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Bernard Francis Jones

Courtesy Jones family

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Bernard Francis Jones
1939-1967

"Working long and arduous hours, he set an example that inspired his associates to strive for maximum achievement."

Army Commendation Medal Citation for Bernard F. Jones

Bernard Francis Jones was born to Bernard A. Jones and Virginia Ruth Simmons Jones on August 13, 1939. According to the 1940 Federal Census, Bernard F. Jones was the only child at home at the time, in Beverly in Randolph County. Mr. Jones was a clerk in a grocery store. Bradley Jones, a brother of Bernard, notes that their father had also worked in a company store, in the mines as a tipple man, and then, finally, as a janitor in the local school.

Bernard F. Jones graduated from Coalton High School in 1958. He was a hunter and fisherman in his youth. Bernard’s youngest brother, Bradley Jones, remembers that his brother liked to draw. “He was quite an artist,” Bradley says. Brother John Jones adds that some of Bernard’s work still hangs in the family home.

After graduation, Bernard F. Jones enlisted in the Army. He wasn’t working, remembers Bradley Jones, except for perhaps the type of small jobs that boys in small towns do. Bernard, whom the family called “Bub,” had two choices: Go into the military or go into the mines. Bernard, and many of his friends, took the military route, hoping for a better future afterwards, with money for an education. By then, the Jones home was filled with their seven children. Bernard was the oldest, and was joined by sisters, Joyce, Betty and Virginia, and brothers, Charles, John, and Bradley.

When Bernard F. Jones joined the Army in 1958, he served his first assignment in France. While in Europe, Bernard enjoyed getting out into the world and developed his artistic inclinations toward photography and videography. He photographed tulips and tulip festivals in Holland and the Le Mans car race in France. He came home to Coalton in 1961 and then went to Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia, as he’d planned, to get an education. He majored in English, but was there for only a year when the money ran out. He reenlisted, went to Korea, and then was accepted into Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and received his commission. John Jones remembers his brother as being very intelligent and very sharp. “Spit and polish,” he said. “Any time he could learn anything, he did.”

From Fort Benning, Bernard Jones went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where officers prepared for service in Vietnam. He was on leave and back in Coalton in December 1964 and then went to Binh Long, South Vietnam, as a second lieutenant in 1965. There, he was assigned to the Military Assistance Command–Vietnam (MACV), Team 91, for Binh Duong.

According to MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Withdrawal 1968-1973, the command had been “established in 1962 as a small, temporary headquarters to advise and assist the South Vietnamese government in its struggle against the Communist-led Viet Cong insurgency.” By 1968, MACV had grown as the war did “from a small, temporary advisory and assistance organization into a large, permanent headquarters that directed more than half a million American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in a wide range of combat and pacification operations.” Teams were assigned to areas. Team 91, in which now First Lieutenant Jones served, was assigned to Ben Cat subsector. (Graham A. Cosmos, U.S. Army Center of Military History, 27 July 2012, accessed 1 February 2017, http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/091/91-7/index.html.)
Bernard Jones

Courtesy Jones family

Bernard Jones

Lt. Jones with Vietnamese child. Courtesy Jones family

Apparently, sometime in 1966 and perhaps into 1967, Bernard Jones sustained an injury that he didn’t tell his family about. During this time, though, he was away from the front lines for about three months. Near base, he established a relationship with a local orphanage and, through the VFW in Elkins, collected school supplies to share with the children. The youngest brother remembers that the oldest brother always had a soft spot for children. “There were seven of us at home,” Bradley says, and his six siblings were younger than Bernard.

The Jones family, today, is the custodian of a stack of commendations awarded to their brother during the years 1965 through 1967. These are proudly on display in the West Virginia home that Capt. Jones occupied and where his sisters still live.

During the period from November 23, 1965, to May 31, 1966, 2nd Lt. Jones was awarded the Air Medal “for distinguishing himself by meritorious achievement while participating in sustained aerial flight in support of combat ground forces of the Republic of Vietnam….” 1st Lt. Jones was also awarded the Air Medal during the period 12 July 1966 to 10 October 1966. Two Army Commendation Medals were awarded “for meritorious service in support of the United States objectives in the counterinsurgency effort in the Republic of South Vietnam.” One was awarded to 1st Lt. Jones for service during the period of August 19, 1966, to October 18, 1966, and another for the period October 1966 through April 1967.

