McMinnville resident Allen Jaco has sailed around the world as a member of the U.S. Navy, transporting passengers to all corners of the Earth.
In recent years, Jaco’s playground has become much smaller as he’s traded the sea for his front yard in Westwood. Many passing motorists have noticed his daily landscaping work that’s transformed his property on Morrison Street into an attractive garden.
Jaco said he never intended his landscaping work to turn into a nearly three-year project when he began.
“This all started because my mower couldn’t fit between that tree over there and that utility pole,” said Jaco, pointing to the two objects in question. “I thought I could solve the problem by buying a different mower, so I went out and bought one of those zero-turn mowers and thought I could fit through there. I ended going over the side of the wall and only the roll bar kept it from turning over on me.”
Faced with dwindling options, his wife, Barbara, suggested he push mow that part of the yard.
“I wasn’t going to push mow anything,” said Jaco, 82. “My goal was to fill it with something I could enjoy, something that would break the monotony of grass and weeds. I just started at point A with no real plans or designs. It’s all been an experiment.”
Barring rain, Jaco has been a regular fixture for motorists, walkers and joggers making their way down Morrison Street. He says many people have seen him and stopped to talk.
“I’ve met more people in the three years I’ve been doing this than in the other 15 years I’ve lived here,” said Jaco. “People will pull over on the side of the road, get out, and come over to talk. One time when I was lying on the pavement doing some work to this wall, two ladies rushed up to make sure I was alright. It’s given me a chance to meet a lot of my neighbors here in Westwood.”
If the weather is pleasant, Jaco says there have been days he’s spent eight hours working in the front yard. In the summer he gets out there bright and early and usually calls it a day around 10:30 a.m. He won’t work in the rain or on Sundays.
“It seems like I’ve been doing this for a lifetime,” Jaco joked. “I’m a product of the Mississippi Delta so I’ve always been used to playing in the dirt.”
When he hasn’t been in the dirt, Jaco spent 18 months of sea duty as a member of the U.S. Navy. His service began in 1957 well after the Korean War so he was fortunate to serve during a time of peace.
“We were in charge of moving people from one place to another,” said Jaco. “Those people were troops, U.S. government officials, and European immigrants. We brought many of them to the United States and to Australia.”
Operating out of a home port in Brooklyn, N.Y., Jaco said he traveled around the world on a mission to take 1,100 people from Greece to Australia. He said the trip took 28 days with almost all of it spent at sea.
“You never realize how people live in different parts of the world until you leave your street, your neighborhood, and your country,” said Jaco. “I’ve been to 14 different countries. All of them are different and none of them are like the United States.”
Jaco said one of his unique duties in the Navy was serving as the crypto officer. He said this person was in charge of sending and receiving messages with encryption so they would be difficult to decipher if intercepted by enemy forces.
“You would type in the message as you wanted it to be sent and the machine would garble it,” said Jaco. “On the receiving end, you would type in the garbled message and it would use a code to translate it to what the message was supposed to say. The code would change every month.”
Jaco said when President Eisenhower was planning a plane trip over the Atlantic Ocean, he sent encrypted messages to several ships to travel back and forth repeatedly between two points until advised otherwise. He said this was done to form a line of ships over the ocean. In the event the president’s plane crashed into the water, a ship would always be in the vicinity of his travel course.
After three years of active duty and 19 years in the Navy Reserves, Jaco ascended to the rank of commander before leaving the military.
As for his landscaping project, Jaco sees that coming to an end, but he doesn’t see any more free time in his future.
“My wife wants a gazebo in the back,” said Jaco. “She wants to make sure I don’t get out on the golf course,” he said with a laugh, noting he is not a golfer.
Allen and Barbara have three grown children, all Warren County High School graduates. They are active members of First Baptist Church and Allen is an officer with the Warren County Genealogy Association.