WWII vet a sensation in career, as Smyrna citizen

Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal, June 3, 2018

This is the third and final part of the historical journey through World War II and after as seen through eyes of a young Navy man who became a renowned baker and resident of Smyrna.

After the bomb dropped in Japan to end World War II, Charlie Jacobus transferred from the USS O’Brien to the USS Iowa with homeward- bound GIs returning to American soil at last.  He had accumulated 48 points of service for fighting in battle zones.  This record shined as one of the highest in his original crew.

His dog tags were still in his possession indicating his blood type, religion, service number and name.  With 72 million perishing worldwide in warfare, Charlie was alive, efficacious and ready to return to a new life in his beloved United States.  He received medals for the American and European Theater and two African/ Middle Eastern Camp Medals.  He was TN-0001169479 also awarded the World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, Navy Occupation Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific (4 stars) Medal.

In all, he was bestowed seven battle stars in the Pacific.  One war designation has 15 stripes sewn into material indicating the number of Japanese planes shot down.

Charlie was discharged from the Navy in Rhode Island on Oct. 24, 1947.  His superior letter of discharge from his lieutenant stated “highly commendable qualities of dependability and competence.”

Not only serving as a skilled seaman, Charlie was also in direct charge of a bake shop aboard ships that held 2,600 hungry sailors.  He served as Baker First Class on USS Arkansas, USS O’Brien and USS Kearsarge.  He was considered a card-carrying plank owner of the Kearsarge, meaning he acquired a piece of the ship deck.

After completing qualifications for official chef in 1947, Charlie remained in the Navy Reserves for 19 more years teaching 49 cooks, bakers, butchers and storekeepers.

He also returned to a civilian life and worked tirelessly in management within the baking business.  He moved into different companies over time for better pay.  He worked for the Holiday Inn in Memphis and then was employed in dining management by owner Kemmons Wilson of Wilson Hotels.

In 1947, he worked at the Pantaze Drug Company in Memphis supervising all food services.  He then labored hard at Southern Ice Cream Company in West Memphis, Arkansas, as plant manager from 1952-1955.

From 1955-1966, he was employed as manager at McCool’s Bakery, Federal Bake Shops (national chain of 130 stores), and Mercer Baking Company in Chattanooga.

At this time, Charlie had forged a strong name in the baking arena with his artistry and design.  One cake was featured on NBC Today Show.  Moreover, from 1959-1965, he worked a second job as a reserve recruiter.  While toiling in wholesale baking in Chattanooga, the Cooper and Mar tin grocers’ founder asked Charlie to relocate to Nashville.  Charlie managed 40 employees and stayed 10 years until the operation closed.  At the time, he left his car in Chattanooga, so his children would have transportation to school.  In Nashville, he rode a bus to and from work or took a cab.

Charlie opened seven bakeries from 1967-1979 for Malone and Hyde.

During this time, Charlie was seeking a permanent home and deep roots for family.  He wisely chose Smyrna where he forged a web of deep friendships and warm relations over the next 45 years.

His final vocation of 15 years was chief baker of Opryland Theme Park where he was renowned for his beautiful cakes and decadent creations.  His large birthday cakes featured on the Grand Ole Opry stage were a highlight every year.

Charlie’s crew baked all the bread, rolls and buns for the theme park.  They also prepared scrumptious desserts, fried chicken, and cooked chili and spaghetti sauce for the 25 restaurants and eateries in the park.  He created beautiful black and white Danish rolls for Larry Black and Liz White’s WSM AM radio show.

Charlie met the Gaylord Entertainment owners, Edward and Thelma Gaylord, who preferred to be called “Uncle Ed and Aunt Thelma.”  They often dined in the park and related they liked the food there better than the hotel.

Charlie also met and fed Sam Walton of Walmart.  He cooked often for Roy Acuff, who lived in the park and walked to the food distribution center that Charlie managed.  Mr. Acuff ’s favorite foods were Charlie’s cornbread with white beans and ham hock and apple pie.

Charlie created goodies for the country stars who practiced before the Saturday night Grand Ole Opry Show. He received thank you notes from Barbara Mandrell and Brenda Lee.

Roger Wylie of Smyrna was trained by Charlie to take his place as retirement loomed.  Several of the young employees Charlie worked with called him later and wrote letters of great thanks for excellent training.  One letter conveyed “you were my boss and friend.  I try to manage my team as you managed me showing respect, integrity and accountability.”

On his first resume, Charlie described himself as “a self-starter who could manage with limited supervision and had ability to make friends of customers and motivate others.  These traits served him well a lifetime in both the Navy and in business.  He refers to every employment opportunity he sought as a “good job” and maintained a positive approach.

Charlie was a smart man and an accountant by trade.  He believed strongly in continuing education.  He completed a course instruction in Business Management and Cost Accounting and utilized these skills in supervising bakeries.

He also studied with the Murfreesboro Bible and Preaching School.  Moreover, he was a member of the American Society of Bakery Engineers and adviser to Food Services at Smyrna Vocational School.  Charlie was an active member of Smyrna Church of Christ for 44 years and served as deacon.  He was also president of the Smyrna Exchange Club.  He was a golfer and fisherman in Rutherford County, and he created exquisite wood and leather craft.  After 25 years, Charlie received an Honorable Discharge and Good Conduct Medal from the U.S. Navy.

At home, he amassed a large collection of World War II memorabilia, of which his widow Zamah is a meticulous caretaker today.  While fighting in the Pacific, a Japanese kamikaze plane crashed into his ship, and he saved rare silk parachute material from this incident.

In his senior years, Charlie revisited his Memphis orphanage and made contact with some of those he had known as children there over 50 years ago.  Even though conditions were often harsh, he still felt fortunate that someone took him off the streets and gave him shelter where he learned survival skills that allowed him to later thrive.  His Uncle Lewis of Memphis, with whom he lived briefly as a teenager, died in 1957, and this experience was an emotional loss.  Lewis had been a role model, positive influence and someone Charlie respected all his life.

Charlie’s long-lasting roots in Rutherford County were true and real and gave him stability.  In Smyrna, I saw Charlie often working at the Smyrna Skate Center where he took care of all repairs and baked delicious homemade pizzas.  Charlie was on staff part-time for 12 years and retired at age 88 from this role.  He had a love for children and was a friend to all.

Charlie and Zamah dined very well at home in his retirement.  He continued to bake his world famous, thick apple pies and his Mexican tamale pie.  His recipe for a content life was to enjoy what you do.  Through the entirety of the war, Charles carried a Bible and a Gideon New Testament given to him by his sister Connie.  He also carried a rare, framed picture of his mother, Jewel, that was given to him by his guardian at his orphanage.

Charlies Frederick Jacobus died at age 90 in 2013 as a flag-waving American icon.  While 405,000 Americans perished in the war, he returned home as whole.

He says “I grew from a baby to a man in four years.”  World War II was a painful yet temporary experience. He was center stage to some of the largest battles of a gruesome war, living within the narrowest of lines between life and death.  I always had a dream of Charlie’s extraordinary life being developed into a screenplay and movie.  Zamah describes him today as a “wonderful man” whom she “loved so much and now misses somuch.”  Once identified as “no name Jacobus” on his application to the Navy at 18 years old, he became a hero in American history.

Contact Susan Harber at [email protected].

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