While the Flier is on the way back to California, I’d like to introduce a friend of mine: Al Jacobson.
In 1944, Al was 22 years old. He had just left behind his mom, dad, and three sisters to join the Navy. His older brother Charlie was already in the Navy aboard a cruiser, his younger brother David was in the Army Air Force (predecessor to the Air Force) as a bombadier. Al, due to the influence of one of his ROTC instructors at U of Michigan, decided to join the Submarine Force, and in January, passed the stringent tests to get in.
The thing was, Al and his brothers didn’t have to join the military. Their family owned a brass foundry in Grand Haven Michigan, which was immersed in producing military products. They had the option to stay home and work for the military as civilians.
Certain men, during WWII, were deemed important enough on the homefront to be exempt from military service. Farmers and their families were needed to produce food, shipwrights, steelsmiths, coppersmiths, ect. were important to keep building the weapons of war, and so on. Training new people in order to allow experienced people to head to the front didn’t make sense. Keeping those of military age working at these jobs rather than continually rotating inexperienced people (who would likely make mistakes due to that inexperience) was the best, fastest way to keep the military machine rolling quickly and safely to battle.
But the Jacobson boys felt called to join the military anyway, and Al and David joined two of the most dangerous branches available to them. And now Al was starting Submarine School
Submarine school was brutal, it had to be. If you were going to crack under stress, in tight quarters for days at a time, when the pressure around you was so great your head felt like it was going to explode, the Navy wanted to find you and weed you out before you ever headed out on patrol. The Submarine Force had a high fatality rate: 20%. They took only volunteers. Once in, you had every option to remove yourself every time your sub came to port, and no one would say anything, and you could be removed if some of the senior crew believed you were a hazard to the rest of the crew. (This is still true today: a nuclear submarine veteran once told me that while his boat was under the ice at the North Pole for weeks, one of the crew suddenly panicked that the sub was going down and tried to open the hatch. He was tackled and chained to his bunk under guard until he could be picked up by helicopter.)
It was going to be a tough three months for Al, especially since he was an officer, and expected not only to do his job, but take responsibility for men much older and more experienced than he. He had chosen to join this service, and he believed in doing the best that he could in all things.
He just didn’t know how much that was going to be tested in the next few months.