In order to bring into perspective the memory of these individuals and what their families may have had to endure at the time, here is the story of just one person who will hopefully represent the many thousands who have been through harm’s way and made the ultimate sacrifice in the not too distant past.
At the outbreak of World War II he applied to and qualified for air cadet training, which led to him becoming a second lieutenant and navigator of a B-24 Liberator bomber (then referred to as the “flying coffin”). In January 1944, Bill was assigned to the 15th Air Force based in Foggia, Italy. Before leaving Bill wrote a very heartfelt letter that was to become his last letter to his family that even today has brought tears to anyone who has read it.
On March 17, 1944, on his third mission, the B-24 he was in was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Vienna, Austria, causing the aircraft to come down but not before colliding with another bomber in the formation, bringing both down and, although not known at the time, killing all but one crewman of both planes. Bill was 22 years old.
Two weeks later, his parents, A. L. and Jolietta Jacobs, received that dreadful telegram that their son had gone down with his plane and that he was listed as missing in action. It was not until almost seven months later, on Nov. 17, 1944, that the Jacobs family heard again from the War Department, receiving a letter which stated that the German government through the International Red Cross reported that Bill had died when the aircraft he was in went down and that he had died on March 17, 1944. His remains were unaccounted for. Naturally, it was a time of anxiety and despair for his whole family.
Not having received any further communications from the War Department regarding his son, A.L. Jacobs resorted to other means in an effort to determine the fate of his son’s remains — namely the Vatican, but to no avail.
In April 1947, the Jacobs family received a “last” communication from Headquarters, United States forces in Austria, which in so many words said they had not been able to locate Bill’s remains. Complicating the situation at the time was that by then the Cold War with Russia had gotten under way and American authorities were not able to access the Russian occupied sector of Vienna.
The Jacobses did not hear again from the War Department until October 1951. At that time, they received a telegram from what was by then the Department of Defense that the remains of the late 2nd Lt. William G. Jacobs had been located and that they were en route to the United States. However, because he had been buried in a common grave with the rest of the airmen of the two bombers, it was impossible to identify his remains individually. DNA identification was not available.
On Dec. 6, 1951, 2nd Lt. William G. “Bill” Jacobs’ remains were finally laid to rest with 11 of the 21 crew members of the two B-24 Bombers. His father and mother attended the burial of the remains and after seven long years were allowed closure to their son’s ordeal.
Today, Bill’s sister, Marjorie Jacobs Bower, who is 84, still survives him and has the original scrapbook from where this information is derived.
Does Bill have anyone here in the Imperial Valley that he can be identified with? The answer is yes. He has a niece, Marie L. Santos, one grandniece, Christina Santos and two grandnephews, Nicolas and Daniel Santos that he can be identified with. Although his niece, Marie, never met her uncle Bill, his story has been passed on to her and is very dear to her heart. Last summer, on a cross-country drive his grandnephews, Nicolas and Daniel Santos, visited the final resting place of his remains at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.
Like Bill’s story, there are undoubtedly thousands upon thousands just like his. But, because the passage of time may not have allowed their story to be passed on, for today, let Bill’s story serve as the story for those who do not have anyone to tell their story.
Sergio H. Santos, with help from Marjorie Jacobs Bower and Edwin Julius Bower