Citizen Soldier

Jake Webb woke up this morning in the comfort of his Bay Springs Road home, a modest brick house tucked in a grove of once bountiful pecan trees. Barney, Webb’s long-eared dog and trusted sentinel, lies on guard duty near the front door. Eager to bark at a stranger, Barney will allow you to scratch his chest once he sees that you are his friend. Songbirds fly in and out of the bird feeders at the back door. Webb’s home is just up the ridge from the old family home, which was built on the lands of his ancestor John Stewart. It is a peaceful place, wonderfully serene, but it stands in striking contrast to the place where Jake Webb was fifty seven years ago today. Jake Webb, a private in C Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, 4th Infantry Division jumped out of a Higgins boat about six-thirty in the morning on Utah Beach on the coast of Normandy, France. It was D-Day, June 6, 1944. Webb was right smack dab in the middle of the greatest invasion in the history of the world.

Jasper “Jake” G. Webb, Jr. was born on November 9, 1920 in the home of his parents, Jasper G. Webb, Sr. and Lizzie Stewart. Jake attended Pine Grove School just down the road near Thomas Chapel Methodist Church. Times were tough. The elder Webb share cropped farms a good piece away from the family home. Jake worked on the farm. His father planted corn and cotton and raised some cattle and turkeys. The junior Webb tried his hand at farming, but he decided to travel to Tybee Island, where he joined the United States Army on June 23, 1939. In the summer and fall of 1939, Webb underwent intensive basic training at Fort Screven in Savannah and Fort Jackson in South Carolina. During 1940, when war with Germany seemed eminent, Webb participated in war game maneuvers in Louisiana. Near the end of 1940, his unit was moved to Fort Benning and re-activated as the 4th Infantry Division, which was composed of the 8th Regiment from Georgia, the 12th Regiment from Michigan, and the 22nd Regiment of Alabama. In April of 1941, Webb was ordered to detached service, driving officers in Louisiana and Texas in such places as Fort Sam Houston and Fort Bliss. The army was conducting training exercises in the hot Texas sun. Webb saw some of the last activities of the horse cavalry. In the summer of 1941, Webb was sent to Camp Blanding, Florida for a while and then to South and North Carolina for even more maneuvers. He returned to Camp Blanding, only to see the 4th Division de-activated. Webb’s unit was sent back to Fort Benning. Webb was between the barracks and the mess hall when the news of the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor was announced.

In 1942, the division was transferred to Camp Gordon near Augusta. The following year they were sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey. In September of 1943, Webb and the men boarded a train bound to Camp Gordon Johnston on the Gulf Coast of Florida, below Tallahassee. Camp Johnston was an amphibious training base. Webb and the men were training for an invasion of the European coast line, they just didn’t know where. Their training was completed in December of 1943, and the division was sent back to Fort Jackson, South Carolina by Christmas. Two of Jake’s brothers served their country. Ashley served in Africa. James was an airplane mechanic with the Marine Corps. Right after New Year’s Day, Webb was sent to Camp Kilmer, a staging area just outside of New York. On January 6, 1944, the division boarded a ship bounded for England. It was no pleasure cruise. German U-Boats were constant threats to the safety of the thousands of men aboard the ship. The division arrived in Liverpool and intensely trained for the coming invasion. The men boarded ships which moved out into the English Channel and turned back using the English coastline to practice for the real thing. “We knew we were going to be in some kind of invasion,” Webb said. “We didn’t even know we were going to invade till probably about June 6th, when we started crossing the Channel,” Webb remembered. Security was tight. Webb related an incident which was kept top secret. “We had been in Slopton Seals training in the English Channel which was kept secret. A German submarine hit one of the LSTs and sunk it. We were lucky it wasn’t the one I was on. We lost those men and a lot of tanks. It was going to support us on D-Day. That happed about April or May, a month or so before the invasion,” Webb said.

In the days before the invasion, Webb recalled, “Before we left, General Eisenhower came and talked to us. He told us what we had to do. He promised the first unit that made it to Paris or Berlin would be treated to champagne. British General Montgomery was much more serious. He had fought the Germans in North Africa. He didn’t want us to take any prisoners - basically he told us that the only good German was a dead German. I liked England. The food was good, especially the fish and chips. There were blackouts at night. We had to go into dark entrances to get inside the pubs to eat. While we were camped one night the Germans bombed us,” Webb said.

