Editor's note: This is part of a weekly series published each Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.
BROOKFIELD - What began as a job opportunity turned into a personal obligation for Jacob Krumbach.
After graduating high school in 1934, Krumbach - now 98 and living in Brookfield - struggled to find work in his hometown of Sharon, Pa., so he trained with the U.S. Army from 1937 to 1938.
Tribune Chronicle / Alisa Manna
Jacob Krumbach, 98, of Brookfield looks at a map of the routes the 1st Marine Division took while in the Pacific during World War II.
Following a year of basic training, Krumbach found himself in Canton laying carpet and flooring, what he called his "specialty."
He was only in Canton a few years before the United States declared war on Japan in 1941. Like many Americans who witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor, it didn't take much convincing for him to act. He enlisted for the U.S. Marine Corps on April 6, 1942.
"I wanted to enlist. Nobody talked me into it. I wanted to defend my country," he said.
Krumbach served from Dec. 29, 1942, to July 20, 1945, in the Marine Corps as a field radio operator, the main source of communication during missions. He was also a sharpshooter with a rifle and an expert with a pistol.
"And I never shot a rifle before I went into the service" Krumbach said.
Still, during his three years of service, Krumbach saw and heard more than most people do in a lifetime. All of his missions and operations involved taking down the enemy; it didn't matter what the circumstances were.
His sole purpose during the war was to capture the islands and avoid being wounded. He succeeded.
Stationed in the Central and Southwest Pacific area, all the islands were mandated by Japan. His job was to push the enemy back.
Today, Krumbach may suffer spurts of memory loss, often saying, "I'm almost 100 years old," but there are a few things he can never forget.
One of the missions he remembers vividly is the assault and capture of Peleliu Island in the Pacific Theater, what is now known as the Battle of Peleliu, where he participated in the operation for a little more than a month.
A marine in the 1st Marine Division, or "The Old Breed," Krumbach was only on Peleliu briefly before the division was evacuated.
It was during those few weeks one of the division's boats was struck, leaving Krumbach floating on a piece of junk and a fellow serviceman wounded and left for dead.
"That is where we lost 60 percent of our division and completed the mission with only 40 percent," he said.
For a man who's experienced so much, he still laughs at the thought of spending almost a month outside in the rain.
"There were 21 days and nights of rain. The trees were toppling over like toothpicks, like the ground couldn't take it anymore," he said. "And the mud was up to our knees."
It was difficult for the division to travel by land or water, Krumbuch explained. Their Army Ducks would get stuck on coral reef, forcing them to abandon the amphibious truck before being attacked.
"If the enemy resists you, you keep fighting," he said.
This applies especially to a time he literally escaped death within a few footsteps.
Krumbach's nephew, Ron Miller, also a U.S. Army veteran, helped him recall a story he would often tell the family.
"When Jake was in the islands, the soldiers would march 10 paces apart, replacing one anotherlike leap frogging. At one point, Jake moved up one person and a sniper got the guy who took his position right in the head," Miller said.
Krumbach - his memory rushing back to him - added, "That was the closest call. And he was married, had a family."
Though not married, Krumbach also had someone back home waiting for him. Before enlisting in the service, he met the love of his life, Dorothy Miller.
The last island Krumbach helped to capture was Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands, invading April 1, 1945.
He had five radio operators under him and was responsible for surveillance, talking back and forth about the enemy's location in code.
"It was an operation with all armed forces. The Army, Navy and Marines all went in and had a hand. It was the last island of the war. And that's what protected Japan, all those little islands," Krumbach said.
The battle came to an end mid-June with a large number of casualties. Following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered.
"I was damn glad to get home," Krumbach said.
Krumbach returned to Canton and married Dorothy on Sept. 1, 1945. He continued his work as a floor technician and eventually started his own business in Brookfield.
After Dorothy passed away in 2003, his neighbor, Katie Sass, and nephew helped look after him before hiring a caregiver. His current caregiver, Debbie Bolek of Hartford, has worked for Krumbach the past year-and-a-half. She and Sass love listening to his war stories.
"I've seen him have conversations with people and it's like he never forgot a thing," Sass said.