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home : features : people & places February 5, 2016

9/11/2013 9:24:00 AM
Army/Navy WWII cryptologist still active, involved
Bill Jackson operates his ham radio in his Las Fuentes apartment in Prescott.
TribPhoto/Sue Tone
Bill Jackson operates his ham radio in his Las Fuentes apartment in Prescott.
TribPhoto/Sue Tone
Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo
Honor Flights for vets
Honor Flight Arizona plans and conducts about eight flights to Washington, D.C., memorials each year. Each flight carries 30 veterans and 26 guardians, said Susan Howe, Honor Flight Arizona hub coordinator and founder, who has accompanied veterans on 14 of the 25 trips.

"From beginning to end, the trip is about them," Howe said.

Guardians pay their own way, about $900 for a three-day trip, so that all donations to the non-profit organization can benefit the veterans. She said the biggest issue on these trips is safety and health, particularly falls and dehydration.

Howe said veterans are "humbled and amazed" by people who cheer them at the monuments and in airports, and come up to shake hands and offer their thanks.

"It's an amazing journey," she said.

For more information about Honor Flight Arizona, visit honorflightaz.org, or call (928) 377-1020.

Sue Tone

Having survived three wars and traveled the world, Army and Navy veteran Bill Jackson, 93, keeps up with his radio intelligence skills and still travels, although he now limits his trips to stateside.

Jackson will head out Nov. 5 to Boston, Md., and Washington, D.C., for three days accompanied by his son, Rob Jackson, thanks to the Honor Flight program. This program provides veterans with free transport and accommodation to visit war memorials at the nation's capitol.

Formerly from Prescott Valley, Jackson now resides in a Las Fuentes Village apartment in Prescott. Dressed in Western wear and proud of owning six pairs of cowboy boots, Jackson said he is looking forward to future trips, especially his military reunions.

In May, Jackson attended a reunion of Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association in Savannah, Ga., where he found he was the oldest of 620 attendees. He still operates a ham radio set up on a card table between his bed and computer.

Jackson spent 22 years in the military beginning in 1941 in the Army and then was recalled to active duty in 1951 while in the Naval Reserves.

Born Dec. 23, 1919, in Alabama - the eldest of four - Jackson started school a one-room log schoolhouse in Florida. He and his family bounced around Alabama and later back to Florida, following construction work during the Depression years. In the summers and after graduation, Jackson joined his father in the plastering business.

"We were lucky to have a meal of cornbread with syrup at breakfast," he said. "Once a week we went for 'relief' to get the bag of groceries."

In October 1941, drafted into the Army, Jackson took an aptitude test involving recognizing Morse Code dots and dashes. He did well and was off to Radio School and then the Signal Corps where he became an instructor.

About a year later and bored with teaching, he requested a transfer into the 112th Signal Radio Intelligence Company. There he learned how to intercept Japanese Army Kata Kana Morse Code message traffic and how to locate Japanese radio stations through direction finding and triangulation plotting.

By February 1944, zigzagging across the Pacific to avoid Japanese submarines, Jackson was in the Solomon Islands, and in December of that year he landed on Luzon in the Philippines. In between, he endured bombs, foxholes, and kamikaze pilots. He was in Manila when the Japanese surrendered.

Jackson said when he arrived back in the States in December 1945, one of the first things he did in Seattle was gorge on fresh vegetables, milk and other foods he hadn't tasted since leaving for overseas.

"When I came out of the mess hall, I had to loosen my belt about two notches," he said.

He also treated himself to ice cream that first night back, and went to the Crystal Ballroom where he danced and fell in love with a young woman. He and Ann Malin corresponded by mail and married three months later.

Returning to civilian life after being away from home for four-and-a-half years, Jackson acquired some ham radio equipment and a license, and Ann became a "radio widow."

"In the next six months, I think I tried to work the world, filling logbook after logbook," he said. "This went on for a while until one day Ann politely informed me that this was not the way to run a railroad."

Jackson's love for ham radio has never abated, although at various times and locations he wasn't able to participate much. In February of this year, the Quarter Century Wireless Association, Inc., honored him for 65 years of service as a licensed radio amateur.

In 1948, Jackson joined the Naval Reserve and was recalled to active duty in January 1951 at age 31 during the Korean War. By this time, he and Ann had three children.

He shipped off to Europe, cruising the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Aegean seas, with visits to Great Britain, Monaco, and the French and Italian Riviera. That was the extent of his sea duty, and he returned to the U.S. for three years before heading to the Philippines for two years, and Japan for 16 months. In both places, his family joined him.

"I was a code breaker, always looking for clues," he said, adding that he had to know some Russian and some Spanish.

Then it was back to Maryland, Cyprus, and Morocco for two years at each station. His daughter, Vicki Mitchell, said those school years were great, although moving every two years was hard on her.

"I appreciated it more as I got older," Vicki said from her home in Washington, Ill. "We also took vacations in Spain and Italy and Greece."

Her father picked up different languages in every country, but Vicki said she didn't, as she mostly attended military schools on base and "didn't mix in with the nationals."

Jackson's final two years with the Navy were spent in Florida where he was "piped over the side" in 1966, ending his Navy career as a Communications Technician Chief.

"I tried to go back in in 1972, but they wouldn't take me. I was 53 years old and you needed to be 49," he said. "I loved my work."

He and Ann continued to travel the world, and settled in Prescott Valley in 1990. Ann passed away in February 2003. Jackson married Vida Bowman in December 2003, and had "four great years" until poor health necessitated Vida's move to assisted living in 2007 where she passed away in 2010. Jackson moved to his Las Fuentes apartment in early 2008.

Today, Jackson continues to communicate with old and new friends via ham radio, tallying conversations with people in 314 different countries. He Skypes with family, which now numbers 10 great-grandchildren - five girls and five boys.

He plays the guitar and keyboard, and has several fishing poles standing in the corner, saying he's caught "lots of salmon" and fished more than 50 rivers and lakes.

Pushing 94 and not afraid to tackle technology, Jackson is proficient with a digital camera, printing out his own photos of Las Fuentes residents and guests. He works on the computer almost daily writing his life story, and does all his banking online.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, December 29, 2013
Article comment by: Burt Jackson

From Burt, your cousin and Clyde's youngest. Happy birthday last Monday, as we share the same birthday. Really enjoyed this article, and I'm looking forward to reading your life story!!

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