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Happy Veterans Day

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My grandfather’s story...

This post has nothing to do with Texas Tech athletics, but I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it anyway. Today is Veterans Day, and I wanted to share the story of my grandfather, Harold Jacobson.

If my memory is correct, he was one of 11 children born to a first generation Norwegian-American family in Minnesota. His father, Hans Jacobson, sought better opportunity in the United States (presumably sometime in the late 1800’s). Somehow, Hans made contact with a farmer in Minnesota, who told him if he agreed to work for seven years on his farm, he would get Hans out of Norway and into the United States. So it was.

My grandfather was poor growing up, like many people were back then. They would eat a sandwich with two slices of bread, butter, a tomato slice, and call it a meal. They grew watermelons and pickled the rinds after they were done eating the flesh, so they could turn that into another meal. Like something out of an old folk song, my grandfather and his twin brother, Howie, worked 12 hour days for six days a week on a railroad. They had Sundays off, and were given one 15-minute break for lunch every day.

My grandfather and his brother celebrated their 17th birthday four days before the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. They needed parental consent to enlist in the U.S. Army for World War II.

They worked as medics, and fought at Normandy at the age of 20 and the Battle of the Bulge at age 21. Thankfully, they came home unharmed, both physically and mentally/emotionally (as much as one can after fighting in a war, anyway).

Even though they lived in Minnesota, they were sent to boot camp in Texas. As a result, when they came back from Europe the Army dropped them back off in Texas, thousands of miles from home with no ride, no money, and no food.

Harold and Howie started hitchhiking, and eventually made it back to Minnesota. In an attempt to be polite, they refused when strangers who drove them across the country offered them some food. By the time they got home, they were starving.

Their mom, Alma, asked if they would like an egg. They each said “yes,” scarfed it down, were offered another, said “yes,” and this continued for quite some time. When they were done eating, they had put away two dozen eggs in one sitting.

My grandfather never thought he was a hero for putting himself in the way of the world’s most evil and destructive harm. He was humble, quiet, peaceful, kind, gentle, and sweet. But he was strong.

Even when I was younger, it was difficult to understand how he could be so strong, both physically and in his heart. He lost his twin brother, his son, and his wife.

At the age of 82, he was standing at a gas pump with my dad in the middle of winter. The roads were icy and slick. A truck barreled into the gas station parking lot way too fast, couldn’t stop, and rear-ended my dad’s car.

My grandfather somehow landed in the middle of the street, the hardness and coldness of which is unimaginable. My dad ran into the street to help him, thinking first to throw his hands up to stop oncoming traffic from running my grandfather over.

My dad, covered in blood from tending to his own dad, removed his coat and laid it over my grandfather.

In the calmest voice, my grandfather said, “Keith, I think my leg is broken.”

It was. It was broken in more places than the doctors could count. The only options were amputation and fusing the bone. They went with the latter, and my grandfather spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Another time, he was home alone and somehow fell out of his chair while in the kitchen. My grandparents’ house had a long, narrow kitchen, with the opposite countertops only a few feet apart.

The old man typically bound to a wheelchair, now lying on the floor, gripped the edge of each countertop with each hand and pulled himself up, back into his chair.

Towards the end of his life, he suffered from Alzheimer’s and/or dementia. He woke up at midnight, wheeled himself into the living room, and sat there, waiting. My dad would find him, and initially he was angry that he hadn’t been served breakfast yet.

When my dad explained to him it wasn’t time for breakfast, and took him back to bed, my grandfather was embarrassed and disappointed that his mind had betrayed him

It’s difficult to understand that a war veteran and a personal hero could be embarrassed or ashamed of themselves for a disease they cannot control. It’s not what he, or anyone else, deserves.

I’m thankful he came home back in 1945 to start a family and eventually tell these stories to the next generations. I’m thankful for everyone who served with him and everyone who served before and after him.

My grandfather’s is just one story. There are a million like his that I think our society should learn, remember, and share with anyone who will listen.

Happy Veterans Day.

My grandfather, Harold Jacobson (1924-2010)
My grandfather’s dog tags and medal for good service.