day, we went out in the field. I stayed out in the field until it was time for me to leave to go to jump school. Don't forget, everybody else was airborne and I wasn't. It's one thing to have to convince soldiers, many of whom had been to Vietnam already, that you know what you're doing, tactically. It's another thing altogether to try to convince them that you're worth a damn when they're airborne and you're not. So after a couple of weeks, they sent me down to jump school.
PP: How many men are we talking about, sir?
JJ: Well, my first my platoon had forty guys.
JJ: But I was sort of, indirectly, responsible for another seventy-five. Don't forget there were only three officers in this company. From the perspective of these individual soldiers, you're the highest-ranking guy in the world.
SSH: I wanted to talk a little bit about that because the students here will obviously be doing something similar. Where do you find that leadership?
JJ: You just reach back and say, "I'm the responsible one." Somebody says, "Who's in charge here?" "Jesus, it's me." You reach back to … there was a biblical scholar, whose name is Hillel, many, many years ago, who was asked, "What should I do? I don't know what to do. I don't know if I'm supposed to do this or that?" And he said, "If not you, who?" You're the guy. You just grab it. I don't know where you get it.
SSH: Now, when you went to jump school did you come back to the same corps of guys?
JJ: Yeah. Came back to the same unit, same platoon, same company.
PP: Sir, so you're saying that you think that leadership is more of an instinct than a learned quality?
JJ: Oh, no, it's a bit of both. Look, if you have no innate leadership capability, no amount of teaching is going to get you there. So you've got to have some innate leadership capability, no matter how unformed or ill formed it is. … So there's got to be something there. But, no, you can teach it. You can teach people how to be responsible. There's nothing that's a better teacher than experience. I'm much more responsible now than I was when I was your age, but getting responsibility is what makes you grow up quickly. You're more responsible than…what are you, eighteen?
BB: Yes, sir.
JJ: Okay, well, you're infinitely more responsible than the average eighteen-year old just by virtue of your experience.
BB: Well, I hope so.
JJ: Yes, you are. I think nearly everybody is educable. We know nothing from experience more than we know that ordinary people can rise to do extraordinary things. Part of it's because they are innately extraordinary people when they have to be, and then maybe go back to be ordinary people. Part of it's because of something they heard one time, somebody they listened to one time, or they're just characteristically the kind of people who can take charge of things when they need to. It's not "just one of those things." I think it's all those things put together, and so you can teach it.
PP: Did these men that you were put in charge of test you at first?
JJ: I was Lieutenant Jacobs, and I'm their boss. Now that's different than the question of whether they had respect for me as a leader. They may not have had a whole lot of respect for me because I didn't know anything, or I didn't know as much as I should, but they never transmitted this to me. They knew only that they had to have respect for me. On my first company run I fell out of, and it was the last company run I ever fell out of, too. But I saw no change in how they treated me. They may have gone into a corner and said, "What a dope that guy Jacobs is." But this was a military organization, and they themselves knew that if there's no discipline, then nothing works. It makes their own lives more miserable. No, they had a great deal of respect for me on the surface, surely.
SSH: When you came back from jump school did you feel more confident?
JJ: Sure. Are you airborne?
PP: I got my wings at the Air Force Academy, but I'm not airborne.
JJ: But you went to jump school?
PP: Yes, sir.
JJ: Yeah, okay. So you know. Well, in the airborne unit, in the 82nd Airborne Division, soldiers salute you by saying, "All the way, sir." And you say, "Airborne." But if you're not an airborne soldier, he won't say, "All the way, sir." "Good afternoon, sir," perhaps. Yes, it's the worst thing in the world. All the respect that's due my rank, but not, "All the way, sir," until I was airborne qualified. I'll tell you who tested me, my boss tested me. My company commander tested me. My battalion commander tested me, but my soldiers didn't. My soldiers tested my ability to get them to, tactically, do and understand what I wanted to accomplish, or to assist me in what I had to accomplish. They were a great; my troops were a great help to me. My squad leaders were a great help to me. "Sir, don't you think you ought to do x, y, z?" And when I got to be a battalion commander, my company commanders helped me, too. They said, "Why don't we do x?" Company commander would say, "Maybe it's better if we do y," and so on. It was a collegial effort in many respects.
