This Day in History: Arthur Jackson, the “one-man Marine Corps”
On this day in 2017, a hero passes away. Arthur “Bull” Jackson is known for his courageous service during the World War II Battle of Peleliu. Would you believe that he singlehandedly took out 12 enemy positions in about 90 minutes?
Unsurprisingly, he’s been labeled “nothing less than a one-man Marine Corps” for his actions.
Many World War II battles in the Pacific were bloody and hard-fought—and Peleliu was no exception. Americans had hoped to take the island in a matter of days. Instead, the effort took two months.
Jackson was right in the thick of it. He landed with the Marines at Peleliu on September 15, 1944. A few days later, he found himself cornered on the southern end of the island with the rest of his company.
His commander asked Jackson what he thought about trying to make his way into a shallow trench that connected the enemy bunkers. Could Jackson clear those bunkers? Pfc. Jackson was then only 19 years old. But don’t you know that he was *born* ready for such a task?! He loaded himself up with ammunition and grenades and set off.
“When I got out there, I found out that trench was only about that deep,” Jackson recounted, gesturing with his hands and chuckling. “It gave a person cover, but you had to keep your rear end down, or you would be shot for sure.”
When he approached the largest bunker, it got dicey. “I could hear ‘em jabbering in there,” Jackson later reported. “And I had a white phosphorus grenade, and I just threw this white phosphorus grenade in.” The explosion created lots of smoke—which was also cover for Jackson to act. His squad leader had brought him a huge bag of explosives. Jackson lit a fuse on the bag and pushed it into the bunker. Then, he RAN toward a nearby bomb crater.
“Just as I dove in there, the roof of that big bunker—whoooooom! Up it went . . . coconut logs, boulders, earth. I thought—I’ve been done in by my own stupidity.”
But, amazingly, he’d dodged his own massive explosion.
Jackson wasn’t through. His Medal citation recounts the manner in which Jackson “stormed 1 gun position after another, dealing death and destruction to the savagely fighting enemy in his inexorable drive against the remaining defenses.” When all was said and done, Jackson had demolished 12 enemy pillboxes. He’s been credited with killing 50 Japanese soldiers.
Jackson’s action, his Medal citation concludes, “contributed essentially to the complete annihilation of the enemy in the southern sector of the island.”
“To this day, I do not understand why they didn’t vacate some of those positions and come out after me,” Jackson later said. “I mean, they must have thought there was more than one person doing all this. I passed out back there, and I fell flat on my back, and I was heat exhausted, to say the least. And when the troops came up, honest to God, I felt like I was a ball player who had just made the winning touchdown. They picked me up, pulled me up to my feet, slapping me on the back and shaking me. ‘Jackson, G*d dammit, bully, you did it, you did it.’”
About one year later, Jackson would be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Truman. “I never considered myself a damn hero,” Jackson would say of these events. “I was just a good Marine, trying to do what any other good Marine would’ve done under the same circumstances.”
Perhaps another characteristic of a good Marine (and Medal recipient): Jackson remained modest about what he had done.
Adam Bernstein, Arthur Jackson, Medal of Honor recipient for WWII ‘one-man assault’ at Peleliu, dies at 92 (Wash. Post; June 17, 2017)
Bill D. Ross, Peleliu: Tragic Triumph: The Untold Story of the Pacific War’s Forgotten Battle (1991)
Bill Sloan, Brotherhood of Heroes: The Marines at Peleliu, 1944—The Bloodiest Battle of the Pacific War (2006)
James H. Hallas, The Devil’s Anvil: The Assault on Peleliu (1994)
John Roberts, Nearly 70 years later, a Marine holds out hope for long-lost Medal of Honor (Fox News; June 30, 2013)
Medal of Honor citation (Arthur J. Jackson; WWII)
Medal of Honor: Oral histories (Arthur Jackson; WWII)
Peter Collier et al., Medal of Honor: Portraits of Honor beyond the Call of Duty (3d ed. 2011)
Tim Woodward, WWII hero breaks long silence over shooting at Guantanamo (Idaho Statesman; May 26, 2013).