Milford’s Leon Jacques Jr. was more than a war hero
MILFORD – Everyone in Milford knows the name Jacques, because the town’s lower elementary school is the Jacques Memorial School.
And some know that the school is named after Leon Jacques Jr., who served in World War II and the Korean War and who died in Korea 17 days after the conflict started.
But very few people are still alive who remember Jacques, and one of them is Harriet Aborn.
A Milford native now living in Connecticut, Aborn called The Cabinet recently to share what she called a vivid memory of Jacques when they were in Milford High School, in the Class of 1942.
Rumor of a fight
It was September in their junior or senior year, she said, and there was a rumor going around that Amherst and Milford boys were going to have a gang fight.
“I was with my girlfriend, Jennie Rocca, on the Oval,” she said, and across the stone bridge came “a truck full of boys” from Amherst High School, about a dozen, with bats and clubs, and they were “ready to fight.”
Leon Jacques’ father had a shoe repair shop on the northwest side of the Oval and Aborn and her friend watched as the young Jacques left the shop and walked alone into the middle of the street to face the Amherst boys.
“You can’t do this. Turn around and go back,” she remembers him saying.
Jacques was a football and basketball star and class president, and the Amherst boys “realized who he was,” Aborn said, and turned around and left Milford.
“He was a genuine peacemaker,” she said. “He was like a brother to all of us. A special person. He was so much more than just a war hero who had a school named after him.”
Attended West Point
Jacques went to Saint Anselm College and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and then was assigned to the 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division in Japan and committed to combat in Korea, where during the first two weeks of combat, more than 40 percent of the men fighting were killed, wounded, taken as prisoners of war or were missing in action.
In Korea, Jacques demonstrated the same disregard for his personal safety and continued his role as a peacemaker. According to former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith, in a speech to the Senate, this is what happened:
“On July 12, 1950, Leon and his men were captured as prisoners of war and it was later learned that Leon had been killed by the enemy. He was in charge of several soldiers who were harassed by the enemy. Leon demanded that they stop and for making this statement, he was killed.”
An Army report said that Jacques’ “valor in response to enemy aggression were in the finest tradition of military service and reflected great credit upon himself, the 21st Infantry Regiment and the United States Army.”
Jacques was honored with 10 medals.