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American Valor
Jack Jacobs
Interview Excerpt

Q: Talk about the basic training end and advanced training, how well did it prepare you?

Jack Jacobs: There is nothing you can do or say in peacetime that will prepare you for combat. When I was older and I was a battalion commander, we had learned our lesson about doing dry fire exercises. So we did lots of live fire exercises where, where soldiers actually fired live rounds and maneuvered around with the excitement of firing live rounds and with the danger of possibly getting, getting hurt by some of your cohorts who were providing supporting fire and such. That doesn't prepare, there is nothing you can do or say to prepare anybody for what combat is like.

And to be honest with you, even being in combat doesn't prepare you for subsequent combat because, I found myself scared all the time I was in combat. There's nothing that will, nothing ever ameliorates the fear that you have when somebody is actively trying to kill you.

So, the training was great, it's not, it wasn't as good as it is today, training is great today in the Army. But even today's training probably doesn't, I'm convinced doesn't prepare you for combat. It's a completely different experience outside the cant of anybody who has not been in combat.

Q: Talk about friendships that are made in that environment, is there a significant difference?

Jacobs: Friendships that are made in the military, versus friendships that are made out of the military? I think you can divide the friend the kinds of friendships that you make in the military into two - in combat and out of combat. Oddly my most enduring relationships were with people or with friends I made out of combat. The few friends I had in combat, they were not enduring. There are two reasons for this, one is very prosaic and that is that I served both, both my tours in Vietnam were with Vietnamese units. So there were not a lot of Americans. Those guys stayed there and the few Americans who came home never really had very much in common with them. Some of them died subsequently and so I don't have any enduring combat relationships.

I do have quite a few friends who have remained friends of mine for many, many years who I met in the Army, who served in the Army and got out, most of whom, and those who stayed in are now retired. Those stay with you because you have a common intellectual base. You talk about the same things in the same kind of way. I didn't go to the military academy at West Point, but I taught there for a little over three years. A lot of the friends I have I met there when we were captains and stayed friends with them, on and off for years and years. A true friend is somebody you spoken to them in 20 years and it's like you talked to them yesterday. I think everybody's got friends like that.

Q: Describe the events that led to the citation.

Jacobs: I think you'll find that a lot of recipients are not particularly comfortable talking about them, not because they bring back bad memories or anything like that. They just, I think most recipients are not really fond of talking about themselves very much. Which I think is peculiar to, it's a natural result of receiving the Medal of Honor. I think it makes you very humble. You don't like to talk about yourself very much. Well, I'll talk a little bit about the tactics at the time.

We had been fighting for months before Tet '68 and during Tet of '68 and had been chasing around a lot of Viet Cong units and had been chased around by a lot of Viet Cong units.

Our strength, I was advisor to a Vietnamese infantry battalion with a few other Americans. And our strength had gone from, only four Americans there. Our strength had gone from about 350 before Tet down to about 150 on the day that the action took place. We had received some intelligence that the enemy was going to be located, would probably be located in a specific spot. And they mounted an operation which consisted of a Vietnamese Ranger battalion being dropped in by helicopters and to move along a wood line, a canal line, perpendicular to our movement.

We were dropped by boat on a bank of the Mekong River and we were moved in a perpendicular fashion to this area where we thought the bad guys were located. To get a good view of what this is like you have to try to conceive of what the terrain is like. Fourth Corp, the Delta Vietnam is huge stretches, sometimes a thousand meters on a square, on a side. Huge stretches of flat rice paddy and these rice paddies are all intersected with canals at right angles with a thin tree line.

And one theoretically moves along the tree line so that you're not out in the open, and to where you want to go. When you move in a large body like this, I and one other NCO were accompanying the two lead companies of this, of my battalion, the 2nd of the 16th of the Ninth Vietnamese Infantry Division. When you don't know where the enemy is, you'll always put scouts and reconnaissance elements out front and out to unprotected flanks so that you're not surprised.

The guy who was the battalion commander was new. He had been the executive officer, the second in command and had replaced the previous battalion commander when he had been wounded a couple of weeks before. As a matter of fact I was standing right next to the battalion commander when he was wounded in another action a couple of weeks before.

He was evacuated and the executive officer became the battalion commander. The executive officer was not particularly strong, was a fairly weak guy, nice guy, but a fairly weak guy. Had lots of experience, but not a strong leader. And when we told him, you gotta make sure that the scouts are out to protect us, he took for granted that they would be out and accepted on face value with their reports that they were out forward and they were out to the flanks. In fact they weren't as we reconstructed it. They were to the rear somewhere. And so the lead elements of the, of the battalion were totally unprotected and we walked into an enormous ambush and which we lost, I don't know, 50 or a 100 people killed or wounded in ten seconds.

All caught out in the open, very unpleasant circumstance. And we managed to prevail in the end because there were a lot of heroic actions that took place that day, by the Vietnamese and by Americans who supported them including Navy helicopter gun ship pilots who when they expended their ammunition, shooting at the, at the enemy, came down under fire to pick up wounded people.

It was a very harrowing experience, but we did manage to prevail in the end, only because (a) we were lucky in the circumstances and (b) there were a lot of people who did what they needed to do that day.

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