The Bronze Star was awarded to 1st Lt. Jones “for distinguishing himself by outstanding meritorious service in connection with ground operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam during the period November 1965 to October 1966.”
citations

Bronze Star citation for Lt. Jones. Courtesy Jones family

Another promotion, and 1st Lt. Jones became Captain Jones.

In 1967, a year that is considered the last year of escalation in Vietnam, Capt. Jones was attached to the 2nd Battalion (known as the Black Lions), 28th Infantry, Company D, and was back on the front lines. The unit had been operating in the area since October 8, 1967, though the controlling division had begun the operation in September. (The Virtual Wall: Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “Battle of Ong Thanh: 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry,” 2 June 2014, accessed 3 February 2017, http://www.virtualwall.org/units/ongthanh.htm.) Although the most intense of the fighting broke out after October 16 and became known as the Battle of Ong Thanh, named for the nearby river, the operations mission that had been taking place since September 29 was called “Operation Shenandoah II.” The goal of the operation was to clear the area of enemy forces and to open up Highway 13 from Saigon to the Cambodian border, including auxiliary roads. According to the Combat After Action Report – Operation Shenandoah II, the operation was conducted in two phases, under the control of the 1st Infantry. (“Óperation Shenandoah II,” Bravo, Black Lions: 2/28 Infantry, 2008, accessed 3 February 2017, http://freepages.military.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~realmccoy/shenii.html.) The area was known to be heavily occupied by the Viet Cong. (The Virtual Wall: Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “Battle of Ong Thanh: 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry,” 2 June 2014, accessed 3 February 2017, http://www.virtualwall.org/units/ongthanh.htm.)

During Phase 1, the 1st Infantry Division was to locate and destroy the 271st Viet Cong (VC) Regiment; capture or destroy installations, equipment, and supplies; and open a portion of access road Route 240, while clearing the jungle along the route. According to the after action report, the 1st Infantry Division was to employ the 1st Brigade to destroy the 271st VC Regiment, and the 3rd Brigade to accomplish the remainder of Phase 1. Progress toward these goals was documented every day (After Action Report). The operation began on September 29 with the 1st Infantry (known famously as The Big Red One). There was contact with the VC the next day. Company D of the 28th Infantry (2-28) of the Black Lions took small arms fire October 5 and began documenting deaths of the enemy. As the days of October progressed, contact with the enemy became more significant, as did the finds of camps and military structures. Acres were cleared by October 8, and these are documented by number each day. (After Action Report).

The combat after action report for Operation Shenandoah II continues with this catalog of actions and progress until October 16, 1967. On that day, the 2-28 conducted reconnaissance in force (RIF) operations. At 1245 hours, Company D received small-arms fire and a claymore as the lead elements entered base camp. Company D returned fire and withdrew to call in airstrikes and artillery. Contact with the VC was broken off at 1310. The report notes that there was 1 KIA and 5 wounded, with 17 VC KIA. Contact was taken up again at 1615H that day, but Captain Bernard Francis Jones was already gone, killed in the initial contact. The combat after action report notes that he was the advisor to the Ben Cat Subsector, attached to 2-28 Infantry for operations, but does not call him by name.

Bradley Jones recalls that he was 15 years old when his brother died. He was at school, where his father was working as a janitor, the day that the family learned of the loss. Two Army officers arrived at the Jones home bearing the terrible news. The officers then went to the school and notified Mr. Jones and Bradley and escorted them back home. The family then received a telegram at home. Capt. Jones was killed on the previous Monday, and the family was told on Thursday. There was very little information offered, compounding the family’s grief. As they prepared to receive the remains of their brother and son, they could not account for what caused his death. Information that they did receive trickled out from odd places, such as the local newspaper, but the military wouldn’t tell them anything. Capt. Jones was laid to rest on October 22, 1967, in Mountain State Memorial Gardens, amid some questions and mysteries that would take decades to resolve. Bradley notes that, “It was rough, but stuff has to go on. Our Mom didn’t fully recover.” John Jones remembers that joining the military was something that Bernard wanted to do. “You hate to lose anyone, but he really wanted to do this. We supported him.”

