Sonoran Desert Institute lost a pillar of our community this week.
While we remember the bravery and sacrifice of so many on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we also mourn the loss of Operation Overlord participant Master Sergeant Paul Jackson, veteran of World War II and namesake of our very own Paul Jackson First Responder Scholarship. He passed away on June 3 at the venerable age of 96. His legacy, which currently includes 57 surviving descendants, remains alive and well.
Paul Jackson served in Bravo Co, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment during WWII. Jackson participated in some of the most well-known military actions of the Second World War, jumping into combat during Operation Overlord and Operation Market Garden and fighting in the Battle of Bastogne, where he was wounded. His story ranges from beekeeping to battling to asking General George Patton himself for a transfer — and getting it.
Jackson was born in 1923 in Funston, Georgia. At the age of 17, he enlisted into the United States Army and trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. After serving for a period of time in Fort Knox, Kentucky, Jackson was transferred over to the west coast after the war broke out to ensure the safety of the region.
Serving at Camp Beale, California didn’t sit well with Jackson. He wanted action, and knew where he could get it — the paratroopers. However, his captain didn’t want him to go — he knew a good noncomissioned officer when he saw one, and denied the transfer.
Naturally, then Staff Sergeant Paul Jackson then got General George S. Patton involved.
During his time at Fort Knox, among his other duties Jackson had served as a fill-in driver for the world-renowned general. He had also built hives and managed bees for the American legend, a skill he picked up in his childhood.
The transfer was granted.
As you might imagine, the captain who had stonewalled him was so upset about the incident that he had Jackson stripped of his rank before he left. Staff Sergeant Jackson became Private Jackson.
Jackson returned to Benning, where he got his jump wings.
Jackson made Corporal before taking part in Operation Overlord and the Battle for Normandy, and by the time the 501st participated in Operation Market Garden Jackson had propelled himself back to staff sergeant. It was during Operation Market Garden that Jackson would participate in one of his most legendary acts as a United States serviceman.
Allied armor came under fire from a rocket emplacement, causing serious issues to the armored group. Having already been wounded moments before by a piece of searing-hot debris, Jackson charged up a hill in which a rocket placement was located, and single-handedly killed all five of the German occupants and neutralized the rockets.
Jackson saved lives that day, and for his heroism he was promoted to master sergeant. Jackson continued to serve until the Battle of Bastogne, in which he was shot three times in the hip joint and was hospitalized until the Germans surrendered. He was honorably discharged, a hero in his own right.
Some time ago, we did a video about Jackson, highlighting just what a special man he was. It’s attached below.
A representative from SDI was present at Jackson’s funeral with a floral arrangement dedicated to his memory. It, and the Paul Jackson First Responder Scholarship, are such a small thing we can do to honor a true American hero.
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