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In Memory

Gene Jacobsen

Gene Jacobsen was born Sept 19, 1921 and Died May 25, 2007. He was a history teacher at Montpelier High School in the early nineteen fifties.
One Montpelier High School Student wrote: Gene Jacobsen and Barbara Jacobsen: Two lovely teachers. Barbara taught English and he taught History. They are both gone now. The students really loved them. Gene was in the " Bataan Death March" during World War II. He promised us as a senior class that the last two weeks of the school year he would tell us about this time in his life. It was so touching and you could see in his eyes what a horrible experience he went through. He would twist the chalk in his hand, very emotional and you could see his hurt.

He told us that he ate a carrot out of the garden the prisoners had been forced to work on and was caught. The punishment was that they forced him to kneel on bamboo sticks and hold his shovel above his head for hours. What saved him from torture was that he got real sick, as he told us, and took all the morphine he had at once, which put him in a hospital, if you could call it that. He survived it all and has written a book in the year 2000 entitled: "To Japan with Encouragement and Hope".

The following article appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune on May 27, 2007:

Gene Jacobsen refused to die during the notorious Bataan Death March. Instead, the young soldier survived a 42-month captivity and returned home - free of contempt for his Japanese captors - to become a prominent Utah educator and author.

More than a half-century after his World War II imprisonment, Jacobsen died Friday at his St. George home of a war-related kidney problem. He was 85. He leaves behind the riveting personal history of his confinement in the Philippines and Japan, in which 70 percent of his fellow officers in the 20th Pursuit Squadron perished.

The account - which tells of his starvation, torture and ultimate forgiveness of the Japanese - earned him national recognition by the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge in 2005 and the respect of his peers.

"Gene was a powerful influence for compassion and understanding in our world," Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said. "The stirring account of his experiences as a World War II prisoner reflects not only his heroism, but his incredible decency and grace as a human being." 

Jacobsen returned from war in 1945 to marry his high school sweetheart, Barbara Perkins, who had served as a gunnery instructor in the U.S. Navy WAVES.

Jacobsen never shied from speaking about his imprisonment during World War II and ultimately published his memoirs in the book, "We Refused to Die: My Time as a Prisoner of War in Bataan and Japan, 1942-1945."

He wrote of the 60-mile death march to a Japanese prison camp, in which thousands of U.S. troops were fatally shot, bayoneted or beaten. He wrote of soldiers digging their own graves, of prisoners working in coal mines without shoes and of protracted starvation and abuse. Yet he also wrote of the day he forgave his captors-a moment that molded Jacobsen into a man who spoke ill of no one, his daughter said.


St. George, UT Dr. Gene Samuel Jacobsen, a prominent Utah educator and author, and World War II survivor, died peacefully at his home Friday, May 25, 2007, surrounded by his family. He was 85. Jacobsen was the author of "They Refused to Die", his inspirational, personal story of being a prisoner of war in the Philippines and Japan for 3-1/2 years, after surviving the infamous Bataan Death March. In recognition of his book, he was awarded the "Top National Honor, Public Communications Category" in 2005 by the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. He was born September 19, 1921, in Bloomington, ID, the son of Joseph Cowley Jacobsen and Ethel May Draney Jacobsen. Shortly after his 19th birthday, Jacobsen enlisted in the Army Air Force. After basic training at Hamilton Field, CA, he was sent to the Philippine Islands with the 20th Pursuit Squadron. He was with his squadron at Clark Field when World War II began in December 1941. With the American Forces, he moved to defend the Bataan Peninsula until the Philippines fell to the Japanese in April of 1942. Jacobsen survived the Bataan Death March, and from April, 1942, until July of 1944, he worked in several Japanese camps in the Philippines. He was then transferred to Kyshu, Japan, where he worked in a coal mine until the war ended in August 1945. Upon returning to the United States, he was reunited with his high school sweetheart, Barbara Perkins, who was a gunnery instructor in the U.S. Navy WAVES. The two married November 10, 1945, in Seattle, WA. The marriage was later solemnized in the Idaho Falls LDS Temple. After an honorable discharge from the service, Jacobsen received BS and MS Degrees at Utah State University, and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of California at Berkeley. He served on the faculty at University of California in Davis. At USU, he was the first Director of Edith Bowen Laboratory School, an assistant professor of Education, an associate director of the University Extension Service, director of summer school, and professor of educational administration. Then the couple's overseas' adventures began in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where Jacobsen was a member of a U of U team that established the faculty of education at the Haile Sellassie I University. He was a UNESCO expert with the Singapore Ministry of Education, and superintendent of the Saudi Arabian International School System in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. At the U of U, Jacobsen was an assistant dean of the Graduate School of Education and Chairman of the Department of Educational Administration. At the age of 60, Jacobsen was awarded the rank of professor emeritus. He did not retire. He became executive secretary of the Society of Utah School Superintendents and Associate Executive Director of the Utah School Boards Association. Among his many awards were the "Light of Learning Award" from the Utah State Board of Education, and two "Outstanding Service Awards" from the Utah School Boards Association. Throughout his life, he was a sought-after public speaker and consultant. He shared his war experiences with more than 100 different audiences. He authored To Japan With Encouragement and Hope, Jed Dawson (a novel), Santa's Dilemma, and co-authored A Christmas Gift of Poetry with his grandson, Sam Vicchrilli. He also wrote many songs and poems. A devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jacobsen served as a Sunday School teacher, High Councilman and member of two bishoprics. He and his wife served LDS missions in Zimbabwe, Africa, and in Tempe, AZ. Jacobsen found great joy in such diverse hobbies as hiking, fishing, gardening, cooking, singing and playing the guitar and banjo. He was a graduate of the Nashville Auction School. He and Barbara were best friends, constant and loving companions who traveled the world to share their educational expertise. Jacobsen was a strong advocate for the less fortunate, and always generous with his time and resources. He is survived by Barbara, his wife of 61 years; and their children, Dr. Michael (Pam) Jacobsen, Pleasant View; JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells (Joe Leverich), Murray; Sue (David) Vicchrilli, Murray; 12 grandchildren; brothers, Whitey, Forrest and Larry. He was preceded in death by his parents; brothers, Marsel and Darrell; and sister, Shirley Nate. The family extends heartfelt thanks to Dr. Roy and the staff at the Dixie Dialysis Clinic, and to Applegate Home Care and Hospice personnel. Funeral services will be held Wednesday, May 30, 2007, 12 noon, Southgate LDS Chapel, 3381 Mulberry Dr., St. George, UT. A graveside services with full military honors and interment will be Thursday, May 31st, 1:30 p.m., Murray City Cemetery, 5490 South Vine, Murray, UT. A visitation will be held Thursday, 12 noon-1 p.m. at the Murray LDS 24th Ward in Three Fountains. Arrangements are under the direction of Metcalf Mortuary 

