Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 3

Segment 4

Segment 5

Segment 6

Segment 7

Rhine River Crossing



Jackson was born in Covina, California in 1924. He was a senior in high school on 7 December 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. It changed life completely. He does not know if people realize that the war changed everybody in every way.Jackson was planning his future. He wanted to be a civil engineer so he planned to go Chaffey Community College after high school. He graduated high school he saw that the war was becoming more severe. He knew he was not going to finish college and he felt it was his duty to do what he could for his country. He lasted about a semester then tried to figure out what would be a great help [Annotator's Note: to the US] and also benefit him.Jackson wanted to be a pilot, but his eyesight wasn't good enough. He recalled reading that there was no eye exam for glider pilots. The more he read about gliders the more he decided he did not want to be a glider pilot because of how high the death rate was.The Army had an Engineering Corps, a segment of which is the Topographical Engineers. He thought that he would fit well there since he studied some Engineering in college. He went to the Army recruiter in Los Angeles. He had originally gone to the Marine recruiter and was told he had to qualify without his glasses on the target range. Jackson was a little discouraged. He went to the Army recruiter and told them about the Topographical Engineers. The recruiter told him that since he was volunteering he could volunteer for anything he wanted. So he volunteered for that.He signed up and reported to Fort MacArthur near Los Angeles Harbor and waited for assignment. After a couple days his name was called and he was told to report to the Combat Engineers up at Fort Lewis, Washington. He said he had volunteered for the Topographical Engineers and was told they would take care of that up there. Lesson number 1, don't ever believe a recruiting sergeant.He became part of a combat engineering outfit. He went through basic training up there. Then they were transferred to the East Coast to become part of the 40th Combat Engineers which was expanding to become a regiment of 3 battalions. The 40th Combat Engineers went down to Florida and took amphibious training and became the first group to receive this training. He realized they would be going into an invasion. They shipped to North Africa with other units and became part of the invasion of Sicily.As amphibious engineers their job was to get the infantry across the beach and clear the obstacles. Sicily wasn't too much trouble.1 thing happened that wasn't reported for years. The 82nd Airborne was sending in troops for an air drop after the invasion force got in. They could hear the planes coming but they did not know it was the 82nd Airborne. They had had air raids for several nights. 1 of Jackson’s friends said he thought the planes sounded like C-47's [Annotator’s Note: Douglas C-47 Skytrain] and not to shoot them, but the whole Navy fired. It happened to be the 82nd Airborne and many of them were shot down. What had happened was the Luftwaffe [Annotator's Note: German Air Force] had flown over the 82nd and dropped their bombs through the formations which drew the fire. But it was not known for many years that that was what actually happened [Annotator's Note: this is not true].After the invasion they converted to combat engineering building bridges and clearing minefields. They moved up the coast to Agrigento, Sicily to Porto Empedocle. There they unloaded ships. They did that for several weeks.


