Staff Sgt. Don Jakeway, 95 of Johnstown, served in the Army from 1942 to 1945, and earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service during World War II. [National Veterans Memorial and Museum]

Staff Sgt. Don Jakeway: God saved him to tell his story

For 40 years, Don Jakeway didn't talk of his service in World War II.

But after an out-of-the-blue phone call from Sgt. Dick Owens, who served alongside Staff Sgt. Jakeway in the 508th regiment of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, the 95-year-old Johnstown resident chose to start telling his story, which is featured in exhibits on combat experience and on returning home in the new National Veterans Memorial and Museum.

This is his story:

At 20 minutes past midnight on June 6, 1944, Jakeway jumped from a C-47 airplane and landed in a tree behind German lines, hours before Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. The tree saved his life, he later learned, because it stopped him from drifting into a small camp the German troops had set up 50 or so yards away.

On Sept. 20, 1944, while on a mission in Nazi-controlled Holland, Jakeway and other American troops helped liberate a Jewish family of five, the Jakobs, who had been hiding for 25 months in the basement of a farmhouse.

"One of the greatest things in my experience in the service," said Jakeway, who remains in touch with Bert Jakobs, 84, a 10-year-old boy at the time of rescue.

Two days later, a German bomb killed one of his friends and lodged shrapnel in Jakeway's right calf and the back of his head. Some of the metal remains in his skull.

Four months after that, Jakeway was wounded again — a German sniper's bullet pierced his left lung during the Battle of the Bulge.

Jakeway said he feels lucky to have survived his three years in the Army, that it was God's plan for him. And to be here more than 70 years later telling his story, he feels lucky about that, too.