It’s easy to drive past the small Korean war memorial near Keyes Park without noticing this monument to veterans of the so-called “Forgotten War.” Featured separately with a plaque of his own is Leon Jacques Jr., the same name that adorns the local primary school. As with any memorialized name, the man himself has been forgotten by some, as “Jacques” has simply become the name of a school. As it turns out, Leon Jacques Jr. had a life well worth remembering.
There was a time when small town newspapers apparently viewed no local news as too small to report. Birthday parties, camping trips and visits from relatives were all fit to print in the roundups of local goings-on. One can both trace the short life of Leon Jacques Jr. through these articles and understand how much he exemplified the promise of youth to the townspeople of Milford. Born on May 2, 1924, Milford readers were told in May 1935 that “Leon Jacques Jr. is enjoying his new bicycle which he received as an 11th birthday gift.” The next year, the paper described the pink and green birthday cake at his 12th birthday party. As Jacques grew up, the town was kept abreast of his honor roll inclusions, camping trips and sporting triumphs.
In high school, Leon Jacques was a model student – president of his class for three years, captain of the basketball team and a letterman in football, track, and baseball. One December 1940 article captures his heroics, as the Cabinet reported that Milford beat Conant in a “thrilling overtime game” and called Leon Jacques and Luke Bowen “a speedy forward pair that put Milford into the winning column by their superb floor work.” Reportedly he was also a leader outside of school: One student recalled a September day when rumors of a gang fight were followed by a “truck full of boys” from Amherst High School crossing the Stone Bridge with bats and clubs. Jacques walked into street and told the gang, “You can’t do this. Turn around and go back.” Apparently, this was enough to disperse the gang.
In 1942, graduating from Milford High School, Jacques became the local boy who makes good. Exceling at St. Anselm’s College, he took the four-day exam at the Braden School to apply to West Point. When he was accepted, he became one of just four American boys to win a $500 Gunther American Legion Scholarship to the military academy.
His entry into West Point received a front-page Cabinet headline: “Milord Boy to Go to West Point.” During World War II, Jacques served overseas, but as hostilities broke out in Korea in 1950, First Lieutenant Jacques was sent into action almost immediately. On July 2, Jacques and the 24th Infantry Division set out for Taejon where the North Koreans had 140,000 United Nations troops backed against the sea. 60,000 casualties would result on each side.
The first report that something had gone wrong appeared in a small item on the Cabinet’s front page of July 27, 1950. Below a picture of Jacques in uniform, the caption read: “A War Department telegram last night notified his father that the son has been missing in action in Korea since July 12.” The official word came down more than three months later, confirming the worst. The Cabinet reported “Leon Jacques received word yesterday from the War Department that his son, First Lieutenant Leon Jacques, Jr. was killed in action on July 12.” Jacques Jr. was awarded the Purple Heart and nine other medals, becoming the first New Hampshire boy to give his life in the Korean conflict.
The Korean War Memorial on Elm Street