They moved to Palermo. They did some road work there and tried to catch up with the infantry.Fortunately, they were not called to go into the next invasion as they had had problems of their own. Their Colonel was court-martialed and they were pulled out of the Salerno invasion. The 45th Division did not go in on the Salerno invasion, which was the Division that the 40th Combat Engineers took in at Sicily. They did river crossings with the 45th Division throughout the war. They were held in reserve for the invasion of Salerno and instead went across the toe of Italy into Naples. The port of Naples was completely destroyed, so they became port engineers and got the port working so they could take cargo ships in. They did a lot of rebuilding in Naples. Combat engineering went up the boot and they were left relatively safe in Naples.They spent the Winter of 1943/1944 there and plans were made for another invasion. They were called back to North Africa to train incoming divisions for the next invasion.They thought they would be going across the English Channel, but instead there was a secondary invasion after Normandy, in Southern France and that was the 1 they went into. In Southern France it was not a difficult invasion.They reverted back to combat engineering and worked up the Rhone Valley putting in bridges throughout the winter. When winter set in they were in the Vosges Mountains on the southern part of the line. Their regiment was split down into separate companies doing different tasks like bridging, road building, and mine clearing. Jackson's outfit ended up in the Colmar Pocket and became part of the French 1st Army and supported them. When the 3rd Infantry Division was brought in they were assigned to it. While Jackson was in the Colmar Pocket, he endured the coldest winter in a long time for Europe.Audie Murphy was in the 3rd Infantry Division and Jackson was in action with his unit and with him. Murphy mentioned Jackson's crew several times for getting a bridge in during the action where he held off attacking Germans by himself. That was it until they were called up north to prepare for the Rhine River crossing. They took the 45th Infantry Division across with them.They were to take the infantry over the river in "storm boats," small flat bottomed speed boats that carried about 10 men and had a bow man up front with 2 luminous dials on his hands to direct the motorman in the back. It would take just over a minute or so to get across the river. After the storm boats came the assault boats which carried 24 men or so, but were slower and larger. When 1 of the men got hurt, Jackson volunteered to take the bow. He thought about his decision all the way across the Rhine. He could see German rifleman trying to zero in on him and hear the bullets going between his 2 hands.They dropped the infantry then returned to the other side and hit the beach so hard they splintered the boat.The infantry moved on ahead. They had some major bridges to put in. 1 of the largest was at Aschaffenburg on the Main River, which was over 600 feet long. It was a supply bridge and every night it would get bombed and every day they would work on it. That was their last major endeavor.They headed south and were called into Dachau. He had heard about the concentration camps and saw some prisoners, but nothing prepared them for what they saw. They saw thousands of bodies. Typhus was a huge problems. Their job was get their equipment in and haul the bodies out and bury them as fast as possible. They got the German civilians to load the bodies on wagons then they took them through the town of Dachau and dumped them in a ditch and buried them. After that was done, they moved on.


They moved on south into Bavaria. The war ended while they were in Rosenheim.When they went overseas they were told not take personal items. Cameras were forbidden so they had nothing to record anything. They would find cameras along the way. Cameras at the time were film cameras, so they had to find film to fit the camera and had to know the speed of the film, so it was a lot to figure and he could not get the film developed. So they had this collection of film. At the end of the war they ended up in Rosenheim in a high school that had a film lab. They printed what they could and divided it amongst the men, so they had some pictures to record their life overseas.Years later Jackson became editor of their association [Annotator's Note: 40th Engineer Combat Regiment Association] newsletter so he requested that people mail in any pictures that they might have. People mailed them in and they have been used in the newsletter.Jackson was invited to the Dachau Concentration Camp for the rededication of the museum as an educational facility. He was interviewed by a Steven Spielberg crew that was recording all of the eyewitness accounts of the liberation of Dachau and the Holocaust.They ended up in Rosenheim in Spring of 1945 and waited for assignment. They were to wait for a ship to go across the Atlantic to go back home. His commander thought they might get a trip home faster if they went out of England so they went there by way of France. They waited there several months before arriving home. He was discharged in November of 1945. Training was all practical like bridge building and mine detecting. He missed a lot of the training because he was in the hospital with pneumonia. A lot of the troops from Fort Lewis were in the hospital because of the pneumonia; it was rampant. He missed out on much of the Engineer training.They worked on fixing bridges. Mobile bridges were just being created so he did not get into that into until he was in Africa. The Bailey Bridge was a British designed bridge that they used. The treadway bridge was a special bridge and there were treadway bridge outfits to build them. They would make regular bridges out of anything they could find like timber and steel piling. Mine detecting was pretty primitive. They did get advanced mine training in North Africa. He compares his training to that of the Marines currently training in Oceanside [Annotator's Note: Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California]. For both, the training was extremely practical and realistic.Jackson recalls the instructor in mine school saying that it was not a complete course until someone blew off a finger or hand which happened in his class. They did have a mine detector but it was not sharp. They would use their bayonets and be aware of other tricks the Germans would use.Jackson went overseas in April 1943. It was his 1st time leaving the country. They did training with the infantry in Oran, Africa. They left Oran, Africa on July 5th, Jackson's birthday, and landed in Sicily on July 10th. There was an awful storm and they questioned whether they would be able to land at all, but the storm calmed and they were able to land. The Germans and Italians did not expect the invasion with that storm so they were not ready for the invasion.


