Art Jackson, who singlehandedly destroyed a dozen enemy pillboxes and killed 50 Japanese soldiers during a fierce battle on the Pacific island of Peleliu, died Wednesday at the Boise VA Medical Center.
Nine Marines, including Jackson, were presented the Medal of Honor for their roles in the battle.
Fighting for control of the island lasted for two months, beginning in September 1944. The Japanese, entrenched in caves, killed 1,800 American soldiers and injured 8,000 more.
Decades after his service, Jackson visited military cemeteries and spoke about fallen soldiers as a way to keep their memories alive.
“The First Lady and I are saddened by the loss of a great and iconic American hero, Medal of Honor recipient Art Jackson,” Idaho Gov. Butch Otter wrote on his Facebook page. “As an unforgettable member of the Greatest Generation passes into history, we wish the Jackson family all the comfort that our prayers can provide and all the respect that Art’s life and valor deserve. Well done Marine. Semper Fi.”
Family friend Rocci Johnson, who earlier confirmed Jackson’s death, praised Jackson for his devotion to his country.
“Art Jackson was a true American hero. He was from the Greatest Generation. If it wasn’t for men and women like him, it would be a very different world,” Johnson said. “We owe a lot to his dedication and hope that his legacy will serve as an example for all of those who are currently fighting for freedom.”
The Boise Police Department sent condolences to Jackson’s family. Former Chief Mike Masterson met Jackson during his time as chief and several other officers befriended Jackson and maintained a friendship with his family.
“It is with great sadness that members of the Boise Police Department hear the news that Medal of Honor recipient Arthur Jackson recently passed away at the Boise VA,” the department wrote in a statement.
Services, including military honors, are pending. Flags at state offices throughout Idaho will be lowered to half-staff on the day of Jackson’s internment, said Mark Warbis, a spokesman for the governor.
Jackson saved his platoon from almost certain destruction. A book about the battle described him as “a one-man Marine Corps.” His Medal of Honor citation credits him with single-handedly confronting enemy barrages and contributing to “the complete annihilation of the enemy in the southern sector of the island.”
Despite a barrage of gunfire, Jackson charged a large pillbox, as the concrete guard posts were known. He threw white phosphorus grenades to provide cover, set off munitions charges that destroyed the pillbox and killed the 35 soldiers inside.
Jackson kept advancing and picked off one enemy position after another.
“His gallant initiative and heroic conduct in the face of extreme peril reflect the highest credit upon Pfc. Jackson and the U.S. Naval Service,” according to the Medal of Honor citation.
Jackson, then 19, was wounded on Peleliu and during the Battle of Okinawa and returned to the United States with two Purple Hearts.
President Harry S Truman presented him with the Medal of Honor during a ceremony at the White House. He was congratulated by Marine Corps Commandant Alexander Vandegrift, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal; celebrated with aviation legend and fellow Medal of Honor recipient Jimmy Doolittle; and rode with celebrity columnist Walter Winchell in a New York City ticker-tape parade.
During the Cold War, Jackson was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, where he killed a suspected Cuban spy who lunged at him and tried to take his sidearm . Instead of reporting the incident, Jackson hid the man’s body. After the body was discovered, Jackson was arrested and forced to leave the Marines. He told his full story of the incident to columnist Tim Woodward in 2013.
Jackson was born Oct. 18, 1924, and moved to Portland, Ore., with his parents in 1939. He graduated from Ulysses S. Grant High School and worked for a naval construction company in Alaska before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in November 1942.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter honored Jackson by declaring Feb. 24, 2016, as Art Jackson Day.
In 2015, when the USS Peleliu assault ship was decommissioned, the ship’s flag was sent to Jackson to commemorate his service on the island.