SSH: What difference did you see between the ones who had already had a tour in Vietnam and those that were just coming into the military?
JJ: The former were cynics. Don't forget that we had, even in the 82nd, which was a volunteer organization, we had a lot of draftees. These guys were in for two years and out. After I had been in combat, I was not idealistic any more, and I was a cynic, too. Until your memory fails you, and then you become idealistic again. [laughter]
SSH: After you went to airborne school, you went back with your same unit.
JJ: Then I went to the basic course, and then came back to my unit. We went out to the field a couple of times and then my company commander told me that I was not going to be in the unit anymore, I was going up to battalion to be the S-3. The S-3 is the operations officer, for all air operations of the battalion. I was a second lieutenant. I said, "I don't want to do that." So Hunter Shotwell says, "Jacobs, you don't have a choice. The battalion commander wants you to be his S-3 Air." I said, "Well, I want to talk to the colonel." He says, "Okay. Go ahead." My battalion commander was a guy named Hans Dreuner, who had been an enlisted man in the invasion of Normandy and, subsequently, got battlefield commission and … was a glider pilot during the jump into Nijmagen. Right. So he had a low threshold of pain for twenty-year old lieutenants who wanted to dictate what they wanted to do. You know, he had gunshot wounds almost everywhere, walked with a limp, had seven hundred million jumps, and so I report to him. "Sir, Lieutenant Jacobs reporting." He said, "What can I do for you, Jacobs?" And I'm saying, he's not telling me to stand at ease, or anything like that, so I'm still at attention, and I said, "Sir, I understand that you want me to do the S-3 Air?" He said, "That's right," and I said, "Well, I would prefer to stay with my company." He said, "You can't, now get out of here," and that was the end of the interview. I said, "Yes, sir." I turned around and became the S-3 Air, and that was the end of that. I learned a great deal being the S-3 Air about making mistakes, how to do backward planning, how to start at the end and work backwards, how to test for eventualities, how to make assumption. It isn't enough to say, "Well, I'm going to take the troops and go over here and pick them up here and they're going to go on these planes." "But what if that doesn't work? What's my fall back plan? What's my second fall back plan? What happens if the trucks don't get here? What happens if the planes don't arrive on time? What happens if, what happens if?" I learned that and it was Colonel Dreuner's fault that I learned all that stuff. He knew what he was doing. I learned more being the S-3 Air than I would have learned had I stayed down at the company. He identified the fact that I'd learned whatever I was going to learn down there. Shortly after that, I got my orders to go to Vietnam. I got orders to go first to the Military Assistance Training Advisor Course. I was going to be an advisor. This irritated me to no end because my whole brigade had just received orders to go to Vietnam as a brigade. So instead of going with my unit, instead of going with a US unit, instead of getting jump pay, I was going to go as an advisor to some infantry battalion in Vietnam. This was hard.
PP: As an American, you were going to it as an advisor for the South Vietnamese?
JJ: Correct. So I immediately got on the phone and tried to locate whoever cut these orders. And he said, "Listen, do you have a college degree, Jacobs?" I said, "Yes, sir, I do." He said, "You're going as an advisor, the end. Now shut-up." Hung up the phone.
JJ: They wanted people who were not houseplants to advise. They wanted relatively intelligent, educated people to advise the Vietnamese. If we didn't get the Vietnamese Army so that it could fight, we were going to be there forever. Even then, don't forget this is '67, the whole Nixon Vietnamization program, that was later, but they were thinking of this three years earlier.
SSH: Where was this?
JJ: At Fort Bragg, as it turned out. Because these special operations seminars were at Fort Bragg, I didn't have to go anywhere. I could stay home. Afternoons were all Vietnamese language. About seventy-five to eighty percent of the guys, who left after five weeks, went straight to Vietnam, maybe more, maybe ninety percent. I got orders, instead of going to Vietnam, to Fort Bliss, Texas for another eight weeks of language training, and so at the end of thirteen weeks of intense language training, I could speak Vietnamese very well. Now I don't know why they did it that way, but who knows. They picked my name out of a hat. So I spoke very good Vietnamese after all that. For eight solid weeks I spoke absolutely nothing but Vietnamese, six hours a day.
