JOHNSTOWN — Don Jakeway had sad news for Johnstown coach Mike Carter last Friday night.
“I won’t be here for a while.”
Jakeway, one of the most decorated veterans of World War II and a Johnstown legend, has been raising the flag before home football games for more than 40 years. But a knee replacement loomed Thursday, sidelining him for several weeks. He and Carter talk before and after every home game.
“We’ll probably still wheel him out there somehow, just so he’s still a part of Friday nights,” said Jakeway’s son, Kim, a former principal and athletic director at Johnstown. “He loves Mike Carter.”
And he loves Johnstown. Jakeway, who turns 93 in January, was a three-sport star for the Johnnies and has dedicated his life to the school and town. He is Johnstown’s Favorite Fan.
Jakeway nearly didn’t make it home from World War II after starring in football, baseball and basketball for the Johnnies and graduating in 1942. Football was his best sport.
“I was 138 pounds, but I was fast,” he said. “I played running back, linebacker and safety, back when they ran the single wing.”
Capital University offered him a scholarship, but the military beckoned. He enlisted in the U.S. Army the year he graduated.
In June 1944, Sgt. Jakeway parachuted into Normandy, France, on D-Day with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment as part of the 82nd Airborne Division. He landed in a tree near a church, only about 50 yards from a German camp. That tree saved his life, and he’s been back to visit it four times, including last year as part of D-Day’s 70th anniversary. He was on the VIP stage.
He was hospitalized later in the war after being hit by German artillery, then returned to combat in the Battle of the Bulge, where a sniper shot him through the lung. The ambulance carrying him rolled over repeatedly, killing everyone except him. Jakeway nearly bled to death; his demise was prevented by the temperature, which fell to minus 23.
Jakeway’s unit helped rescue a Jewish family that had been hiding in their attic for 25 months from the Nazis. He has received 21 medals, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart; is regularly honored in ceremonies and at parades; and still speaks often about his experiences.
“When I came back home, I made up my mind I was going to give back a little bit,” he said.
He’s been giving back, a lot, ever since, despite having a bullet fragment in his head and shrapnel in his body.
After starting work at Shell gas station, Jakeway later worked for Agri Tech Steel, then EPCO, a manufacturer of drinking fountains where he retired as director of international operations. He traveled to more than 100 countries, but his feet were firmly on the ground in Johnstown.
He and his wife, Roselyn, will celebrate their 69th anniversary next June and have lived at their house on Saratoga Drive since 1969. Oldest son Donnie lives in Texas, while sons Kim and David live nearby and daughter Denise works in neighboring Knox County. His grandson, Trenton, is a Johnnies freshman football player, while great-granddaughter Tanner was homecoming queen a couple of years ago.
Jakeway built Don Jakeway Little League baseball field when Kim was 8 or 9 years old.
“You played under the lights, got to be announced, with the big scoreboard,” Kim said. “It was the highlight of our lives for many of us.”
He also built Don Jakeway football field, which still hosts games at Adams Middle School, site of the old high school.
He has coached youth baseball, basketball and football, including a few years of middle school football with his son.
“I loved having him with me,” Kim said. “He’s just so competitive.”
Then there were his 20-plus years as president of the athletic boosters while also filming football games.
“He cooked meals, washed uniforms, you name it,” Kim said. “At away games when I was filming, I put up 40-foot paint scaffolding because there usually were no visiting press boxes,” Don said.
He has Don Jakeway Place, at Ohio 37 and U.S. 62, named after him in Johnstown, as well as a golf league at Hillcrest. Jakeway has been Johnstown Village Council president, while also taking charge of the local Kiwanis Club and the American Legion, where he has raised large sums for charity.
His late friend, Lou Mitchell, donated $100,000 for the Don Jakeway Scholarship, with $5,000 awarded annually to college-bound Johnstown athletes. Jakeway started the Silas Miller Memorial Golf Outing at St. Albans, named after a World War II friend, and it’s in its 20th year as a fundraiser for school sports teams.
Jakeway took nine years to write a book about his war experience, “Paratroopers Do Or Die,” and it recently sold out again.
“It’s not just about me,” he insisted.
Much like his life in Johnstown, where he made a vow to help senior citizens, people who are disabled and anyone else he could.
“He made that pledge, and he has kept to it,” Kim Jakeway said.
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