Before each meal Captain William W. Jacobsen Jr. (BS ’98) would pause to pray. “It didn’t bother him where he was,” his wife Riikka explains. “Bill just closed his eyes and said a little prayer.” Jacobsen’s dedication to his religion set him apart from many of his fellow soldiers in Iraq.
Captain Jacobsen had been stationed at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq, for almost three months when, on December 21, a bomb exploded in the mess tent, killing Jacobsen and 21 others. Later investigations determined the attack was the work of a suicide bomber.
Jacobsen was the highest-ranking officer killed that day. He commanded Company A, First Battalion, 24th Infantry—a unit of 174 troops. “He had a great love for his soldiers,” comments Riikka. “He was a great leader, the type of leader who didn’t just sit there and tell you what to do but was actually out there in the front with his guys.”
Jacobsen was an example to his soldiers and leaders alike. “His battalion commander said that if he knew all Mormons fought like Bill, he would convert the whole battalion.”
A New York Times article published in January reported that Jacobsen had refused to use the derogatory name many soldiers used for Iraqis. “I believe we are all God’s children,” he had said. “Just born in different places.”
Jacobsen attended Western Kentucky University for a year before serving a mission to Dallas, Texas, where he and Riikka met. “He was my district leader twice,” remembers Riikka. She returned home six months before he did, and they stayed in contact through letters until he came home.
Jacobsen began attending BYU in the fall of 1995, and Riikka was accepted for the following winter semester. They married that December. Sadly, Jacobsen was killed on their ninth wedding anniversary.
A father of four, Jacobsen often used his family as an example of something he had in common with the Iraqi people. Pictures of his children—Bill (age 8), Sedric (7), Yonah (5), and Avalon (2)—covered the wall of the room where he slept, and he talked about them constantly. “One of the things his soldiers told me was that in 10 years or so he wanted to bring me and our kids to Iraq on a vacation,” says Riikka. “He was very grateful for our free nation, and he wanted to help to provide that to the people of Iraq. He was very committed to that.”