A Hero in Our Midst: From Normandy to Nagasaki Walt Jacques was There

Nolensville's Walt Jacques poses on the stage of the Historic School in Nolensville April 9, 2019 with WWII medallions he earned during service in the navy. Jacques was part of the landing at Normandy on D-Day, became stranded on the beach when his ship was disabled and joined with the Rangers. After fighting across Europe for several weeks he was sent back to the Navy and on to the South Pacific. There he was involved in several campaigns including being one of the first ashore after the bombing at Nagasaki. Photo: Harrison McClary/NNO Media

Shelly Gail Morris/N&O

May 13, 2019 over one hundred people gathered in the Nolensville Historic School Gymnasium for a very brief look into the spectacular life of Navy man, Walt Jacques. He was accompanied by his wife of sixty-seven years, Janel, son Walt Jr. and his wife Brenda, daughter Wendy and her husband Jeff Crumbley and grandson Lee and his wife Grace and grandson Justin.

Walt addressed the crowd looking dapper in a blue sport coat, khaki’s and red tie. At 93, Walt spoke with amazing clarity and specific detail about his precarious encounters and adventures. He knew the dates of every major occurrence. He eloquently shared quotes from his mother and father; “You can talk to God at any time. Choose your friends wisely. If the food is bad, add salt and pepper.” We watched a short video of him explaining what he called his, “different kind of life.” He summarized details about his childhood, military service, illnesses, recoveries and jaunts all over the world. He even recalled the detonation of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, Japan. No one moved as they tried to digest all the peril he had survived. When he finished speaking, the room erupted into well-deserved applause, followed by a standing ovation.

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Walt smiled humbly and insisted that he was only one of thousands. So, what does his miraculous life entail? Keep reading and prepare to be awed!

Walt Jacques was born in Toledo, Ohio on May 11, 1926. An only child, he recalls the Great Depression and the family struggling. His father was a cavalry man with Troop D First Ohio. In 1940 the family moved to Swinburne Island, located in lower New York Bay. They were alone until a small squad of sailors were stationed there to support and protect the harbor. He still remembers his mother cooking and feeding large numbers of men. At fifteen he attended the U.S. Maritime Service Academy and was trained to man fleets, sail schooners and support the armed services. Later when he joined the Navy, he already had training. He excelled as a signal man, using Morse-code and semaphore flags, also deep-sea diving, conventional, scuba and hard hat diving. At seventeen he joined the U.S. Navy as a Coxwain 3rd Class Petty Officer on deck. In 1939 WWII broke out. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, the United States formally joined the war effort. He joined the Amphibious force and boarded the Queen Mary to England and then a train to Scotland. After training, he boarded an LCF 22, gun boat ship. In May of 1944 he turned 18. The next month would change his life forever.

June 6, 1944 his group made their run into D-day aboard an LCF, Landing Craft Flak, between Omaha and Utah Beach offering gun and air support to ground troops. June 9, the ship was hit and deemed unseaworthy and ran up on the beach. It was abandoned and they hunkered down for three days. On June 12 the sailors moved inland and joined forces with ground units. After being on a ship for so long, it was frightening not knowing where supplies would come from. They fought through the countryside June through November, befriending those with the most ammunition. Avoiding mines was a daily problem. He fought with ground troops for many months. The war in Europe ended in May,1945.

He boarded a ship and crossed the channel back to South Hampton, England. Then, boarded the USS Wakefield (a coast guard transport vessel) and headed back to New York. A train took him to Boston and another to Oregon.

In Oregon, he boarded the USS Buckingham, carrying troops, supplies, and ammunition to Pearl Harbor, Guam, the Marshal Islands, Okinawa, and the Mariana Islands. They also fought off kamikaze fighters. The ship was dubbed the Magic Carpet Fleet and was rumored to have traveled 100,000 miles offering support. He drove transport vehicles to and from shore. On August 6 the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On Sept 9, another on Nagasaki. He was just twenty miles offshore. Sept 27 his ship landed in Japan after the Japanese surrender on September 2. He saw firsthand the devastation the bomb had created and is still emotional about it. Soon after his ship was hit by a typhoon and
returned stateside.

In 1946, he boarded the USS Glennon, a beautiful ship—he recalls. He sailed through the Scandinavian countries on a Goodwill Tour. At twenty or twenty-one years of age, he decided that his “hitch was up,” so he transferred to the reserves and moved to St. Petersburg Naval Reserve base in Florida and got his pilot’s license. In 1949 he was recalled to active duty, due to the Korean War and boarded a salvage, tugboat in Charleston, S.C. In November he collapsed and was sent back to a hospital in Charleston. There, he met the love of his life, Janel. He was in the hospital for two years. The doctors believed he had suffered radiation exposure which triggered a thyroid problem. He lost fifty pounds.

August 10, 1952, he married Janel. He was also treated with radioactive isotopes, which helped him recover. However, he would need medication for the rest of his life, so in 1956 he was permanently retired from the Navy. He has several service medals, a Good Conduct medal and a certificate of Combat experience from June -November 1944.

After he retired from military service. Walt stayed extremely busy working in law enforcement in Pinellas County, Florida for thirty years, Patrol Division and Detective Division. He was also project coordinator, laying out correctional institutes. He wrote federal grants and built his own house. With family always a priority, he moved to Nolensville, Tennessee in 2014 to be close. At ninety-three he is still happy about good meals and continues to live by the code, “God, Country, Family.”

June 6, 2019 marked the 75th Anniversary of the World War II invasion of Normandy. This was the largest seaborn invasion in history. D-Day, Operation Neptune is the term used for when American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches in Normandy, France. The men encountered heavy fire, mines, wooden stakes, metal tripods and barbed wire. Allied forces suffered 10,000 casualties with 4,414 confirmed dead. Yet, this invasion began the liberation of France, which was occupied by Germany, and laid the foundation for the Allied victory of WWII. We salute Walt Jacques, and all those who have served our country and all those who serve now!

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