In Africa they were out in the desert were the French Foreign Legion was training and were headquartered. They worked with the Foreign Legion there and while they were attached to the French 1st Army. They were interesting because they were very fatalistic and could care less. They were in a town 1 time, behind the German lines, with the French Foreign Legion and they were building fires and they could not get them to put them out. The French attitude was that the Germans are going to fire on them anyway so why bother putting out the fire. That was the type of person who joined the Foreign Legion, someone who did not care about their life.In Africa, his specific training was with the Higgins Boats, the LCVPs, and the LCMs [Annotator's Note: landing craft, mechanized], LCTs [Annotator's Note: landing craft, tank], and LSTs [Annotator's Note: landing ship, tank - also jokingly referred to by the men who crewed them as large slot target]. Jackson worked with the LCVPs, landing craft vehicle and personnel. They would hold about 30 to 40 people depending on if they carried any vehicles or cargo. The Navy would pilot them and his group was in charge of them once on shore. They would go ahead and deal with getting rid of obstacles. During the landing in Sicily they did not have many obstacles to clear. For the invasion the engineers were divided into 3 platoons; the ship platoon, the shore platoon and the weapons platoon. The ship platoon would stay aboard the Navy ship and load the troops and materials onto the landing craft. The shore platoon would receive them and get the troops to the beach and unload the the boats. The weapons platoon would be in place along the beach protecting the landing.In Sicily Jackson was in the ship platoon so his job was to help get the supplies over to the boats. Jackson discovered that once the infantry went ashore there was not much for the weapons platoon to do. So he got himself into a weapons platoon. On the next landing, he was with the weapons platoon and could sit back and watch once the landing took place and the infantry was there to keep everyone safe.In the weapons platoon Jackson was on a machine gun crew with a 50-caliber. 3 men would haul it in: 1 with the barrel, 1 with the base, and 1 with the ammunition. They would charge up forward until they found a good defensive position and would then set up. Jackson carried the barrel. He was attached the 45th Infantry Division in the United States and went overseas with the 45th. Their historian discovered that during the war they worked with over 20 different divisions but mostly with the 45th Division.The most fascinating part of the Engineers program, was that they would be in combat for a short period of time, then they would fall back and wait for a call. During their time in the rear they would do some behind the scenes work, like building and fixing roads. Their upfront work was very short. It was not like the infantry where they were up there for long periods of time. Jackson carried an M1 Rifle.Crossing the Rhine was when Jackson thought that he didn't have many seconds left [Annotator's Note: to live]. The French were fatalistic and being on the front lines; Jackson became fatalistic also. Several times that thought hit him.As the war went along they would use Bailey Bridging which was quick and efficient. If it was for a road they would use for supply, they would build a fixed bridge. They did not put in floating bridges very often. There were special units that put in the pontoon bridges.


Jackson describes what he experienced at Dachau.They knew it was there. They were called in to clear the bodies. But they never saw so many bodies as he saw in Dachau. He saw many dead bodies stacked up 6 to 10 feet high. There was a train that came into Dachau and they could smell it, the odor was horrendous. Each car was filled with bodies. That was the initial shock. There were people who were barely alive, not even able to get out of the camp; they were trying to shuffle. They were getting food for themselves and cooking at bonfires. But there were bodies everywhere. They could close their eyes but not their nostrils. Jackson was shocked and could not believe what he was seeing.He has a picture he shows to students of piles of shoes from the camp, probably 15 or 30 feet high. Those were just the shoes of those who died. It's unbelievable; they couldn't imagine the numbers of people who died, but there they were everywhere.They had the German civilians bury the dead. They had them stack the bodies on horsedrawn carts, take them through the town, and bury them in a trench.There were a few guards left by the time Jackson got there. There is a story that the 45th Infantry Division does not tell about how they lined up the leftover guards and shot them. There are photographs of that but are not easy to obtain. That happened they day before Jackson got there.Some of the guards tried to run away and they were captured by the able-bodied prisoners and were beaten to death. A question is always asked, why the prisoners did not revolt, and it is because they were too heavily guarded. Once they had the opportunity, they did revolt. They beat the guards they captured to death. The guards were left where they fell.DDT was brought in and they had to delouse all the prisoners. They would shoot the powder up their sleeves, pants, shirts and get the lice off them and themselves. He hopes that saved many lives.Jackson ran into a lady years later and she knew he had been at Dachau. She had been in a labor camp outside Munich. She discussed the delousing process with him, and he said she described exactly what they did. So this woman, years later, who received the DDT powder remembered and she was very thankful for it.Jackson was in Rosenheim when he found out the Germans surrendered. They celebrated and that was it. After the war, sports equipment was brought in to keep the troops occupied. They set up teams for volleyball, baseball and track and competed with each other. They organized a big track meet and notified other regiments near by. They called the meet the "1st Annual Invitational Inn River Valley Track Meet". Years later he found out that is 1 of the biggest track meets in Europe. He wonders if it was tracked back to them.


