Rutgers University Foundation campaign honors Col. Jack Jacobs’ heroism in Vietnam with Opportunity Fund to support Rutgers’ military-affiliated students
One year after graduating from Rutgers College at the height of the Vietnam war, a young ROTC-trained Army advisor named Jack Jacobs made a heroic rescue that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor – a distinction few soldiers live to receive.
During an ill-fated mission in 1967 that left his commander disabled and his unit in chaos amid heavy casualties, Jacobs took control, ordering a withdrawal and forming a defense line at a more secure position.
Then, despite suffering head and arm wounds and impaired vision, Jacobs repeatedly ran across open rice paddies through heavy fire for hours to evacuate the wounded, personally saving a fellow advisor, the wounded company commander and 12 other allied soldiers.
In honor of his exceptional act and years of subsequent service, the Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services at Rutgers is launching a campaign to have Veteran’s House at Rutgers named after the retired Army colonel and raise $500,000 to create an Opportunity Fund that will support military-affiliated students at Rutgers.
“He is a total legend,” said retired Army Sergeant First Class and Rutgers-New Brunswick senior Paul Frabizzio, 39, a work-study supervisor at Veteran’s House and the vice president of Student Veterans of America.
“It’s pretty ingrained in you to know the Medal of Honor recipients and what they received their medal for, so I knew of Col. Jacobs even before I came to Rutgers,” said Frabizzio, who lives in Piscataway with his wife. “But I didn’t know he went to Rutgers, which I found really cool when I came to Veteran’s House.”
Jacobs called it a “great honor” to know Veteran’s House will one day bear his name. But he was quick to note that his decision to act in those fateful moments decades ago was motivated by brotherhood more than bravery.
“These were my buddies, and I guarantee you if the situation were reversed and I needed help, somebody would have come to get me,” said Jacobs, who resides in Far Hills with his wife. “As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.’”
Jacobs’ modesty is typical of those who have seen combat, said Frabizzio, who served 12 years as a tank mechanic and infantryman in Afghanistan and Africa during Operation Enduring Freedom.
“You’re not doing anything for a medal when you’re in that moment. It’s about the guy to the left of you and the guy to the right of you,” said Frabizzio, a School of Social Work student who plans to assist other veterans in crisis after graduating this May. “I’m sure he’d give that medal back in five seconds to get his friends back, and that’s why he is so humble.”
After Vietnam, Jacobs returned to Rutgers Graduate School-New Brunswick and earned his master’s degree in political science in 1972. He went on to serve on the faculties of the National War College in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he is a senior fellow in the Department of Social Sciences. Jacobs also serves as a military analyst for MSNBC. Once he retired from the military, Jacobs founded and was chief operating officer of AutoFinance Group. He was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2003.
When growing up, Jacobs’ father, along with everyone else’s, enlisted in World War II. By the time Jacobs served, the number of Americans in the military dropped significantly – especially once the draft ended. Today, most Americans don’t know anyone in uniform, he said, so they don’t understand the veteran experience or what veterans have to offer as students and employees.
“I talk with corporations all the time. They want to hire veterans. When I ask why, they say, ‘Well, we owe it to them.’ But that’s not why. It’s not an act of charity,” said Jacobs, a father of three – including a daughter who graduated from Rutgers College in 1986.
“The fact is veterans have an enormous amount of authority and responsibility at a very early age and in difficult circumstances, too. It would be useful for people without military experience to understand the incredible capacity of veterans to get things done. They know how to show up on time, focus their attention on the objective and do a really good job with scarce resources.”
Following the longest period of sustained warfare in American history, the number of Rutgers students who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces has increased 180 percent in the last decade, totaling about 1,700 military-affiliated students, said Ann Treadaway, director of the Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services. These students are often older with spouses, children and full- or part-time jobs.
“The military clothes you, feeds you, houses you, gives you health insurance, and you have a retirement built in,” said Frabizzio. “It’s an awfully large safety net to walk away from.”
The additional responsibilities and challenges veterans face often create financial barriers not covered by the GI bill that prevent them from taking full advantage of all the opportunities available at Rutgers. Treadaway hopes Jacobs’ story helps the Rutgers University Foundation raise money to help fill the gaps for Rutgers’ military-affiliated students through the new Opportunity Fund.
“We have an emergency fund, but that is only for sudden financial crisis that students may face,” said Treadaway. “The fund could help a student take the LSAT or GRE, take a prep class or get an additional certificate. Maybe it covers a tuition balance that the GI Bill doesn’t cover. The goal is it will bridge the gap for military-affiliated students to succeed.”
To give to the Opportunity Fund, visit give.rutgers.edu/veteransopportunityfund.