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WWII veteran served on most active ship

By Sonny Long
July 3, 2013 at 2:03 a.m.

Bob Jackson will turn 90 this year. He never talked about his service. No one knew Jackson served in the Pacific during World War II until he moved into an assisted living facility.

USS Salt Lake City

1929-1948

"Swayback Maru" "The One Ship Fleet"

Credited with taking part in more naval engagements than any ship in the U.S. Navy fleet.

Credited with being the first ship to fire on Japanese-held territory.

Helped escort the Doolittle raid that bombed Tokyo.

In the battle of the Komandorskie Islands, was so badly damaged that her crew shook hands and prepared to die when she went down. The ship was ultimately saved as lightly armed American destroyers fired on the powerful Japanese cruisers.

Participated in fierce battles for the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Philippines and Iwo Jima.

Final action included the bombardment of Okinawa in March 1945.

In 1946, served as part of the atomic bomb test fleet near Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. Although the ship survived, she was deemed highly radioactive, and May 25, 1948, ships and aircraft sank the Salt Lake City off the Southern California coast.

SOURCE: historytogo.utah.gov

As a young man, Bob Jackson used to sit on the seawall in Corpus Christi watching Navy planes fly over on training exercises.

"I watched those seaplanes hit and take off. That made me always want to be in the Navy," said Jackson, 89, who now lives at Homewood Residence in Victoria with Bette, his wife of 66 years.

Jackson got his wish, joining the Navy in 1943 at 19. He was a member of the crew of the USS Salt Lake City, the Navy's most active ship during World War II.

He joined the crew in August 1943, only months after the ship had been "dead in the water" during the Battle of Komandorski Islands.

But the Salt Lake City fought on.

"On our third day out after I got on the ship, we were under air attack," said Jackson, who initially served as a first loader on a 5-inch gun before moving to the engine room as a throttle man.

"You would see planes coming right at you, and I'd think, 'Man, somebody hit him.' There were times I got pretty nervous, but I never was fearful.

"Our biggest fear was the suicide bombers. They came out nearly every day," he said. "They came straight at you. If you didn't knock them down, they'd hit you."

They had some close calls with the bombers.

"It got pretty scary there sometimes. You rely on your gunnery crew. That's all you can do."

Planes weren't the only threats to the heavy-class cruiser during the war.

"I have been on the deck and seen the wake of a torpedo go along the side of the ship. That made you back up from the railing," Jackson said. "Now that makes you think."

During his nearly three years aboard the Salt Lake City, the ship took part in many operations and battles including at Okinawa and at Iwo Jima.

"I remember we had a direct hit where we lost two men. One was on the search ladder platform," said Jackson. "The other was in the restroom directly below it. No place was safe."

After the war, while in college in Kingsville, he met and married Bette.

The couple had two daughters.

One daughter, Susan Moore, is a justice of the peace in Goliad County.

"He was the hardest working man I have ever known. He always had side jobs, so we had money for fun things," Moore said. "From the first paycheck, he began saving for retirement, never wanting anyone else to have to take care of him."

Moore said her father's time on the Salt Lake City wasn't something he brought up.

"He would tell funny things like when the ship took on water and the coffee got wet. They drank saltwater coffee for quite awhile," she said.

Jackson, an Oklahoma native who worked for Mobile Oil Company for 30 years after the military, acknowledged his reluctance to talk about his service.

"Nobody even knew I was in the Navy until I came here. I never talked about it," said Jackson, who has lived at Homewood Residence about two years.

"People here that were in the service got to talking about where they served, where they had liberty, that kind of thing."

Jackson did talk about his service while attending reunions of the USS Salt Lake City crew during the last several years.

"I've been for the past 10, 12 years," he said. "I would see some guys I knew from my section. It brings back lots of memories."

Like with most World War II veterans' groups, attendance at reunions is growing slimmer, Jackson said.

"Now there might be two dozen veterans there," he said. "It's mostly their families that have taken over now."

At one reunion Jackson received a plaque commemorating his time on the ship.

Jackson, who was a machinist mate second class, was disappointed in the final fate of his ship.

It was used by the U.S. in Operation Crossroads to test nuclear weapons, suffering serious damage but not sinking, then later was sunk as target practice.

"My thoughts are about my ship," he said. "When we sunk it as target practice, that really hurt. I think I had some tears."

He believes it should have been saved as a shrine marking all the missions it had withstood.

"It's sad. Nobody wanted to see it go down like that."

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