Note: this is part of a series about America’s first counterterrorism unit. You can read part one here. Master Sergeant Jake Jakovenko was known as a hard man among the Green Berets of 5th Special Forces Group. When asked about what type of soldier Jakovenko was, retired 7th Special Forces Group Warrant Officer Jim “Smokey” West simply replied, “No bullshit.” Born in what he describes as a “no-name village” in Donbass province, Ukraine, to a coal miner mother, Jakovenko was introduced into the same rough life that his family lived in Eastern Europe.
Speaking of his mother, Jakoveko told SOFREP, “When she was 16 in 1933-34, Stalin tried to starve Ukraine out, like the Germans did to the Jews. Someone, for a loaf of bread, said her brother had a pistol. The Bolsheviks came even though no pistol was found. They tortured and murdered her whole family. She was sitting, leaning against a fence, too weak to move from hunger and watched the horror. Two Bolsheviks came over to her, one pointed a pistol at her head. The other said, ‘Why waste a bullet? She will be dead by sundown.'”
Her neighbors stepped in after the Bolsheviks left, taking Jakovenko’s mother in and helping her recover. In 1941, the Germans invaded Ukraine, were defeated, and retreated back to Germany. Ukrainians who had worked with the Germans had to retreat with them or face retaliation. “We ended up in Berlin. Pop was a fireman and Mom worked in a factory, sewing German army uniforms,” Jakovenko said. “We left Berlin in May 1945. Again the Russians were only blocks away, and again it would be death or Siberia. We ended up in a displaced-person camp in Hanover, England. Pop died in 1946, and Mom married my stepfather. It was easier to immigrate to America as a family unit. We arrived in the U.S. in November of 1950.”
After working on a ranch in Idaho, Jakovenko moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, where he soon dropped out of school and tried to join the Army. The first time, he was turned down because he was too young and not a U.S. citizen. In 1958, he volunteered for the draft. He became an American citizen in 1961. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he deployed to the Dominican Republic with the 82nd Airborne Division. When he came home, he volunteered to go to Vietnam. Hitting the ground in January of 1966, Jakovenko served in the infantry before becoming a member of the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs), which were rebranded as Ranger companies later in the war. Running six-man recon patrols, he saw plenty of action.