They had a point system [Annotator's Note: in regards to how soon 1 was discharged] depending on various factors like age, how long 1 served in the military, marriage, dependants, etc. They were trucked to a cigarette camp, Camp Lucky Strike [Annotator's Note: camps for servicemen returning home] and then went to England. In England they did maintenance work and stayed at an English military facility that the English had left. They did practically nothing for several months while they waited for transportation. They finally got a cargo ship going home.The ship was a merchant Marine vessel and they only had enough food for 2 meals a day, breakfast and dinner. For lunch, they bought cases of sugar crackers called Zu Zu's [Annotator's Note: Zu Zu Ginger Snaps cookies], so that's what they would eat for lunch. They had oatmeal in the morning, some Zu Zu's to hold them over, then soup at night. So when they pulled into Boston Harbor someone wrote on the side of their ship "S.S. Zu Zu". Nobody understood it but the guys on board and they got a good laugh.They had a lot of ice cold half pint cartons of milk aboard ship. It was freezing in Boston when they arrived and when the Red Cross met them they met them with milk. It was quite a homecoming.Before heading back to the States, Jackson was in Southampton and Salisbury where they stayed in British barracks. In Southampton Jackson's job was to guard the ship the Queen Mary [Annotator's Note: RMS Queen Mary]. Jackson, by himself and armed with an M1 rifle, was guarding the largest ship in the world. He would walk back and forth, all by his lonesome.Jackson and his friends would rib each other unmercifully. 1 fellow who had no practical knowledge at all, would always ask questions and would try to figure things out that made no sense. He tried to find out the value of a mule, and he would ask, how many miles would you get out of a bale of hay on a mule. Jackson found out after the war that he became an aeronautical engineer.Jackson's home was in Covina, California. Pomona was the closest large town and the railroad ran through it. Jackson's girlfriend and his parents would watch the troop trains go through because they knew he was on his way home. 1 night Jackson's future wife told his parents that he was on that train and that they should go to Fort MacArthur. They drove to Fort MacArthur on this hunch, and he was on that train! He was crawling into his bunk when a guy yelled for him. He thought a prank was being played on him, but they were there and they had a great reunion.Jackson grew up on an orange ranch so he went to work in an orange grove. He applied for school using the GI Bill. He wanted to get into engineering so he applied to Cal Tech in Pasadena [Annotator's Note: California Institute of Technology]. There was a backlog of 3 or 4 years to get in, but he studied and took the test and was told that he would be notified. He did not hear anything, and when he inquired he was told he was close to being accepted and that there was only a handful a head of him. He is still waiting for that phone call today.


Jackson applied at Pomona College using the GI Bill. He was accepted and eventually graduated from there. He was still trying to be an engineer but he made too many detours along the way. His chemistry professor said he would be the best lab technician in the world, but not a chemist. He changed to education and taught US History and Government and Geography.The war matured Jackson. It matured him faster and more completely than in any other way. He recalled his girlfriend knowing that he had changed. You become more fatalistic; what will be will be.Jackson is currently trying to talk to high school students about the Holocaust and present real facts and photos, so that it cannot be denied. He thinks he is being very successful. He reads responses and people are thinking more and more about this and not losing it.He opens his classroom talk by holding up a history book and showing how things are edited and eliminated. Much of the history has been removed from the books. He says that individuals have to do research and hear eyewitness accounts to find out what happened. That impresses students.He thinks having The National World War II Museum is important; he is a founding member. He searches for things that are things beyond his memory to find information that he does not have already. The textbook is not the end all, it is just the beginning. The Internet has opened the horizons and people can Google and do their own research.

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You may receive the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only the specific clips that you requested. Please contact the Museum at if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to four weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address.