Navy and Coast Guard Seaman Second Class William Jacob Scalf, 90, is a proud veteran of sea duty during both World War II and the Korean War.
His likeness appears on the Manteca Mural Society’s World War II mural titled “Spirit of America” that’s being dedicated Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.
“Jake” can easily be recognized in the bottom right corner of the mural. He said he was eager to follow his brother into combat as Germany was making headway in fierce fighting with Allied troops.
He will be at the mural dedication along with his family members sitting among other VIPs.
Scalf graduated from high school at age 16 and immediately tried to enlist in the Navy because his older brother was already on board a ship. He had to wait until he was 17-1/2 and by the time he finished his boot camp he had turned 18.
His first assignment was aboard a weather ship that reported fog and clouds that were coming into the region – those conditions took little more than a week to reach the coast of France. His ship received a personal letter from General Dwight D. Eisenhower telling them that they had help turn the tide of the war with their actions and their weather warnings.
Scalf would become a Sonar Specialist Second Class operator searching for enemy submarines.
“You could tell by the sound of the echo that came back exactly what you had in the water,” he said.
All of his buddies in
sonar training were killed
He and his buddies had taken a picture to send home of all eight of them. He and one of the others were sent to advance training at two different schools. The rest of the group received orders to landing craft duty. All were killed.
While he was in the North Atlantic he and his sonar crew sighted two subs and reported them to their command for action against the German U-boats that were ultimately sunk.
Scalf said just six months before they went out into the North Atlantic and Torpedo Alley, the Germans were sinking everything.
“At the time they had control of the sea in that area and once we did get in there, it only took six months or so to get it under control by the Fall of 1943,” he said.
He told of an Iceland girl who he had met in a canteen during a leave who he got to know quite well.
“She begged me to marry her so she could get to the U.S. and then we could get a divorce, and she would have become an American citizen but I couldn’t do it,” he said.
His mother would have disapproved, he feared.
Grew up as farm
boy in Illinois
Scalf grew up as a farm boy in a little town 28 miles from Springfield, Illinois called Verdin. He was born in Tennessee.
He remembers his first grade teacher and how kind she was to the children in his one room schoolhouse. He said the parents were afraid they were going to have to close the school because they had only 10 in the one classroom. They had polled the framers in the area, asking if they had any young children who weren’t attending class.
There was no such thing as a preschool, he added, so he had to start walking to school at 5.
Once Scalf got out of the service in 1945, he realized he needed a college education so he signed up for an education major – wanting to teach elementary school. He took night classes at the University of California Long Beach. It took him almost six years to get his Bachelors Degree. In 1950, though, he was called back to serve in the Korean War.
During the Korean War he was based out of San Diego where he ran into a man who thought he recognized him.
“He insisted he had pulled me out of the ocean after my ship was torpedoed, “ he said. “I must have a common face – it wasn’t me. It was so funny because he was so sure.”
When Scalf got out of college he became what many described as a remarkable fifth grade teacher in Long Beach. His daughter Misty, a former Western Airlines stewardess, said she came across a letter from years ago from one of his former students praising him for the foundation he had received.
Made big difference
in students’ lives
The letter came from Chris Siouris who now lives in Walnut Creek.
“To bring you up to date Mr. Scalf: Of my last two and a half decades I will begin by saying that the Lord Jesus has blessed me with an incredibly great wife and a two-year-old son. We currently reside in the Bay Area where I have worked as a federal agent for the past 10 years. I speak three foreign languages, Greek, Russian and Spanish and hold a red belt in Korean martial arts and have been lucky enough to have traveled and worked in at least two dozen countries.
“Sometimes I was speaking in international forums as a representative of U.S. law enforcement. The reason I mentioned all of this is to illustrate your skills as an educator and how your devotion to your students has played a major part in who I am and what I have been driven to accomplish to this date.
“As with everything, I give Jesus the ultimate glory. I want you to know you truly did make a difference in me and that through all my elementary, high school and college and two years of federal law enforcement academy, I can think of very few, if any, teachers for whom I can make this comment. Your profound interest in your students was apparent to us in all those many years ago, but now in retrospect I can see it even more clearly. I remember the pool party at your home and you visiting my parents at my house to discuss your plan for me as my teacher as some of the most singular things that stand out in my mind.
“I remember the signs displayed on the walls of your classroom with courteous phrases including please, thank you, etc. Such little and seemingly inconsequential things made more of a difference in me and in probably all of the students than even you may realize and I thank you for that. As a student grading a former teacher, I would say you were a very well-deserved A++.”
Five years ago, when living at a Bethany Home apartment in Ripon, a group of 12 former fifth grade students invited Scalf to a party in his honor back in Long Beach. He had become ill and could not attend, but they sent him a large card signed by those former students who still remember his much appreciated teaching skills and hold him in high esteem.
“I would tell my own kids that whatever they did right or wrong it would reflect on the entire family and they remembered that,” he said commenting that he stressed the importance of education.
Scalf’s family had sent him to Hawaii nearly a dozen times to visit the Arizona Memorial, but he was not able to face the remains of the ship sunk at Pearl Harbor.
On Scalf’s living room wall is a framed birthday letter from President George W. Bush sending his greetings. One comes every year, he said, as they share the same date on the calendar.