Jerry Jansen, 92, ex-Marine and auxiliary policeman


By Albert Amateau

Gerard Francis Xavier Jansen, a Perry St. resident for more than 50 years who served in the Marines in the Pacific during World War II and was a radical union activist targeted by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Subcommittee in 1951, died Jan. 17 in St. Vincent’s Hospital at the age of 92.

In March of 2005, the Sixth Precinct honored Jerry Jansen for his 33 years of service in the Police Auxiliary in which he achieved the rank of deputy inspector. An expert catamaran sailor and a surf fisherman who wrote a standard work on surf fishing 50 years ago, he was active until a few years ago in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

“Jerry is afraid of absolutely nothing,” said his fellow police auxiliary volunteer Stephanie Phelin on the occasion of the Sixth Precinct tribute in 2005. The tribute from the precinct and the Perry St. Block Association, of which Jansen was a founder, cited four awards of merit and a letter recognizing his role in a fire rescue. An Award of Valor cites the day in 1970 when Jansen, off duty and out of uniform, confronted and helped subdue a robber who pulled a gun in a Village supermarket.

Even at the age of 90, he would go up and down five flights of stairs to and from his Perry St. walkup. However, he was bedridden for the past year, according to his daughter, Marie Rock.

A house painter like his father before him and a Painters Union member, Gerard Jansen worked for the New York City Housing Authority from 1939 until 1942 and again from 1945 to 1951, when he resigned just before the McCarthy committee exposed his membership in the Communist Party because he would not identify fellow members.

“Nothing fazed him,” said Rock, who was 8 years old at the time of the McCarthy hearings. It was a stressful time for the Jansen family. Jerry and his wife Elizabeth Jefferson, whom he married in 1938, had just been divorced and the McCarthy committee was branding a broad spectrum of leftists as traitors.

“Just before the hearing, a staff member told my father that he’d never get another job to support his children. But dad had his NYCHA resignation in his pocket and said that as long as he had his paint pots and brushes, there would be enough work for him to make a living,” Rock said.

“He taught his children and grandchildren how to paint a wall, snap a plumb line and cast fishing lures into the surf,” Rock said.

Jerry Jansen came to the Village in 1950 when he married Lillian Stein, a Perry St. resident he had met while both were employed by NYCHA. Both were radical union activists.

“Lillian was so left wing that she used to criticize the Soviet Union for being sellouts,” Jansen told a Villager reporter in 2004. He recalled that Paul Robeson, the renowned actor and singer whose career ended in the 1950s because of his left-wing politics, stayed at their Perry St. apartment “when he was on the run.” Lillian died about 12 years ago.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, Jansen went to the recruiting station in Jamaica, Queens, and signed up as a Marine.

“The place was jammed and the recruiting officer said, ‘You guys over here, you’re in the Marines,’” Jansen said in a 2004 Villager interview.

Jansen was 27, working as a NYCHA painter and married with a newborn daughter. Considerably older that his fellow recruits, he was made a squad leader in the Second Marine Division when the division went to the Pacific.

“I had 18 kids in my squad. I took them through four campaigns and I was the only one who got hurt,” he said in the 2004 interview. The squad landed and survived the invasions of Kwajalaine, Eniwetok, Saipan and Trinian islands; Jansen received two Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Navy commendation for action on Saipan.

Returning from the war, he went back to his civil service painting job at NYCHA. A militant Painters Union member, he advocated for fellow members facing dismissal on charges of rules violations.

“I defended 13 cases and I lost only one,” he told The Villager in 2004.

“He was profane, outlandish and full of surprises,” said Rock. “He had a passion for ballet and at the age of 88 he began studying Icelandic,” she said. Jansen treasured an antique Navy lieutenant’s pistol from the War of 1812 that members of his Marine squad gave him in the 1960s and an American flag that flew over the Capitol in Washington, D.C., that Congressmember Jerrold Nadler sent him on his 90th birthday.

He was born Sept. 25, 1914, in Brooklyn, the oldest of seven children of Joseph George Jansen, a house painter born in Nimegan, the Netherlands, and Irene O’Meara Jansen, whose parents hailed from Tipperary. The family moved to Queens in 1929. Gerard was an outstanding student who graduated from St. James High School of the Brooklyn Catholic Archdiocese.

As a youngster he would help his father paint houses and public buildings and go surf fishing in the Rockaways on weekends and at night. After the war he would fish the surf at Montauk Point but soon discovered Martha’s Vineyard. Over the next 50 years, until 2004, he took part in the annual Vineyard Fishing Derby in September. He is inscribed in the Vineyard Fishing Derby Hall of Fame. In his will he requested that his ashes be scattered along the shore on Martha’s Vineyard.

Jansen, who owned a high-speed Hobie catamaran, which he kept on City Island and sailed on Long Island Sound, also gave sailing lessons to Sea Scouts in the Project Sail program at the 79th St. Boat Basin.

“He was a natural and talented teacher. Anytime you spoke with him you came away with some new knowledge,” his daughter said.

In addition to his daughter, Marie Rock, of Oak Park, Ill., a son, Paul Jansen, of Altus, Okla., survives. Two sisters, Mary Campbell, of Brentwood, L.I., and Regina Fletcher, of Milford, N.J., and a brother, Frank Jansen, of Santa Monica, Cal., also survive, along with four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and 22 nephews and nieces.

Reddens Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Jerry Jansen’s memory to Project Sail. A memorial service will be held Feb. 17 at 11 a.m. with a reception to follow at St. John’s-in-the-Village, 222 W. 11th St. at Waverly Pl.