The 4th Division boarded ships on the night of June 5th, the original date for the invasion, which had to be postponed because of poor weather. “We didn’t know it at the time, but I found out later that there were thirty six U-Boats in the channel that night, but they didn’t disrupt the invasion and never got near the beaches,” Webb recalled. About five o’clock on the morning of June 6th, the men of Company C had breakfast. The men attended a briefing session where they were given their objectives and shown maps of their destination, Utah Beach. His platoon was called to climb down the rope ladders to board the Higgins boats. The ship had circled around for about an hour, and the seas were pretty rough; but Webb never got sick. When his buddies did, Jake just turned his head.

Webb vividly remembers the landing, “The front gate came down and we hit the beach. I don’t remember having any time to worry about what was about to happen. We had been well trained, and we simply moved out. When we landed, we didn’t know the beach was mined. Someone yelled “mines”! We were lucky. The water was only knee-deep and I waded on to the beach. It wasn’t like Omaha Beach, where so many of our men drowned with the weight of their equipment pulling them down. I followed the tracks of the man who was out in front of me. Just as we were setting foot on solid ground, German artillery rounds began firing on our platoon which was in the first wave to hit the beach. The German 88mm guns were pounding the beach and the water. Our platoon sergeant hollered, ‘Get going - they are zeroing in on us”! I turned around, and he was waving to us to get going and fast. About that time a round hit near the sergeant. A piece of shrapnel struck the sergeant’s throat. He managed to climb into a shell crater to wait on aid from the medics. I didn’t see him for a while, but he did return to our company when we were in Germany. We made it about a half mile inland that day. Our mission was to link up with the paratroopers who had jumped behind the German lines the night before.”

The 8th Regiment was ordered to link up with elements of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions who had jumped into the moonless skies of Normandy in the early morning hours. The paratroopers often missed their drop zones, landing in trees, water, and in plain sight of German soldiers. “We met up with the airborne - that’s who Kelso was with,” Webb said in reference to Lt. Kelso Horne, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division and a resident of Laurens County. Lt Horne descended from Francis E. Flanders, whose place was just up the Snell’s Bridge Road from the Stewart place. The other two regiments were assigned to secure the beach head.

It was hazardous duty - making patrols into unchartered enemy territory. On June 10th, Jake was assigned to a patrol with five or six other men. Jake carried a B.A.R., a Browning automatic rifle. The B.A.R. weighed twenty one pounds, so heavy that the army assigned a second man to help carry the ammunition and the rifle itself at times. The patrol ran into a group of Germans. The company captain and Webb’s assistant, Rocco DiCristino of New York, were killed. Webb carried Rocco’s lifeless body back to the lines. To this day, Jake wishes that he could talk to Rocco’s folks.

Five days later on June 15th, Webb was assigned to another patrol. The patrol came up to a road, the ultimate nightmare to any reconnoiter. The first two men crossed the road with no problems. Webb was the next to cross. Just as he moved out into the road, a sniper’s shot rang out. The camouflaged sniper apparently had instructions to fire at critical elements of the enemy, whether it be an officer or a B.A.R. rifleman. The round struck Jake in the right cheek, then in the side of his neck, narrowly missing a vein. Jake pulled himself up and walked back to find a medic, who sent him back to the command post. The medics patched him up with a large bandage and put him on stretcher mounted on a jeep, which took him back to the beach, He was put on an L.S.T., which had been converted into a hospital ship. Jake was taken back to an English hospital, where he remained until he rejoined the company on July 25th.

“I was coming back up to the line on July 25th, when about 1,800 bombers came in and bombed Saint Lo for the breakthrough onto Paris,” Jake remembered. Jake also remembered being two or three or miles away from the bomb zone and feeling his six by six truck vibrating. “After that, we started going pretty good into Paris. We were rolling in. The Germans were retreating a lot then. We got on trucks and went on into Paris. We liberated Paris on August 25, 1944.” said Jake. While he was in Paris, Jake was assigned to a squad to guard a bridge over the Seine River. After a few days, the word came that it was time to move out, on to Germany.

Their eventual destination was the Heurtgen Forest, a hellish, dark, and dense forest where many good men died. His old platoon sergeant, who had been wounded in the first few minutes of the landing at Utah Beach, was back with the platoon then. Jake and his unit moved through an area of pine trees and broom straw on December 1st. Jake and the men knew the Germans were close by. The sergeant ordered Jake “to move around to the right flank”. When he got about half way up, a German with a machine pistol opened up on Jake, striking him in the chin. Whatever hit him came out under his throat. Jake fell to his knees. For the second time, he was out of the war, or least temporarily. Jake returned to the hospital, this time for two and one half months. He missed all of the horror of the Battle of the Bulge, which would begin two weeks later on December 16th.