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03/27/14 11:16 AM #1    

K B Rasmussen (1950)

When I was a senior at Montpelier High School, our senior class put on a special entertainment event to raise money for a new gymnasium. (We'd lived all four of our years at the high school without a gym.) I was the master of ceremonies for the event and Mr. Jacobsen leant me his tuxedo. He'd also leant me a love of history enlivened by his personal experiences.

Today, when I read history, I remember him fondly and novels like Killer Angels and accounts of Andersonville prison reflect the vivid memories of his classroom. He was another of those great teachers that we were blessed to have at Montpelier High School.

04/02/14 05:20 PM #2    

Dorothy Grimes (Allsop) (1951)

My husband and I were living in Salt Lake City, Utah, and attended a Thanksgiving Morning Memorial Service at our 23rd Ward meeting house.  This was a long standing tradition of this ward.  Gene Jacobsen was the guest speaker and he spoke for approx. 30 min.  It was a moving and inspiring testimony to the power of forgiveness.  He spoke of his time in Japan and of the horrible treatment he and his buddies received while prisoners of war.  This meeting was held about fifteen years ago.  He lived nearby my husband and I and we visited with the two of them several times.  He also told our history class (1951) of his experiences and I swear that it made a stronger American out of me.  He and Barbara will always be remembered as a special couple in my life.  Dorothy Grimes Allsop - class of 1951

04/06/14 05:58 PM #3    

Winnie Mae Wright (Freeman) (1953)

Barbara and Gene Jacobsen will always hold a special place in my heart. I had just been on the phone with her a few days before she died and it shocked and saddened me greatly to lose her.  She was such an awesome English teacher at MHS and also advisor to Pep Club, of which I was vice president as a junior and president as a senior.  She always showed great appreciation and support for all activities.  In fact she was my inspiration to attend college, especially USU where I dreamed of going but could not afford the out-of-state tuition.  I'll never forget the excitement I felt when she personally came to my home one Saturday while I (barefooted) was mopping the kitchen floor as part of my "Saturday's work." She presented me with a scholarship to USU which would more than cover the tuition and I know she was instrumental in getting that special award for me.

I spent many years trying to complete my education at USU, first majoring in Home Ec so I would be a better wife and mother ( all I had ever dreamed of being.) After I got a taste of college life I determined to be a "4 year girl" and pursued that with a passion.  I majored in physical therapy until the intermittent nature of my college years (I would work a year and then go to school a year, etc) when I finally decided to become a teacher.  It was the best decision I ever made and was a real blessing in my life as I ended up raising 5 kids by myself  Teaching gave me the best world for being a mom.  Gene Jacobsen became my advisor at USU when I decided to major in education in 1958 and celebrated with me when I finally got my bachelor's degree in 1963, 10 years after high school graduation. I still have the letter he sent to me on that occasion. Gene taught some of my classes and I loved  them. Between the two wonderful Jacobsen teachers I can say no other couple, outside of my parents, influenced my life to a greater degree.

08/01/14 12:30 PM #4    

Norma Lee Nelson (Collins) (1953)

I wanted to add something about Barbaara Jacocbson.  She was sthe best grammarian in my entire schooling.  When I was in the senior year  at the UW, Itok a diaaramming class, and nonen of the studeents knew how to even beegin.  I ended up tutoring the students.  She was great and we were blessed to have her talent.

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