SSH: Were there Vietnamese training you?
JJ: Yes. A woman wearing an ao dai, and all of that. I flew to Tan Son Nhut air base out of from Travis Air Force Base in Vacaville, California.
PP: Is it still there now?
JJ: Sure, sure. It's a big air base.
JJ: Travis. Went from Travis Air Force base. Went to sleep in a small room at Oakland Army Terminal. At two o'clock in the morning, some sergeant came and woke me up. He says, "Get your stuff together." He woke everybody up, not just me. Put us on buses, drove us to Travis, stuck us on a Braniff Airlines chartered 707, three hundred guys and all their stuff, six across, and we flew to Hawaii, refueled at dawn, flew us to Manila, where we refueled again, and then landed at Tan Son Nhut, and we got off. Lined up was a whole group of veterans who had been there for twelve months, about ready to get on. They hot refueled the aircraft, as a matter-of-fact, and these twenty-year-old veterans were yelling, "You'll be sorry." Everybody on my plane looked like he was eighteen, and everybody getting off those buses, to get on that plane, looked seventy-five to me.
SSH: The veterans, who were replacements, in World War II said the same thing.
JJ: Had they?
JJ: They just looked old. They weren't, they were nineteen instead of eighteen, but they looked like, they looked a hundred and they could have been a hundred, for all I knew. And a few weeks later, I was a hundred years old, too.
SSH: Where did you have your family housed?
JJ: In New Jersey.
SSH: Tell us about what you then began to do?
JJ: We started patrolling in the swamps, everyday, looking for bad guys. We'd go twenty kilometers in the heat with water up to your neck, leeches everywhere. And every once in awhile, somebody would step on a mine and get killed, or had his leg blown off, or we'd get into a firefight with some enemy unit and loose some soldiers. We'd go do this for days and days and then, subsequently, months and months on end. As we got closer and closer to Tet of 1968, more and more contact, more and more killed and wounded, more and more bad guys, more frequent contact until we were contacting bad guys everyday at the height of Tet, '68. We'd get assaulted in our compound when we went back to get some rest. Things got to heat up very significantly until it was just contact continuously during Tet.
PP: So you were an advisor then to some Vietnamese unit?
PP: So you had no direct command of those troops?
JJ: Oh, no.
PP: Were these South Vietnamese troops?
JJ: South Vietnamese. I was a lieutenant and advisor to a lieutenant colonel. I'd say, "Sir, I think you ought to do x." And he'd say, "Yeah, right." Or occasionally, very, very occasionally, he'd say, "Good idea," but only rarely.
SSH: Were you the only advisor?
JJ: No, initially. I replaced a captain, who was going home, and I had two NCOs, and then, eventually three NCOs. Then they sent a captain to take my place as the senior advisor, after I'd been through a great deal. Now, I'd been so firmly ensconced in the unit among the Vietnamese that the battalion commander told me, "Listen, we don't like this guy." "No, no, sir, you've got to like this guy, he's my boss." "We want you to be the senior advisor." I said, "I know, and I want to be the senior advisor, but he's the senior advisor, and so, you have to show him respect." "We'll show him respect," this was all in Vietnamese by the way, "we'll show him respect, but we won't feed him." "No, no, no, you've got to feed him. Please, show him respect. Do it for me, a favor for me." "All right, but we don't want to do this." "I know." And then, "joy of joys," as far as battalion commander was concerned, this guy was not physically fit. The first operation we went on, we got into some small firefight and he lagged behind. Finally, he was helped up to the command unit after the firefight was over, and he evacuated himself. He was just not feeling well. He evacuated himself with the wounded and the dead, and we never heard from him again. Some days later, they sent a major down, who had been in combat before, was physically fit and a good guy. He was understanding of the situation, had no inflated ego. He said, "You want to take advice from Lieutenant Jacobs, be my guest. You can do anything you want. From time to time, if you want to take advice from me, that's fine." He was a great guy. And then, I went out with the forward units. So I was advising the XO. Unlike our units, the XO was forward. He was the deputy commander, and with the company commanders that were forward, they took advice from me. And that's when I got wounded. It was on the second or third contact we had, just a couple of days later.