Jake returned to his company in mid-February of 1945. One night Jake’s platoon was moving into a German town. Right out in the middle of the road, a German tank was burning. The men were crawling along a roadside ditch when the tank exploded. The tank turret flew into the air and landed on the platoon leader, who was ten to fifteen yards in front of Jake. A small piece of the tank hit Jake in his field jacket. Once again, Jake narrowly avoided being killed. The lieutenant wasn’t so lucky. He was killed instantly.

Jake spent the rest of March and April moving rapidly through the German countryside. On May 8th, Jake’s company was 10 or 15 miles outside of Munich, Germany. They were to rest for a few days and then were scheduled to move out toward their next objective. Someone had a radio on in one of the trucks parked beside the road. The news of the German surrender came in over the radio. The men cheered and cried, both at the same time. Jake and some of his buddies slipped off to see that prison camp at Dachau that everyone was talking about. There was a quarantine sign at the gate. No one was allowed to go in. Jake saw the furnaces and the smoke stacks where the Germans cremated the interned Jews. “We saw the boxcars that were loaded with bodies inside. I didn’t see any bodies, but I did see what appeared to be a leg sticking out of one of those boxcars,” Jake said. “It was an awful thing,” Webb continued.

Jake had built up a lot of service points in addition to his two wounds. This allowed him to be discharged. Many infantrymen knew that there was still a war going on over in the Pacific, and that in case of an invasion they would be shipped half way around the world to start fighting all over again. On June 9, 1945, just over a year from the day he landed on Utah Beach, Jake departed LeHarve, France bound for the United States. He was stationed at Camp Shanks, New York. Jake took the first southbound train he could. He was almost home. On July 25, 1945, Webb was discharged from the Army at Fort McPherson near Atlanta. For Jake the war was over. His division, the 4th, suffered more casualties than any other division in the war. Out of the two hundred or so original members of his company, only twenty came back. Most of them had been wounded at least once, some twice, or even three times.

Jake went back to Savannah to get a job. A cousin with the Fire Department there got him a job with the police force. Jake re-enlisted in the army in 1946, back in the 4th Division. He was sent to Fort Benning and then to Fort Knox, Kentucky for armor training. In the first months of 1947, Jake volunteered to go back to Europe, but was instead sent to Korea, the worst country Webb had ever seen. Jake was assigned to work with Air Force officers. He kind of liked that work and transferred to the Air Force. He was sent to Kessler Field near Tampa. It was a good assignment and one which would change Jake’s life forever.

Jake Webb had been wounded in the head twice and survived. He was nearly killed another time. It was a miracle that he was still alive. But there was one more miracle left for Jake. One night a buddy called Jake and asked him to meet him at the local Moose Club. Jake showed up and walked into to the club. He looked everywhere, but his friend wasn’t around. He saw an older man and woman, sitting at a table with a young lady. It looked like his buddy wasn’t going to show, so he turned to walk out the door. As he was leaving, a young woman was coming in. Webb remembered she said, “Leaving so soon?” Jake told her what was happening. The lady asked Jake to come back in. She took Jake to the table where the young lady and the couple were sitting. The young lady was working in a real estate office and staying with her grandparents. She caught Jake’s eye and he caught her’s too. She took Jake to meet her grandparents. Jake Webb and Freddie Moran joined hands in marriage after a month or two and have been together ever since. Jake said that if he had left just a few seconds sooner, he would have never met Freddie, the love of his life.

Jake was assigned to Guam, where he served from 1949 to 1951. It was during that time when the Korean War started. Eventually, Freddie was allowed overseas to join him. The Webbs were transferred to Scott Field, Illinois for three years. In 1954, they returned to Georgia for an assignment at Warner Robins. In December of 1954, Jake was shipped back to Asia for duty in Japan, where he spent three years. The Webbs returned to the states for a tour of duty at Salina, Kansas before they returned to Tampa at McDill Air Force Base. On September 30, 1960,. Master Sergeant Jasper G. Webb retired from the Air Force. The Webbs lived in Tampa for a while before the family moved back to Laurens County, where Jake got a job at the V.A. Hospital. When a civil service job opening became available at the Federal Building, Jake took it. He retired in 1982.

For over forty years, this citizen, this soldier, served his country. Had he been born twenty years earlier, Jake Webb would have served in country in World War I. Had he been born eighty years earlier, Jake Webb would have picked up his rifle to defend his state in the War Between the States. Had he been born sixty years later, Jake Webb would today be standing guard somewhere, protecting our homes and everything that is precious to us.