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Images of weary travelers haunt Jackson

By Cindy Simpson

Rockwood’s Jake Jackson traveled across Europe in the U.S. Army during World War II.
He’s seen a lot, including a group of weary travelers walking a road toward a nearby town.
He said it looked like they were wearing and holding everything they owned.
Certain they were victims of a concentration camp, their image sticks with Jackson to this day.
“To me, it looked like skin was just stretched over some bones,” he said.
“They were the most pathetic group of people I ever seen.”
The soldiers later walked by a building he believed was a crematory.
He said he could smell death.
Jackson was recently honored for his World War II service by Baptist International Missions Inc.
Jackson worked in communications.
“The company I was in laid wire,” Jackson said. “Started off on Omaha Beach and laid wire to oppose Germany,” he added.
He  laid wire in France, Belgium and Germany.
Jackson was 18 when he enlisted in Texas. The Mount Vernon native said he was looking for work, and there wasn’t much else available.
The group he was in when he first enlisted did maneuvers all over the South, including Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana.
Jackson said he had traveled through six different states, including Tennessee, one cold winter when someone brought him a taste of whiskey.
The liquid burned as it went down, and Jackson said a Tennessee boy was the only one among them who liked it.
After Pearl Harbor, they caught a boat in New Orleans to go to Puerto Rico.
“They picked 100 of us to go,” Jackson said. “We put up communications in Puerto Rico.”
Some of his favorite images are from his time in Puerto Rico.
He spent a bunch of time in replacement centers and was put in the 398th Infantry Headquarters Company.
“I didn’t like it,” he recalled. “There was a new signal corps forming in Fort Jackson. I asked if I could transfer into it.
“They told me I could, but I would be a private,” he added.
Jackson joined what was C Company of 59th Signal Battalion. From there they went to England.
“From England, we went to France,” he said.
They got their orders of where to go, laying line so headquarters could be in communication with command posts.
They got into Belgium.
“The first place the 59th Signal Corps went to was Bastogne, Belgium,” he said.
Jackson recalls one dangerous mission in which he was part of a troubleshooting crew on a problematic line.
His friend wanted to go with him so they could get a drink afterward.
“Eventually, we came to a place where CP had been — that is command post,” he explained.
“There was a whole bunch of line, there but none together. We finally found the same line that went back to where we’d been coming in at. Eventually, we found the other end, but it was dark. It must have been 10 or 11 p.m. by that time,” Jackson said.
Something frightening happened shortly afterward.
An artillery went through the air.
“We knew definitely that it was close,” Jackson said. “We both hit the ground. It hit the ground not too far from us, but it was a dud. It didn’t explode.”
In spite of their scare, Jackson managed to get the work done.
“And we didn’t get no drinks, either,” he said.