When he signed up for the Navy during World War II, John Glen Jackson didn’t figure he’d be assigned to shore duty. But that’s what he got.
Jackson was 17 and the Pacific campaign was looking dire as Allied forces were making their way to invade the Japanese islands themselves. Casualties were predicted to be even higher than they’d been during the fierce fighting on the string of Pacific islands leading up to Japan.
“We sailed out of Oakland, California, into the Pacific for a destination we weren’t sure of,” said the veteran. “But on our way, we got the news that the Japanese had surrendered. I liked to tell my family that they heard I was coming so they just quit.”
But it had taken Jackson nearly 18 years of his life before that ship sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. He was born in Winnfield in August 1926, the only son of Shirley and Marion Jackson. His father had been an All-American halfback with the Winnfield High School football team and went on to become the first licensed druggist in Winnfield, with his degree from Tulane. His mother had been a teacher, and after all three of their children had begun their schooling (his two sisters are Sara Shell and Marilyn Shaw), she returned to the career she loved.
While Jackson seemed to inherit the interest in football from his dad, his mom’s love for learning didn’t seem to rub off. He got by, “but my grades weren’t all that good. I guess I wasn’t mature enough to understand the importance of study.”
His build and abilities on the gridiron were another story. “I played football from the eighth grade on up. I graduated in 1944.” In the process, he’d gotten the attention of a number of collegiate coaches.
He has another recollection from those school days. At the time, the bus line made all its stops and departures in front of Phoenix Drugstore. “Me and my two sisters watched as all the men leaving for war got on those buses. We’d also watched the Maneuvers held here before the war.”
After graduation, though, he went to work for A.T. Drewitt at Mobile Oil & Gas. “I went to church one Sunday in late May 1944. When I came home, my suitcase was packed and on the front porch. If you were in college, you could be exempt from the draft, and my mother had made some calls. Red Swanson, a line coach from LSU, picked me up to go down to Baton Rouge. I didn’t want to go but I went.” Jackson enrolled at the Ole War Skule a couple of days later.
“One day in the dorm, another player, Andy Lay from Houma, said we were going over to Texas to pick up a new quarterback recruit, Y.A. Tittle. I got to meet a lot of good people while I was at LSU. I stayed there one semester but my grades weren’t good enough to keep me out of the draft. I was still 17 so Daddy signed me over to enlist in the Navy. I didn’t want to take my chances with the Army.”
Jackson was shipped to San Diego for training…and “to play a little football.” Then he boarded the ship that would take him to the Pacific for the remainder of his service.
The men were initially unsure of their destination, but when word came down about the dropping of the atomic bombs and the end of the war, they found they were heading to Japan. “We landed at Sasebo at the southern end of Japan. It was their second largest naval base. I’d joined the Navy so I never figured I’d be assigned for shore duty but I was. We built all the accommodations for our occupying forces: barracks, kitchens, dining halls, latrines. There were some huge warehouses there and we used them.”
On Christmas week in 1945, Jackson had the opportunity to travel to Nagasaki, the site where the second atomic bomb was dropped. “It was about 2 hours from our base. They didn’t know anything about radiation at that time. We looked at the crater from a distance. There was nothing but debris. The only thing that remained standing was the remnants of a church. The roof was gone but statues of disciples that surrounded the church still stood.”
Occupying forces remained in Japan following the war’s end. In the spring of 1946, Jackson accumulated enough quality points to return home. “The problem then was finding a way back,” said the veteran. “I wasn’t in a hurry. When my commander found out that my admission to Annapolis had come through, he got me back to Virginia quick.”
However, Jackson had seen all of the Navy he cared for and couldn’t imagine an extended commitment, even when officials dangled a college football scholarship in front of him. So he resigned his commission after he had returned stateside and made his way back to north Louisiana.
The veteran had dated a young Betty Jo Purser some back in high school. They met again. She was then attending Louisiana Tech. In the fall of 1947 when Jackson decided to play football at NSU, Miss Purser followed him. He studied some and played football a lot. (He was named an All-Conference fullback that first year.) “I enjoyed Northwestern and made a lot of good friends there.” Betty Jo graduated in 1948, while Jackson graduated the following year.
The couple was married in July 1946 and began not only a family but also a successful string of businesses. In 1947 they bought the local Conoco service station where he’d worked before the war. Later, they acquired the Conoco bulk distributorship, Jackson Oil & Gas. Then in 1952, they opened Jackson Motor Co., the Dodge-Plymouth dealership which ran here for 27 years.
“I couldn’t have done it all without Betty Jo. She was a very good businesswoman. In fact, we had three daughters who are also very good businesswomen. They are Jo Laine Long, Lynn Spangler, and Jeanne Brewton.” They also had 6 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
Betty Jo died in 1990 following a lengthy illness. In 1993, Jackson would marry a friend and former neighbor, Helen Williams, whom he also called “an excellent businesswoman.” They were together until her death in 2006.
Jackson retired in 2005. Looking back at the people and events in the 85 years of his life, the veteran concluded, “I’ve been very fortunate.”