PP: What province was that in?
JJ: Kien Phong Province.
PP: What section?
JJ: It's in the Delta. It's the last province on the right-hand side of the Mekong River, before you get into Cambodia. It's all swamp.
BB: Sounds like a nice place.
JJ: Lovely, lovely.
SSH: What kind of contact did you have with the Americans?
JJ: None. The only American contact I had was among my own advisors. A Special Forces B team that was nearby rendered us some support, because we didn't get very much support from our advisory team, which was far away. So I made a lot of friends among the Special Forces, and they gave us support. We needed ammo, bandages, food, pay. We didn't get paid, so these SF officers would advance us money.
SSH: Tell us please, if you can, about the incident when you were wounded and the other incidences.
JJ: Well, I mean, there were a lot of situations in which there were very difficult times. I prefer it if you look it up on the Internet, where you'll find a copy of the citation. [See attached Medal of Honor citation]
SSH: I believe he already has. We'd like for you to tell us what happened if you would.
JJ: Well, we were advancing against what we thought was going to be the main force of the VC, the battalion we had been chasing. In fact, we ran into a two-battalion ambush. We got ambushed right in the middle of an open area, and everybody was killed or wounded in the first ten seconds, or so, and that was the end for me. I knew I wasn't going to last much longer, and like I said, everybody was killed or wounded. I saved the guys I could. I killed as many enemy as I possibly could. I was badly hurt, and I'd lost a lot of blood. I was very weak. I couldn't get up. I sat down to take a rest, after pulling the wounded back. Then I couldn't get up, I just flat couldn't get up, physically I couldn't. I tried. You know how, if your leg goes numb, or your arm goes numb, you say, "Okay, move arm," and you couldn't move it? I couldn't move. It wasn't that it was numb…there was not enough adenosine triphosphate being generated there, you know, I just couldn't do it. Major Nolan found me. He got me and a couple of other guys evacuated, who I had not previously evacuated. So that was the end of that. That's the whole story.
BB: Sir, why did you decide to go back? What made you decide to go back?
JJ: The second tour?
BB: No, sir, when you were wounded.
JJ: Oh. A lot of it had to do with that notion of, "Who else? If not you, who? And if not now, when? Are you waiting for somebody else to do it?" I mean, the whole concept of doing what you need to do was very important to me. What are you going to do?
BB: I have another question for you then, sir. If this was called "above and beyond the call of duty," do you think it was above and beyond the call of duty? Or do you think this is just part of your job?
JJ: I think that it's a very subjective evaluation, isn't it? It's even more subjective than trying to figure who's the president, you know?
PP: I've got that question down there, sir.
JJ: The whole concept of doing something above and beyond the call of duty is an arbitrary construct. What is, what isn't, I don't know. I'm neither in a position to determine whether or not it is, certainly not now, for somebody else, because I'm not in combat at the moment. What I do know is this: I think that the freedom that we enjoy has been purchased with the blood and sacrifice of men and women who thought that they were doing what they were supposed to do and doing what they had to do, irrespective whether it was above and beyond the call of duty. People don't do things because they think they're doing something extraordinary. I have to admit to you that, at the time, I didn't think what I was doing was extraordinary. I thought that I was doing what I had to do. I think there are a lot of things done in civilian life, which people do because they think they have to do them, which in retrospect is quite extraordinary.
JJ: Yeah, what about those guys? If you had to think about it, would you do that? I think I'd be hard-pressed. I think I'm going to put on this flammable material, and I'm going to run into a burning building and save those poor people. I think the people who do that don't do that because they think they're doing something extraordinary. They do it because they're doing what they think they need to do, what they have to do, what they're motivated to do, what they're taught to do.
SSH: Where were you evacuated?
