The story of Gordon Wortman and Jack

Tom McDermott
Posted 3/8/22

Gordon Wortman and Jack were a team. Like many teams in World War II, they came from different backgrounds.

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The story of Gordon Wortman and Jack


Gordon Wortman and Jack were a team. Like many teams in World War II, they came from different backgrounds.

Gordon was from Davis Junction. Jack was from Floral Park, New York. One from the big city and one from rural America. Oh, and Jack was a dog.

Jack’s story starts with Joseph Verhaeghe. Joe had fled from Belgium with his family during WWI. As their boat sailed from Belgium, the German Shore Patrol opened fire. Joe’s infant sister was hit and died in her mother’s arms. Joe never forgot or forgave. Joe lived on Long Island with his wife and son. When his son Bobby wanted a dog, it called for a trip to the animal shelter.

Jack, a Belgium Shepherd, won their hearts and was adopted as the newest member of the family. Growing up in Floral Park, New York, Jack became well-known as an ice cream thief. Neighborhood children learned quickly to guard their cones. One moment of distraction and Jack would strike with blinding speed. No child was bitten but Jack left with many a prize.

When WWII broke out, Joe rushed to enlist. A ruptured ear drum destroyed Joe’s chances. Joe could not serve, but Jack could. Joe asked Bobby for approval to enlist Jack into the military. “Pop, if Jack can save lives I want him to go in.”

With a tear in his eye, Bobby and Joe delivered Jack to the Marines. At Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Jack met Gordon Wortman from Illinois and Paul Castracane of New York. The three became a working team and Gordon immediately expressed pride in his protégé.

“The captain said Jack was the only dog he was sure would make the grade. He said Jack would get medals of some kind someday. I surely hope it (the medal I mean) won’t mean the Purple Heart for that is what we get for being wounded.”

In another letter to his mother on Oct. 21, 1943, Gordon reassured his family, “I am fine and in the best of health. Jack is also fine. I surely hope you get to see him someday. If I ever get a chance to come home again I will try to bring him with me. Jack is sitting here alongside me now and he said to send you his love. Don’t worry about me. Jack will take care of me.”

Nov. 1943 found Jack, Gordon and Paul taking part in the Bougainville Invasion. The seventh day of the invasion (Nov. 8) found Gordon and Jack assigned to a marine roadblock far inside the jungle of the island. Paul was at headquarters. The Japanese had eyes on the roadblock. The Japanese surreptitiously surrounded the American position and cut communication lines between the roadblock and headquarters.

With the Marines cut off from any help, the Japanese opened fire. Gordon received a crippling wound to his leg, Jack was struck in the back by machine gun fire. Jack crawled to Gordon and laid on his lap, even wounded Jack would stay with his partner.

The officer of the roadblock detail crawled to Gordon, “Son, we’ve got to get through to headquarters, your dog is the only one we can send. Do you think he can make it?” “I think so, sir. He’s got lots of guts.”

A note was placed in Jack’s harness and Gordon cradled his wounded dog’s head in his hands. Gordon leaned close to Jack’s ear, “ Report to Paul.”

Like the ice cream thief of the past, Jack shot from the roadblock into the jungle. Chased by Japanese machine gun fire, Jack ran like not only his life depended on it, but the lives of his comrades.

Jack reached the headquarters and collapsed at Paul’s feet. The message was taken to command and Jack was taken to medical care. Troops were sent to reinforce the roadblock and the Japanese were beaten back.

Jack and Gordon were both commended and recommended to receive the Purple Heart. Jack was promoted to sergeant. On Feb. 20, 1943 in a letter to his mother, Gordon summed up his love for Jack.

“Well, I’m back with my outfit again and Jack is fine. He seemed glad to see me again and I was surely happy to see him. Golly, a fellow doesn’t realize how much he can miss a dog.”

Tom McDermott is a Flagg Township Museum historian and a Rochelle city councilman.