Sorry folks, this is going to be a long one.
When I was in college ROTC I met a guy with the unlikely name of William Waddoups Jacobsen Jr. He didn’t tell me about the Waddoups right away, he was just Bill.
Bill was older than the rest of us. At least he felt that way to me. He was only one year ahead of me in school but he was a mentor, a steadying influence, and a friend through all the strange disquieting times that come upon a freshman in college away from home for the first time. He lifted me up and pushed me down in turn, as I needed it.
I have quite a few memories of Bill from that first year. On one FTX we hiked up into and later down out of Rock Canyon. My pack felt like it weighed a million pounds. Bill, in a leadership position, moved up and down the line and the slope like he was on rails, though I knew for a fact that his pack was far heavier than mine and he had the M60. He never slowed down and somehow we found the strength to keep up.
Bill and I served our two year LDS missions at approximately the same time. I entered the Missionary Training Center a few weeks before he did. When he arrived I had a couple of the more popular motivational posters and a set of scripture bookmarks for him as well as some advice about life at the MTC. When I showed up at his room he grinned at me, grabbed my hand and pulled me in for a hug. Suddenly I felt, in some some small part, like I’d paid him back for all the advice he’d given me over the year before, just a little bit. My silly trinkets were worth something to him and he took the dork dot off when I told him he should.
Two years later, back in ROTC, Bill was still at the top of his game. He went to ROTC Advanced Camp while I was chasing airborne school by joining the Utah National Guard. When I returned from Basic, AIT and Airborne, he was a successful graduate of Advance Camp and due to commission. One of the first things he did was give me his terrain model kit. He said I’d squared him away in the MTC so he was going to square me away for Advance Camp.
I never went to Advance Camp. One of the Captains in the ROTC program, a slimy character from an MP unit told me he didn’t like my leadership style as it was too much like an NCO’s. Therefore, he said, he was mandating that I start the program over as an MS1 or Military Science freshman. The commandant was new since my mission and backed up his Captain. I couldn’t afford to start over as I was due to graduate in just over a year so I gave the BYU ROTC program a pass after that and threw myself into being an NCO. I’ve never looked back.
I lost touch with Bill though. He commissioned infantry, thank heavens, and we went separate ways.
A few years later, after a tour in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, I heard from Bill again. There was a family function being held in the BYU ROTC building. One of my uncles was the Air Force Commandant at the time and his son was just home from his LDS mission so we had use of the Air Force side of the building.
As we were carrying food in from the parking lot my wife stopped me and said, brightly, “Hey hon, there’s an article about Bill on the wall over on the army side.”
“What’s it about?”
“I didn’t read it yet, just saw his picture.”
When a break in the festivities came I wandered upstairs to read the article, see what old Bill was doing.
I didn’t realize what I was reading until a couple of paragraphs in. He was dead. He’d been killed in Mosul Iraq a few months after I’d left Afghanistan. I hadn’t spoken with Bill in years. Still it hit me with vicious and unexpected force. I felt the tears well up and I put my sunglasses on and walked outside. I couldn’t hold it in and there were people around so I went quickly to my family’s minivan, opened the side door and sat on the floor. I sobbed, tears raining on the asphalt between the cars, trying to keep it quiet enough that I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. I failed but nobody bothered me.
It all came out. I cried for Bill, Paul Sweeney, Captain Edgers, Edris, and all the others. A vast reservoir of grief I hadn’t even known was in there flooded out of me. Once again, Bill had given me a helping hand.
Thanks Bill, for everything.