I grew up in Southern California during the Vietnam War, just a few miles from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. On our quiet street in Tustin, the majority of our neighbors were Marine officers, and the majority of those were Marine Aviators. Our family always liked our Marine neighbors; the kids had interesting stories of faraway, exotic places like Japan or South Carolina, their moms generally spoke with cool Southern accents and used expressions we native Californians had never heard before, like, "Y'all are some cute lil' boogers!" And of course the fathers exuded the (usually) quiet bravura common to most Marines, and especially the aviators. (Early on, I learned NEVER to call them "Marine pilots"...They were Marine AVIATORS!) To this junior high school guy, these warriors were the essence of awesome. My dad, a World War Two Army Air Force veteran and former National Guard infantry officer, seemed to gravitate to the Marines, and treated them with great respect.
Of all of those Marine officers who were neighbors, the one who made the greatest impression on my entire family was Glenn Jacks. Captain Jacks was one of those people who everyone in the neighborhood instantly liked. The same was true of his wife and two children. This was a family that just seemed to brighten up Chirping Sparrow Way by their presence. They'd always show up to the barbecues, curbside fireworks displays, and block parties, and Captain Jacks would draw folks in with his infectious grin and slow drawl.
When Captain Jacks got orders for Vietnam, it didn't seem that momentous to the non-Marine families; we'd never had anyone go over there and not come back. The war was on TV most nights, presented by Walter Cronkite, but it wasn't REAL. Until October, 1967, anyway. Not too long before, the neighborhood celebrated the news of Captain Jacks' promotion. (I'll never forget his young daughter announcing proudly, "My daddy's a MAJOR!" to everyone she encountered for almost an entire week.) One afternoon, I came home from school to find my mother sitting on the couch, sobbing. She looked up and said quietly, "Glenn Jacks' airplane crashed in Vietnam, and he's dead." I was stunned. How could a man who was so full of energy and confidence, who had only just left about a month ago be dead?
Soon, we all got to see what a Marine Corps Family is made of. Mrs. Jacks didn't hide; she met with her neighbors and friends one by one, and told us how her husband and his crewman had taken off to fly a mission. When the jet engines failed, Major Jacks stayed with the aircraft to fly it away from the village where it would have crashed had he ejected. He and his crewman crashed into a mountain, killing them both. They didn't make a big deal about his heroism, as if this sort of act was to be expected of a Marine Aviator.
October, 1967 is when my concept of war changed from words and photos in history books, and grainy black and white television pictures, to an actual human face. Every Memorial Day since then, I have taken a moment to remember the bravery, sacrifice, and personality of Major Glenn Jacks, USMC, and that of his family. I shall not forget them, and their service to our nation.