Government inaction leaves 93-year-old war widow desperate for answers

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A Minnesota widow has waited more than 70 years to learn the whereabouts of the soldier she married during WWII. Officials at the U.S. Pentagon never told the woman they have information that could possibly locate her husband’s remains after he was reported missing in action.

Catherine Burket was 17 when she met 22-year-old Jerry Jacobsen, who was a friend of her big brother.

When they started dating in 1939, he gave her a small token of his affection. The ring was his first gift to Catherine and the 93-year-old woman has worn it every day since.

"Every time I look at that ring I think of him, I can't help it,” Catherine said as she got emotional.

They got married in the winter of 1943 while Jacobsen was home on leave.

No matter where the Army sent him, he made sure to write his bride, two or three times a week.

He'd sprinkle that word "darling", in almost every sentence.

The last letter came from a battlefield in France in the summer of 1944, just after the D-Day Invasion. Part of it read: "Well, darling I will close for now and will write every chance I get. Darling, take good care of yourself and I hope this damn thing don't last much longer, so I can come home to you darling."

Three days after Staff Sergeant Jacobsen penned those words he was reported missing in action, a year later the Army declared him dead.

"You wonder, you sit and you think and think and think, can he still be around? Could they have him over in Germany? I don't know,” said Catherine.

Eight years ago, she had a memorial marker placed in Jacobsen’s honor at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis.

Since 1944, she has tried over and over again to get answers.

Eventually, she remarried and never had children. When her second husband passed away, she continued her search for Jacobsen.

In 2008, she sent some of his letters to the White House hoping that would inspire the government to find him.

"I sent them to the President. He must have read them because he sends me a Christmas card every year," she chuckled.

She was told the defense department was looking into the case. But nothing came of it.


Recently a curious outsider stumbled upon some promising clues.

The father of Roberta Russo of Palatine, IL was a WWII combat medic and served in the 35th infantry division, and so did Jacobsen.

While doing some historical research she came across an old Army file and it had information about a grave in France for an unknown solider identified as X-481.

That grave, according to the records, had been "associated with staff Sgt. Gerald Jacobsen."

"It was pure chance that I even discovered this information," said Russo. "Everything in this file points to the fact that they really felt this was Jerry Jacobsen."

At the time, the Army didn't have a scientific way to prove it was him, so the Jacobsen family was never told about it.

Russo knew about the other stories the Fox 9 Investigators have done about missing service members, so she contacted Fox 9 about this case.


The Fox 9 Investigators reached out to the Jacobsen’s family in the Twin Cities. 85-year-old Jackie Lebath is his little sister and lone surviving sibling.

"When I was young I used to think, maybe he's alive. Nobody knows," recalled Lebath.

Six Jacobsen brothers served in WWII, two of them, including Jerry and Robert, were killed.

A third brother, Donald, died in Vietnam.

The records discovered by Russo have finally given the family some understanding of what Jacobsen was doing when he was last seen alive.

His mission that day was to man an observation post and report on enemy mortar fire.

“I had no idea," exclaimed Lebath.

They want the grave in France exhumed and DNA testing of the remains to know who's buried there.

In July, Brad Jacobsen filed a formal request with the Pentagon to investigate his uncle's case.

After a month, he asked for a progress report but never got one.

He sent more messages urging the government to move quickly for the sake of his aunts.

Catherine has her 94th birthday coming up and Lebath recently had a health scare.

"My family doesn't have the time," said August Jacobsen. “If this just amounts to paper shuffling, okay, shuffle the papers and sign them."

By mid-October, orders to disinter the grave still had not been signed.  The Fox 9 Investigators asked about the delay and the Army declined Fox 9’s request for an interview.

The Army did apologize to Brad Jacobsen for taking so long to give him a progress report on the case.

The Pentagon will spend more than a $100 million this year on its program to find missing service members and bring them home. That program has been ripped in the past, for operating at a sloth-like pace.

Two years ago, it was reorganized in order to move faster.

The Fox 9 Investigators have examined two other cases of missing service members who were thought to be identifiable. In both cases, the remains were eventually identified by the Pentagon with the help of DNA. In each case, the families requested the remains be brought back to Minnesota from overseas. Here are the stories:

John Sersha Case:

John Anderson: