Sussex County History Today: Touched by the Greatest Generation

| 05 Mar 2023 | 10:40

I’m glad to be alive today. We have so much good in our world, our state and our Sussex County.

Let me give a casual example from a recent weekend.

Every year, the DAR has an annual luncheon. These women of the Daughters of the American Revolution are industrious, friendly and in every good sense of the word a patriot for America.

The DAR ladies recognize and honor people who have exhibited character and deed that exemplifies the best of America. This year was no different; they honored people who have done well for our county and their community.

One recipient of a citizen award was a bodega owner in Newton who provides food for the needy. Another was Dick Stevens, who has a Ph.D. from Harvard and has spent the past 30 years or so mapping old properties in Sussex County; a gentlemen I have met several times while exploring old properties in the county. Then there was Jacob Yanoff, at 97 years old the most senior person in the large attendance for the luncheon at the Lafayette House.

In the early 1940s, the darkness of World War II had brought its deathly shadow across the United States. After high school graduation, Jacob joined the military (well, a couple days shy of 18 years of age).

After basic training with the Marines, he headed to Camp Pendleton and boarded ship for Pearl Harbor, then the Western Pacific. On the way, they were told they were going to Iwo Jima.

The horrors of that battle have been described ever since. The men landing on a beach and pinned down under artillery bursts with bullets whizzing at them from the sweeping machine gun fire. Ships being bombed and struck by kamikazes. Suicide charges against Marines like him, guarding their positions and constantly trying to move forward.

The Battle of Iwo Jima, for those not aware, was one of the fiercest battles in American history. The U.S. victory at great loss helped to save airmen returning from missions over Japan and vaulted the United States Marine Corps to high status. The raising of the American flag on Mount Surabachi is one of the most vivid views in American history.

When Cpl. Yanoff landed on Iwo Jima, he headed for a forward position and dug a foxhole. At some point, a mortar blew up in the foxhole, killing his partner. The blast slammed into Jake, who had shrapnel wounds to his head, ears, neck and elbow. He was evacuated to Saipan. When back to health, he dutifully prepared for the invasion of Japan, a mission which never came because the war ended.

I am ever appreciative of those who gave some and those who gave all to preserve our precious freedom to love our families, build our homes and enjoy our wonderful country.

From a perspective of history, a view looking to the results of such terrible action, one knows that Cpl. Yanoff’s foxhole buddy’s life ended that day in March 1945.

But what did Jake’s life bring? How did his sacrifice help the generations that followed? Did the fact that the mortar blast killed another but allowed Cpl. Yanoff to live attain anything?

Here’s a snapshot from Sussex County.

Jacob’s son Mike lives in Frankford Township and is a forensic accountant. He was president of the Board of Education for Frankford Township School. Terry, his wife, is a teacher in the Sparta Public School system.

Mike is the son of Mike Sr. and the grandson of Jacob and an electrician for a major electric company. Heather, Mike’s wife, is an elementary school counselor in the Sparta Public School system. They have 11-year-old twins, Bryce and Addison, who are in sixth grade at Frankford School.

Natalie Smith is the daughter of Mike Sr. and the granddaughter of Jacob. Charles is Natalie’s husband, they both live in Branchville with their two children, Nickolas and Vivian, who attend Frankford School. Charles works in Montague and Natalie works in Newton

Elizabeth “Beth” Finch is the daughter of Mike Sr. and the granddaughter of Jacob. Adam is Elizabeth’s husband. They live in Branchville with their daughter, Sofia. Adam is a New Jersey State Trooper at the Augusta barracks and Elizabeth is a teacher in the Sparta school system.

Several lessons are to be had. In an instant, we might be dead or alive, we might have a long life or not, we might do well for family and community if we try. History passes before us and with us. We make the future with our good effort and the will of God. I’ve been touched by the Greatest Generation.

Bill Truran, Sussex County Historian