The after action report documents the actions and results the day that Capt. Jones died, as it follows the daily log since September 29, noting the killed-in-action death as it did all of the other facts of Operation Shenandoah II. For a more complete account of eyewitnesses, David Maraniss’ They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace Vietnam and America October 1967 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003), a Time magazine Best Book of 2003, provides a more flesh-and-blood account of the lives of those men. The book supplies a more complete insight into the operations of the 2-28 and the contributions of Capt. Jones. Unlike the after action report, which doesn’t name Capt. Jones as the significant death on October 16, They Marched into Sunlight offers an unflinching account.

Why would a book have been written about Operation Shenandoah II? And why would a single death on October 16, 1967, near the river of Ong Thanh become a significant moment? A book was needed to set the record straight.

Maraniss writes that Capt. Jones had been the leader of Kit Carson scouts. According to VietnamWar.net,

Kit Carson Scouts were former Vietcong guerrillas who had “rallied” to the government, frequently under the Chieu Hoi Program, and who were willing to act as scouts for U.S. units. New scouts would be closely watched and observed with suspicion, for they could not always be trusted. Some “rallied” only to work for the Vietcong as spies or to lead U.S. units into traps. Though, most were very reliable, risking and often losing their lives for the units they served. As a result, good Kit Carson Scouts were highly prized and treated accordingly by their units. They had familiarity with the terrain and culture, understood Vietcong tactics in establishing ambushes, and could identify booby traps. They also recognized Vietcong base and assembly areas from indicators Americans did not notice. Lastly, Kit Carson Scouts were able to identify Vietcong collaborators in villages as well as Vietcong masquerading as civilians. (“Kit Carson Scouts,” accessed 3 February 2017, http://www.vietnamwar.net/KitCarsonScouts.htm.)

It was risky work because of the implicit possibility that the scouts’ loyalties lay with the VC. Though others in the Black Lions may have looked upon the Kit Carson Scouts attached to them with suspicion, Capt. Jones and his men were past that. They trusted each other and relied on each other. Capt. Jones spoke Vietnamese fluently. Bradley Jones would later learn that the men who served with Capt. Jones believed that he was singled out because of the specific work he was doing with the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese would not continue without the leader they trusted. They would leave.

Upon Capt. Jones’ death, the scouts and the Black Lions paid their respects that evening, but, as documented by Maraniss, ¬¬¬¬the body was already gone, “on its way to Graves Registration in Lai Khe, first stop on a lonesome journey down to the morgue at Long Binh and across the ocean and over the mountains and all the way back to Coalton, West Virginia.”

The Vietnamese scouts disappeared as well. They were not going to stay without Jones, and they warned the Black Lions that there were many VC operating in the area (Maraniss).

The next day, companies of the 2-28, while continuing operations for Shenandoah II, engaged the VC near Ong Thanh. Some call it a battle, but as the story would later be called in print and film, it was an ambush. The losses were especially devastating for Companies A and D of the 2-28. Documented on the Virtual Wall are 61 men, including Black Lion Commander Terry Allen Jr., who lost their lives on the 16th, 17th, and days later of wounds received during the fighting. (The Virtual Wall: Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “Battle of Ong Thanh: 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry,” 2 June 2014, accessed 3 February 2017, http://www.virtualwall.org/units/ongthanh.htm.) West Virginians who died as a result of the ambush were Capt. Jones; SP4 Jackie Everett Bolen Jr., a Silver Star recipient, of Ury, West Virginia; and SP5 Archie Andrew Porter, of Cameron, who died of his wounds on the 21st. All 65 men of Alpha were dead or wounded, with only slightly better results for Delta and the Headquarters and Headquarters Company. It’s believed that 142 men marched into a three-sided ambush against 1400 Viet Cong.

