It was Valentine's Day, 1945 and 20-year-old Private First Class Bob Jacoby was lying badly wounded from a mortar attack on the floor of a farmhouse in Belgium. The fighting was part of the aftermath of the bloody winter campaign known as the Battle of the Bulge. Alone in the house on top of a hill that overlooked Hitler's infamous massive fortification, the Siegfried Line, Jacoby was unable to move. "I heard boots coming up the stairs and I knew it was the Germans," he said.
As a Forward Observer, part of a three-man team that scouted ahead of the troops and sent communications back on conditions and enemy positions, Jacoby had become a fatalist.
"I figured if it was my time, it was my time," he said. As the German soldiers filled the room, he was prepared to die, but one of the men bent down to help him. "He must have been a medic," reflects Jacoby, "he put sulfa powder on my wound and then he held my hand and said 'You're going home.'"
The Germans left and Jacoby heard firing nearby. Then a platoon of U.S. military rushed in to rescue him, sliding him down the snow-covered hill on a stretcher. "It was like a dream," said Jacoby. "Then I heard someone say, 'Don't worry, we got those Jerries', and I could only hope that didn't include the young soldier who helped me."
For his actions in this and several other combat situations, as a number one gunner on a 105 Howitzer crew and as a Forward Observer, Jacoby received the Silver Star, a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars.
Jacoby now resides in Petaluma and is part of an ever-diminishing number of local World War II Veterans. In Petaluma, they are united by someone who shares their spirit, if not their experience — Joe Noriel.
Past President of the Petaluma Historical Museum and founder of a nonprofit called History Connection, Noriel is dedicated to bringing "living history" to new generations so that they gain an appreciation of the tremendous sacrifices that were made by these men.
He recently organized an event at Valley Orchards Retirement Community, where Bay Area World War II hero Phil Arnot spoke and was honored, drawing a crowd of veterans who remembered the war together.
Each had their own story, some more dramatic than others, but each played an integral part in that historic war.
The Battle of the Bulge, where Jacoby fought, was the largest and costliest battle in terms of casualties for the United States. More than 600,000 American troops were involved, with an estimated 81,000 killed. The Germans sustained a loss of more than 100,000 men.