JJ: The Ninth Medical Battalion, which was the aid station for the Ninth Infantry Division, then to a MASH somewhere near there, a MUST it's called. And I think that there was a series of evacuation hospitals in Vietnam, and, eventually, I came home.
SSH: You didn't have to return to the theater to finish your tour?
JJ: I didn't have to, but I did, and that's a separate story that I'll talk about some other time.
PP: Were you injured in one of your initial patrols as an advisor?
JJ: No. I got to Vietnam in September, the first week in September of '67, and I was wounded the first week of March in '68. So I'd been there for a while.
PP: While you were there, you know, it was right after Tet, a month or two after Tet, this was when you were injured. When you were in the field like that, did you or the men, well, you didn't have American soldiers, but were you thinking about what was going on back home?
JJ: Not very much. Now, I may be unusual in that. We knew what was going on and knew there was a great deal of unrest. People were irritated about America's involvement in the war, and so on. It didn't have an impact on me. I thought, maybe, they didn't know what they were doing, that they were college students and, therefore, they were less mature than I was. Of course, they weren't here seeing it, and therefore, they didn't know what was actually taking place, that we were probably doing God's work. But I didn't think about it very much to be honest with you.
PP: How about the South Vietnamese, not necessarily the commanders that you were advising, but the soldiers underneath you? Were they draftees or were they enlisted?
JJ: All, one hundred percent draftees. I mean, okay, ninety-nine percent draftees. I'm sure there were guys who enlisted, but it was a conscript army. Don't forget that they'd been fighting since the Second World War. Don't forget that some of these men had fought the Japanese during the Second World War. They had fought the Viet Minh in '53. Sometimes I talk to people about this specific aspect of being involved in Vietnam as an advisor to Vietnamese, as contrasted with being involved in an American unit. If you're an American, if you lived for twelve months, you went home. If you were a Vietnamese, you were home, and if you were fighting, you kept fighting until you became dead. Where are you going to go? They didn't have a program whereby … if you were Vietnamese and you fought twelve months with the Vietnamese … they'd send you to Chicago. What? You fought until you died, or until you were so badly wounded that you couldn't fight anymore, or you ran away and deserted and they couldn't find you. That's the kind of situation it was. These were people who had to fight all the time. I knew that if I didn't get killed, I was going home. I was either going home in a plastic bag, or I was going home alive. But I was going home. These guys weren't, they were home. They were going to continue fighting until it was all over, or they were dead, or incapacitated, or hiding. You look at life differently if you're in that circumstance than you are if you're an American. We brought the United States to Vietnam, USO shows, hot and cold running showers. Now, we didn't have that because I was with Vietnamese, but if you were an American, you had bunkers, hot and cold showers, people to shine your shoes, pizza. They tried their best, movies, Bob Hope. They tried their best to make you feel at home. If you were Vietnamese, you don't have any of that. If you had any water at all, any water at all, it was from the swamp with bits in it and you threw iodine tablets in it and shook it up so you had chunky water. That's what you had. You looked at life differently when you were in that circumstance. You looked at life differently if your family is also subjected to the same nonsense as you are. I'm in Vietnam, I get blown to pieces, well, it's just me. I'd look at it differently if my wife and kids were there, wouldn't I? Well, the Vietnamese had their wives and children there, getting blown to pieces, too.
SSH: Did you have the sense that the Vietnamese that you were working with were totally behind what was being done, or was there sympathy for Ho Chi Minh?
JJ: No, no sympathy for Ho Chi Minh among the soldiers but not a lot of enthusiasm for the war, either. Nobody hates war more than soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Nobody likes that because they're the people getting shot at.
SSH: How close were they to their homes?
JJ: They were there. The troops were there with their families.
SSH: They were?
JJ: So when we got mortared in the unit, there were families who got mortared, killed and wounded and so on, little kids. Not very pleasant.
SSH: So as an advisor, you interacted with the entire community, not just …
JJ: Oh, yeah, sure. Yeah, soldiers and their families and so on.
SSH: And whatever supplies they had, that's what you had?
SSH: What about your mail?