Bradley Jones comments that the book told the Jones family several things about their son and brother that they wouldn’t have otherwise known. It was decades after his death that the family started learning about Capt. Jones’ military career. They Marched into Sunlight was a revelation to the Jones family, but so was the widespread availability of the internet. Bradley, still seeking answers, learned of the annual Black Lions’ reunion. He found people who knew his brother. He talked with Lieutenant Colonel Clark Welch, who’d been a first lieutenant in October 1967 and a friend of Capt. Jones. Bradley Jones traveled to Las Vegas in 2004, and through the recollections of men who served with his brother and the accounts in the book, finally learned the truth about his brother’s death, decades after they last saw each other. The men verified that Capt. Jones led Kit Carson scouts and spoke Vietnamese, and they recounted things he said and how he died. According to the men, it was a long time before any of them knew who lived and died because those left in Alpha and Delta were dispersed elsewhere, and the after action report had been classified.

Today, the after action report has been declassified, and the story is told by David Maraniss, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, in his book; in a documentary, Two Days in October, a Peabody Award winning PBS film; in various articles in print and on the internet; and in videos on YouTube. (U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Technical Information Center, “Lessons Learned, Operation Shenandoah II, Headquarters, 1st Infantry Division, 12 April 1968, accessed 3 February, 2017, http://oai.dtic.mil/oai/oai?verb=getRecord&metadataPrefix=html&identifier=AD0390969; American Experience, 22 September 2005, accessed 3 February 2017, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/twodays/filmmore/index.html.)

In 2016, Lt. Col. Clark Welch died. In an article published in the Orlando Sentinel on April 16, 2016, the story was repeated:

The lieutenant colonel owned a piece of history in the Vietnam War that unfortunately was shrouded in lies by the U.S. government until a 2004 book by a Pulitzer Prize winner exposed the truth. For 25 years, the United States had portrayed the 1967 battle at Ong Thanh as a marvelous victory, when in truth it was a heartbreaking rout that left 60 men unnecessarily dead. (“Vietnam War Hero Dies in Leesburg,” http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/lake/os-lk-lauren-ritchie-clark-welch-army-20160422-column.html.)

Capt. Jones was awarded a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, two Air Medals, 2 Army Commendation Medals, the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, a Combat Infantry Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and a Parachutist Badge and Expert Rifle Badge. Bradley Jones notes that the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart were awarded before October 16, but it remains a mystery to the family what specific actions led to these being awarded to him and what led to the injury for which the Purple Heart was awarded.

Had he lived, Capt. Jones would have been back home in only 16 days after the day he died, before going back to Vietnam for a third tour.

Charles “Jack” Jones joined the army in 1959, a year after his brother Bernard and served until 1962. John Jones served in the Army from 1963 to 1966 in the Demilitarized Zone in Korea. Bradley, too, joined the Army, serving from 1972 through 1975.

Asked if he looked up to his brother, Bernard, John Jones says. “My Lord, yes, I looked up to him.” Though his own service left its mark on him, John Jones says that he’d do it all again. John Jones still has letters that his brother sent him from Vietnam. “It was interesting to see how he thought about things.” In his last letter, Capt. Jones expressed hope for his future and how he wanted his career to progress. “He really wanted to succeed,” says John Jones.

headstone

Headstone for Captain Bernard F. Jones, Mountain State Memorial Gardens. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

His remains returned to his native state, Capt. Jones was interred in Mountain State Memorial Gardens in Elkins, where both of his parents would ultimately be buried.

In 2013, West Virginia Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 17 commemorated the service of Captain Bernard Francis Jones by dedicating a bridge in Coalton, West Virginia, to him. Bridge number 42-5/5-0.04 on Route 5/5 in Randolph County is the “Army Captain Bernard Francis Jones Memorial Bridge” in recognition of Capt. Jones’ service, military career, and sacrifice.

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens (with editorial assistance from Patricia McClure), who wishes to express her thanks to the Jones family—Bradley, John, Charles “Jack,” Virginia, and Betty—for providing photos, research, personal memories, and facts. Special thanks to Bradley and John Jones for materials based on interviews, fact checking, and editing.
January 2017

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Bernard Francis Joness

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