Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 21, 2017

John Jackson dies at 102

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Apr 25, 2017
Source: submitted Jackson

Fairfield resident and mainstay in the 34th Army Band John Jackson died Saturday at age 102.

Jackson served in the National Guard from 1933 to 1974, and fought in Northern Africa and Italy during World War II. He was a charter member of the Washington Municipal Band in 1932. Jackson went on to become the 34th Army Band’s First Sergeant, which meant he was the highest ranking non-commissioned officer in the company.

A constant throughout his life was his immense generosity. He donated $175,000 in 2009 to build a bandstand in Washington’s Central Park. He established the John Jackson Instrumental Music Scholarship years ago for graduating Fairfield High School seniors. In 2016, he added a second instrumental music scholarship to the program.

In addition to many of his own accomplishments, Jackson was the son of Iowa’s first Olympian, John E. Jackson. His father was also the first Iowan to win a gold medal at the games, which he did in sharpshooting at the 1912 games in Stockholm, Sweden.

“He used the 1903 Springfield, the same weapon we were issued at the beginning of World War II,” the younger Jackson said about his father during an interview for the book “The Three of Hearts” published in 2014.

John E. Jackson started Fairfield Feed Company, which the younger Jackson took over and ran until his retirement in 1981.

Jackson was born and raised in Washington, Iowa. He was not yet finished with high school when he joined the National Guard. He attended a junior college in Washington for two years before studying at Parsons College in Fairfield.

In his interview for “The Three of Hearts,” Jackson recalled his time in the military during WWII. He recalled that Africa was quite a bit different than he imagined.

“We lived in pup tents and it rained, sleeted and snowed on us,” he said. “You don’t think about weather like that in Africa.”

Members of the band were employed in all sorts of jobs during the invasion of North Africa and Italy, such as stretcher bearers, medical personnel and road guards. Jackson recalled in the interview that seven men in his company lost their lives during the battle at the Monte Cassino monastery in Italy. He said he was lucky because he drew a different duty that day, to be in charge of the stockade. Jackson’s friends remember him fondly as a man of upstanding character.

Fairfield resident Gene Copeland said Jackson would “give you the shirt off his back.”

Copeland played trombone and baritone in the 34th Army Band from 1957-64. He said it was not much of an exaggeration to say Jackson’s life was the 34th Army Band.

“The 34th Army Band is like a fraternity. People are in it forever,” he said. “The band is one of the great gems of Fairfield, and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”

Copeland said he will always remember Jackson as his First Sergeant.

“He was an honest man, and you always knew where he stood,” Copeland remarked.

Another person who remembers Jackson fondly is Don Samuelson, a long-time Fairfield resident who now resides in Ankeny.

Samuelson enlisted in the National Guard in 1959 and stayed in until 2002.

“John was my First Sergeant when I enlisted, and he was one of the sharpest guys you’d ever meet,” Samuelson said.

Samuelson recalled that he and other youngsters planned to play practical jokes on Jackson, but somehow Jackson always foiled the plan before they could pull it off.

Jackson was a mentor to Samuelson, who would go on to become a First Sergeant himself.

“When I became First Sergeant, I would ask him how he knew what to do. He’d say, ‘You’ll figure it out, Sammy,’” Samuelson said. “He had my back. He let it be known I was a good choice for the position, and I never thanked him enough for it.”

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