JJ: We did get mail, but sporadically. We were lucky, we were next door to a Special Forces B team, so we'd run over there and drop mail off and we could pick up mail and get some food occasionally. Later on, my second tour was in '72, '72 to '73, there was none of that stuff. We were out in the woods, getting shot at all the time, no hot water, no mail and no nothing.
SSH: What was it like to leave Vietnam? Did you go back to America, or did you stay in Vietnam to finish your tour?
JJ: No. I tried to get back to the field, and they wouldn't let me go. And then there was a big brouhaha about whether or not I'd gone AWOL from the hospital, which I won't discuss at any length.
SSH: Hold that thought.
----------------------------------------END OF SIDE ONE, TAPE TWO-----------------------------------
SSH: This is side two of tape two.
JJ: Do you want me to talk about my career out of combat?
JJ: I came back from Vietnam and went to be a company commander at Fort Benning, Georgia. I did that for about a year. Then I went to the Infantry Officer Advanced Course. That lasted a year. The Army sent me to graduate school. I went to Rutgers, and I was there for two years. I went back to Vietnam on the 4th of July 1972. I came back from Vietnam on the 11th of January '73. I went to West Point and taught international relations and comparative political systems. I was selected in '76 to go to the Command General Staff College at Fort Levenworth. I was there for a year. Then I was an executive officer of an infantry battalion. By now, I'm a major. I was executive officer to an infantry battalion at Fort Ord, California in the Seventh Division. Then I became a lieutenant colonel and commanded my own battalion down in Panama. I came back to the States in '82 and worked in the intelligence business for a year and then taught at the National War College in Washington. By then, I was a full colonel. I taught at the National War College in Washington and retired from the Army in '87.
SSH: Can you discuss the differences between your two tours in Vietnam?
JJ: The nature of the war changed dramatically. It was a much more conventional conflict in '72, at least partially because the North Vietnamese had already invaded South Vietnam and had taken over the top one or two provences in South Vietnam, all the way up to the DMZ. I joined the 1st Vietnamese Airborne Battalion in '72, when they had left An Loc and had just gone into Quang Tri Province to try to take it back.
SSH: Now are you still an advisor?
JJ: I was an advisor to an airborne battalion, so I was at the same job as I had had five years earlier. I joined the battalion as it was sitting in a hill somewhere, southeast of Quang Tri, trying to fight southwest, back towards firebases Barbara and Ann, which had been previously occupied by the 101st Airborne Division five years earlier. After that, it had been taken over by the enemy. The enemy had tanks and antiaircraft weapons. Anyway, the helicopter that was inserting me into the unit got shot down. That was my welcome back to Vietnam. I realized, at that point, what a rotten idea it was to go back. I decided, at that moment, that this had been the stupidest thing I ever did in my life, to go back. Of course, that was punctuated by the helicopter actually falling, flipping over, landing on a group of wounded soldiers, the rotor blades splitting up into a million pieces, and so on. I was only mildly injured, and not incapacitated, but I was dumbfounded by my incredible stupidity.
PP: Still no American soldiers, though?
JJ: No, not for me. No, there were Americans who were part of my unit, advising the Vietnamese, but no American units. By that time, American units had gone home. There was a scattering of Air Force units and Marine units, and so on, but a lot of those were rear echelon types. There were certainly no American fighting units where I was. It was all Vietnamese.
PP: Can you discuss the attitudes of the South Vietnamese? Were they fatalistic?
JJ: Well, the Vietnamese, by culture, are fatalistic people. Vietnamese were always fatalistic, but they were tired. All the experienced guys from '53 were not around in '67. Well, they really weren't around in '72. So, yeah, they were tired. They were fighting a losing battle because they were fighting, tactically and strategically, the wrong war. The kids were younger and the enemy was younger, too. I mean, a lot of enemy soldiers who were killed were fourteen, fifteen years old. So everybody was tired. I think the South Vietnamese, though, were more tired and more dispirited.
SSH: Why did you choose to go back?
