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Cotton Honors Medal of Honor Recipient Arthur J. Jackson on the Senate Floor

June 29, 2017

Contact: Caroline Rabbitt (202) 224-2353

We lost another great American this month with the passing of Arthur J. Jackson. He received the Medal of Honor in 1945 for his service in the Pacific theater of World War Two. His name may not be as familiar as it once was-in retirement, he lived a quiet life. But I didn't want to let his death pass without paying tribute to him, his family, and the extraordinary acts of courage with which he defended our country.

Though, to be sure, "extraordinary" doesn't really describe the half of it. It was September 1944, and Private Jackson, a 19-year-old Ohio native, was serving with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division on the island of Peleliu. Their mission sounded simple enough: Take the island, as quickly as possible, and inch ever closer to retaking the Philippines and, ultimately, defeating Japan.

But simple it wasn't. His platoon was hailed by a steady stream of fire from a heavily fortified position. To charge forward would be to march toward certain death. But that's exactly what he did.

He attacked a pillbox, holding about 35 enemy soldiers, and as his Medal of Honor citation reads, "pouring his automatic fire into the opening of the fixed installation to trap the occupying troops, he hurled white phosphorus grenades and explosive charges brought up by a fellow Marine, demolishing the pillbox and killing all of the enemy."

The enemy fire continued unabated, his cover was light at best, and yet Private Jackson proceeded to storm one position after another-wiping out a total of 12 pillboxes and 50 enemy soldiers. It was a stunning act of bravery. I can only imagine the pride of President Truman when he pinned the Medal of Honor on Private Jackson's uniform. I can only imagine the awe of his fellow Americans as they showered him with ticker tape in a New York City parade to celebrate.

Yes, Arthur Jackson one of the greats, and like with many great men, his career had a somewhat tragic ending. After a stint in the Army, he rejoined the Marines and was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in September 1961. It was only months after the Bay of Pigs, and just over a year from the Cuban Missile Crisis. Tensions were high; suspicions were too.

And on one night, then-Captain Jackson discovered a Cuban bus driver in a restricted part of the base-he wasn't supposed to be there nor was he authorized to be there. The man had been identified as a spy for Fidel Castro's regime, but was allowed to keep his job for the time being. Captain Jackson and a fellow officer escorted the man to a back gate to see him off the premises, only to discover the gate was locked. While the other officer went off to find tools, Captain Jackson pried the lock open. And then suddenly, the man lunged at him, aiming for his side-arm. Captain Jackson fired back in self-defense-and killed the man on the spot.

Instead of reporting the man's death, however, he and some of his fellow Marines buried the body on the base. Many decades later, he told a newspaper columnist that he feared, if he reported the death, he would be tried in a Cuban court and possibly tortured.

He had hoped no one would find out. But word got out, and he was forced to leave the Marine Corps. He ended life as a mail carrier in California.

It was a disappointing end to an until-then brilliant career. But this was a man who loved his country, who put everything on the line to defend it. And if one night that love blinded his judgment, it only shows the intensity of his commitment.

Arthur Jackson later went on to work for the Veterans Administration in San Francisco before moving to Boise, Idaho in 1973. He lived out the remainder of his life there, where he was beloved by the community. As a neighbor of his put it, "He flies the U.S. flag and the Marine Corps flag every day. It bothers him if someone flies a dirty or tattered flag. He tells them to take it down and replace it."

A little thing with a big meaning: Arthur Jackson showed as much love for the flag as he did for our country. And now we've lost him to the ages. But we still have his memory, his example, his stories of derring-do, which will all inspire future generations of Americans for decades to come.