First Lieutenant John James Jackson, 1915 – 1944
The afternoon of Christmas Eve, 2004, found Fred Elder and Ardith Meier walking down the deserted street of Bouissonville, Belgium, a tiny village nestled in a bucolic countryside. We were there to honor the memory of Fred’s Uncle John on the 60th anniversary of his death in World War II. John Jackson was killed when he was walking alongside the tank he commanded, because the infantry who were tasked with that protection duty had not been able to keep pace with the rapidly advancing tanks.
John James Jackson began life in a plain house, virtually inaccessible except by horse, located in the middle of a huge pasture in eastern Kansas. He was the youngest boy of five children; his sister was Fred’s mother. John’s birthplace was listed as Flint Ridge, Kansas, a location marked solely by a simple one-room schoolhouse. His father died when John was 14, leading to the inevitable difficulties of making a living on the Kansas prairie without a father. John nevertheless went on and did well at Eureka High School and, following graduation, enrolled in what was then Kansas State College – the first in his family to attend college. While at K-State he played football, majored in physical education, was chosen as a member of the Phi Delta Kappa professional education fraternity (elected President of the local chapter his senior year), was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon social fraternity, and was a member of ROTC. He graduated in 1941. ROTC was different from today in that it did not have a compulsory service requirement, and one did not graduate with an officer’s rank. After graduation, John taught PE for one year at the Osborne, Kansas, High School.
In 1942, John Jackson enlisted in the active-duty Army. He enlisted the year many of us were born. John Jackson entered Officers Candidate Class in early 1943 and graduated on June 22, 1943 as the “outstanding man in the 39th Armored Force officer candidate school class.” In recognition of this honor, he was awarded a gold bar to wear on his collar and was given the position of company commander for the graduation exercise and parade for the 87 men in his class. John Jackson then became an instructor at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, and in early 1944 he was presented a Letter of Commendation for his superior instruction in Tank Crew Gunnery and Range Estimation. In June of 1944, John Jackson received a ten-day furlough and spent that time with his young wife in Eureka, Kansas, before returning to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas.
In August of 1944, John Jackson left for Europe and was soon in battle. He was killed by German forces at Boussionville, Belgium, on Christmas Eve, 1944. For his heroism he was awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and The Presidential Citation. His loss left a major void in the hearts of his family — his surviving family had lost their youngest and their brightest star.
The Silver Star was presented to his widow at Wichita University in June, 1945:
“For gallantry in action in Belgium. On December 24, 1944, Company G, 66th Armored Regiment was fighting its way through Bouissonville. Lieutenant Jackson was in command of the leading elements of the company as it moved eastward through the town to two important road junctions. The infantry platoon, working with his tanks, were extremely harassed by small arms fire and the handling of prisoners. Upon reaching a point about two hundred yards from his objective, Lieutenant Jackson found there was no infantry left with him; he dismounted from his tank with a submachine gun, went ahead of his leading tank clearing a path through the snipers and observing around the corners for enemy anti-tank guns and tanks. Seeing no enemy weapons of large caliber ahead of him, Lieutenant Jackson led his platoon up to positions where they were to act as a block. At this time a well concealed anti-tank gun opened fire, killing him instantly. Lieutenant Jackson’s courage, boldness, and utter disregard for his personal safety were an inspiration to all and in the very highest traditions of service.”
J. A. Ulio
The Adjutant General
In 2004, Fred and Ardith walked the quiet street of Bouissonville more than once, passing the old church, a bakery and a butcher, and stood at the intersection near the cemetery, which is no doubt where John Jackson died. It was raining and cold and we sought refuge in the church. An older woman was there, decorating for the Christmas Eve mass that evening and upon learning of our purpose, brought out some old post cards of Bouissonville (right and below) and gave them to Fred.
In 2014, we made a second trip to Bouissonville. This trip also included visits to the Henri Chapelle American Cemetery near Welkenroedt, Belgium, and Ardennes American Cemetery outside of Liege, Belgium. At Henri Chapelle, Fred was given burial records of John Jackson and learned he had been initially buried at what was a temporary cemetery at Fosses-la-Ville, Belgium. He was returned to the US sometime after the conclusion of the WW II and was re-interred in Greenwood Cemetery, Eureka, Kansas, on June 14, 1949. John Jackson had returned home.