JJ: I was finished with graduate school in '72. I was going to teach at West Point, but not until '73. So they were going to send me on a short tour someplace. They suggested Korea. I said, "Too cold. Someplace else." They said, "Well, the only other place we have is Vietnam, but you're not allowed to go into combat." I said, "Okay." Then I realized that I could make an extra sixty-five dollars a month by being in combat, another 35 dollars a month for being separated from my family. If I managed to talk my way into the airborne division, an extra one hundred and ten on top of that. So, when I got to Vietnam, I called the airborne advisory team. I always wanted to be a member of the airborne advisory team, right, red berets and all that jazz and so I called there. I said, "Let me talk to the senior advisor." "Not here." "How about the deputy?" "Not here." "The admin officer?" "Not here." I said, "Who is there?" "It's just me." "What are you doing there?" He says, "I'm just getting out of the hospital. What do you need?" I said, "Well, I want to come to the airborne advisory team." He says, "No sweat. I know somebody over at orders section, over at MACV headquarters. Where are you?" I said, "Camp Alpha." He said, "I'll be there in three hours." And he was. He showed up three hours later with orders for me. We got on a plane, flew out of Tan Son Nhut and flew up to Phu Bai Air Base, south of Hue, where there was nobody. The helicopter came and picked us up, took us to firebase Sally, which was the headquarters of the Vietnamese Airborne Division. I reported to my senior advisor, a colonel whose name I can't remember, sitting behind a field desk in a bombed out bunker. Actually, it was then that I knew that I probably should have let myself just get cold for twelve months, but I was an airborne soldier again, and off we went.
SSH: How did you get home?
JJ: In January. Well, I got dinged again, a minor wound in January, from a 130mm artillery round.
PP: You got dinged?
SSH: [laughter] Thank you.
BB: I have a final question, sir.
BB: When somebody would come up to you, who knew your background, sir, and would say, "It's an honor to meet you," or something to that account, what would you think, or what would you say back to them?
JJ: I never thought about that. I usually say, "It's my pleasure. It's my honor." It's usually somebody who respects the notion of fighting for one's country, and so he's got my respect. I mean, look, my award may be for a specific act, but it actually represents the sacrifice of other men who aren't here to accept it, you know. There were a lot of people, men and women both, who didn't come back.
BB: Yes, sir. That's …
JJ: And it's for them. That's who it's for. I'm lucky because I came back, and I'm lucky to have people come and say, "It's an honor to meet you." And I'm lucky because I have an opportunity to talk to you, to raise a family. A lot of people didn't get to do that. They went into combat with the same trepidation I did, with their pants scared off, the same as I was, not wanting to get hurt, the same as I did, and wanting to do the right thing, same as I did, and they didn't come back. Lots of soldiers did lots of things and didn't get recognized. Don't forget: to get an award, to get promoted, you've got to be viewed by somebody, somebody who likes you and somebody who can write.
SSH: Having risen to this call and having been rewarded for it, is that your most memorable event in Vietnam, or were there other ones that stand out?
JJ: They were all memorable. [laughter] Every single situation in which I had to fight was memorable, but there were quite a few instances in which I didn't have to fight, and they were memorable, too. I don't want to minimize this particular action by saying it was the same as every other action. It wasn't, by any stretch of the imagination. But all of the actions were memorable. You're changed forever. You probably know this yourself, talking to all these men from the Korean War, Vietnam War and World War II, and so on. For some people, if not for most, going off to war is the defining event of their lives. If for no other reason that there's nothing else in life that can possibly compare to it. It's not like getting a better job. [laugher] "Well, I was working for GE and then I got a much better job and I went to work for Banker's Trust." It doesn't matter that it was a completely different job, doing something totally different, responsible for many more people and getting paid a million dollars a year. No matter what you do, it cannot compare with going off and fighting for the defense of the Republic.
SSH: Well, we thank you very much. If there are no further questions from the group? Thank you.
JJ: Sorry I rattled on and on. I don't get an opportunity to talk about it very much.
BB: It's been our pleasure, sir.
JJ: Well, thanks for coming all the way out here.
SSH: Thank you.
---------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW-------------------------------------------
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy 3/10/01
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 4/1/01
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy 4/20/01
Reviewed by Jack Jacobs 3/5/03