Retired Master Sgt. John Jaskolka joined the Marine Corps in 1948, right out of high school in the Pocono Mountains.
By autumn, he was in Guam.
“There we were, a group of us, we stayed together, we worked together, we played together,” Jaskolka said. “We stayed there until the Korean War started in June of 1950. As fast as they could get people to relieve us, we were off in groups to join the fight in Korea.”
Jaskolka said he lost many friends in the war.
“I had one of my good friends killed on Nov. 11, 1950. He and I bought a motorcycle, an old, junk motorcycle together on Guam and worked on it. He got to ride about a half a mile before it fell apart,” Jaskolka said.
The two served in the same outfit, C-1-7, in North Korea.
“Another one of my good buddies and I were both promoted to corporal at the same time in early 1950 and he was killed in November and awarded the Silver Star so I kind of feel like the parents must feel, and I’m sure that other servicemen feel the same way,” Jaskolka said.
He said observing Veterans Day should include the friends and families of the servicemen and women.
“I feel like, when they say Veterans Day, I wonder how the Gold Star parents feel,” he said. “I feel sort of like that because I lost a lot of friends and I think the name Veterans Day doesn’t cover it all. They’re veterans too, the parents, physically they weren’t there but mentally, they were.”
Jaskolka said limits on the military at the time made things especially difficult.
“We were not ready for the war, let me tell you,” he said. “None of the services were ready. We were cut way back after World War II and that was a mistake.”
He received a Purple Heart for his service in Korea. He was lying in the hospital bed in Japan when they pinned it on him.
“I was doing what I was told to do and I got shot in the foot,” he said. “It was a minor wound but up in the mountains, so by the time I got out of the mountains, got across the ocean to an Army hospital, where they were so busy because that was when we were overwhelmed, by the time I got any treatment, it was three days and gangrene set in so for a minor wound, what I considered minor, it probably would’ve taken a couple of stitches, about 20 maybe, gangrene set in, and because they share needles, after about two weeks later, I ended up with hepatitis.”
He said it was just a difficult time.
“You can’t criticize them because that’s just the way things were. It took me a long stay in the hospital to get back on my feet,” he said. “In fact, I have a letter that the Marine Corps sent to my mother that I was returned to duty and went back to Korea on March 17 so from the beginning of November to March, I was in Japan, living the good life, while my friends were not living the good life.”
Jaskolka returned to the fight after he recovered.
“When I came back from Korea, I only enlisted for three years and President Truman saw fit to extend me so I could stay in Korea, make it four years, and then to make up for it, they decided to station me in Pennsylvania, right near my home,” he said.
That’s when he met his wife of 65 years, Mary Jane, at a high school football game.
“She stuck with me when I went from there to recruiting duty and then to school and back overseas and to Vietnam and back,” he said.
They moved every 18 months, living in Kentucky, Kansas, Georgia and California while on recruiting duty.
“I got extra pay to pay for housing, $77 a month, which sounds like nothing now, well it was nothing then too, but there’s a big difference in what a penny was worth then and what a penny is worth now, but my rent just happened to be $77.10, isn’t that amazing? I think I got $20 or $30 a month for food,” Jaskolka said.
The pair shared a monthly treat they remember fondly.
“Once the month, she’ll tell you,” he said, “we would walk to the Dairy Queen, about a block away and have a sundae, that was our dessert.”
Mary Jane Jaskolka smiled at the memory.
“You couldn’t really put your roots down,” she said. “I know one time, he was supposed to come home for Christmas, they extended him a couple of months and I always thought that night, he would surprise the boys but it never happened. It was tough, but it was worth it. He always told me if the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife, they’d issue you one.”
They have two sons, Jeffrey and John, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
“We’ve been here since 1966. We are part of Craven County,” he said.
Today, he can be found volunteering with the St. Paul Catholic Church Knights of Columbus or with American Legion Post 539.
He hopes this Veterans Day will bring some healing to the country.
“We fly flags, we have parades and so it, hopefully, lets people reflect on this great country we have and that we are free people. You couldn’t find a better place to live, this is it. Maybe those parades and things will inspire people to feel better about our country because right now I think we need some feeling better,” he said.
Contact Jennifer Cannon at 252-635-5671. Follow her on Twitter at JCannonNBSJ.