September 19, 2010

Racine's 175 Years: Medal of Honor links two heroes

By Randolph D. Brandt

Though from the same small town of Racine, Maj. John Jerstad and Pvt. Harold C. Agerholm probably didn’t know each other.

They were born seven years apart, went to different schools, lived in different neighborhoods.

But courage has nothing to do with age or class or geography. When it came down to it, both men were willing to sacrifice their lives to try to save their comrades and their country.

And so both were awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest decoration for valor, in actions during World War II that occurred a world apart.

Their names are forever linked by their courage, and by Jerstad-Agerholm School, which opened in 1952 named in their joint memory.

Jack Jerstad died in a bomber flying at rooftop level to accomplish one of the most desperate missions of the war in Europe. Harold Agerholm died while saving 45 wounded Marines on the island of Saipan in the Pacific.

Jerstad attended Washington Park High School and, after graduating in 1936, went on to Northwestern University. He participated in Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts and, while in college, he returned to Racine to run a children's day camp in the summer. After graduation in 1940, he taught school for a year in La Due, Missouri, before enlisting in July 1941 as an aviation cadet.

Agerholm attended the Racine public schools. After working for five months as a multigraph operator for the Rench Manufacturing Company, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve on July 16, 1942

Agerholm received his recruit training in San Diego, California. Upon completion of his training he was assigned to Headquarters and Service Battery, 4th Battalion, 10th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. He embarked for overseas duty on November 3, 1942, and went to New Zealand, where he trained with his battalion.

He was promoted to private first class in January 1943, and became the battery storeroom keeper. He took part in the fighting on Betio Island and Tarawa in November 1943. From Tarawa he went to the Hawaiian Islands with the 2nd Marine Division, where they trained for their forthcoming operation on Saipan.

Randolph D. Brandt is the retired editor of the Journal Times, and a member of Phi Alpha Theta, recognizing conspicuous scholarship in the field of history.

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  1. I wonder if I ever knew the background for the names of the Jerstad-Agerholm school. If I did, I had forgotten. I think at the beginning of every school year the students should hear the story for the naming of their school and the meaningful importance of the Medal of Honor.