Ozro Buck Jones
May 19, 2012, in Clay County, West Virginia, was a long time coming. On that day, the community of Hartland dedicated a bridge (Bridge No. 8-16-14.75) to the Jones brothers, four of whom lost their lives in the service of their country, three of these in World War II. Roberta Faile and Rachel Osborne, sisters who lived near the cemetery where Jones family members are buried, grew up hearing stories about the Jones brothers’ sacrifices. Still, until the bridge dedication, there were people in the community who had no idea who these men were.
Ozro Buck Jones
Army Private Ozro Buck Jones was born December 13, 1915, in Vaughan, West Virginia, the son of William O. and Florida Alice Williams Jones. To this union were born five sons and two daughters; in addition to Ozro, the large family of siblings included Johnnie (Johnie) Berton, Burman Gray, Eugene S., William Lawson, Alice, and Kathleen. 1910 and 1920 Federal Census lists show William and Florida’s family in Nicholas County, but by 1930 they were established in Hartland, Clay County, where the children would attend school and grow up in an environment typical of middle America in the 1920s and 1930s.
Ozro registered for the service on January 23, 1942, at Fort Thomas, Newport, Kentucky, and trained at Camp Wolters, Texas. His enlistment record indicates he was single, had a grammar school education, and in civilian life was a “semiskilled miner” or “mining-machine operator.” World War II Young American Patriots, 1941-1945 (Richmond, VA: National Publishing Co., 1946: 271) states that Ozro attended Clay County schools. A burial notice in the Charleston Gazette (March 19, 1949) reports: “Before entering the service he was employed by the Jones Brothers Coal Company.”
Assigned to the infantry, Ozro reported to the Pacific Theatre. Although some sources, including the Clay County Index and Register of Deaths, list his death as July 22, 1942, others, notably The History of Clay County (Vol. 2, p.142) report the date of death as 1943. Given that the place of death is listed as New Georgia Island in the Solomons, the latter date is most likely correct, for it was on June 21, 1943, that the Allies advanced to that island (Source: “Timeline of Events: 1941-1945,” The History Place: World War II in the Pacific, accessed June 12, 2012, http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/pacificwar/timeline.htm).
One account of the attack on the Solomons, occurring shortly after the Battle of Midway (the turning point in the Pacific campaign), noted that the Allies launched this attack to protect their line of communications and prevent the Japanese from consolidating their Pacific gains. On July 2, 1942, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff issued orders to take Rabaul, on the island of New Britain in three phases: (1) seizure of bases in the southern Solomons, (2) reoccupation of the remainder of the Solomons and the north coast of New Guinea, and (3) recapture of Rabaul and subsequently the rest of the Bismarck Archipelago. The operation was originally under the direction of Vice Admiral Robert Chormley and later Admiral William Halsey, but General Douglas MacArthur of the Southwest Pacific Area directed the second and third phases of the offensive. (Source: United States Army Center of Military History, “U.S. Army Campaigns: WWII—Asiatic-Pacific Theater,” accessed June 14, 2012, http://www.history.army.mil/html/reference/army_flag/ww2_ap.html.)
Sandy Wells, in a Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail article featuring Ozro’s sister Kathleen Jones Pritt (“When They Sent Him Overseas, That Was It,” November 11, 2001: 1A, 7A), provides a more detailed account of his death and its profound effect on the family. Noting the family did not have a telephone—only one man in Hartland had one—Kathleen remembers that the same telephone received three devastating calls: the first in July 1943, the second in January 1945, and the third—just five months later—in June 1945. In the article, Kathleen recounts that the family survived “because we had to.” Even before Ozro’s death, the family had learned to deal with tragedy. The father, William O., a coal miner and sawmill operator, died of injuries received in a lumbermill accident in 1942, never learning that three sons would soon follow him.
Kathleen Pritt points out that Ozro may have suspected he would not return. She remembers his turning as he was catching the train and saying to his mother, “I’ll never see you again.” Like all mothers, Mrs. Jones assured him he would be back. That was not to be; as Kathleen puts it, “When they sent him overseas, that was it.” Ozro, the oldest of the three Jones casualties in World War II, would be the first of three brothers to receive the Purple Heart.
Johnnie (Johnie) Berton Jones
Though younger than his brother Ozro, Army Staff Sergeant Johnnie B. Jones, born in Gilboa, Nicholas County, West Virginia, was the first son of William O. and Florida Williams Jones to enter the service. [Note here that his name is spelled “Johnnie” and “Johnie” on various official records and is carved as “Johnnie” on the West Virginia Veterans Memorial, but the family consistently spells it “Johnie,” including the engraving on his tombstone.] Johnnie grew up in Hartland with his many brothers and two sisters, and according to Young American Patriots attended Clay High School. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, show that on February 26, 1941—well before the U.S. officially declared war—he entered the service at Huntington, West Virginia. He stated at that time he was single, without dependents, and was a “cook, except private family.” A burial notice in the Charleston Gazette (March 19, 1949) states: “Before entering the service he was employed at the Griddle restaurant.”
While Kathleen Pritt recognizes with pride the sacrifices her brothers made, she also notes their closeness as a family and the fun they had growing up. Johnnie, she says, “was full of jokes and into something all the time.” Kathleen remembers her brother Johnnie as the poet of the family, saying “he would write poems to my mother.” A worn, pencil copy among the family’s artifacts includes the following lines:
Our guns are all dusty and broken
From long bloody use o’er the foam
But Now we’re back in the U.S.A.
And soon we’ll be free to go home.
Will my sweetheart still love me,
Or did she fall for some other guy
Who stayed home and laughed up his sleeve
At poor devils such as I?
The irony of this five-stanza Johnnie Jones poem lies in its look to the future. He imagines what his life will be like as he returns to civilian life. In a 2012 interview, niece Aileen Wrenn, daughter of the Jones brothers’ sister Alice Jones Thomas, also muses about what their lives might have been like had they returned safely at the end of the war. Would they have married? Would they have found satisfying jobs? Would they, like their sisters, have been able to raise a family back in the comfort of their home state? Sadly, she acknowledges that those questions will forever be unanswered. Assigned to the Signal Corps, S/Sgt. Jones was killed on Okinawa on June 15, 1945.
Begun in April 1945, the invasion of Okinawa, a strategic Pacific island located midway between Japan and Formosa, aimed at giving the United States a foothold in that corner of the world. Over the next two months a bitter land-and-sea battle took place, with 60,000 U.S. troops successfully coming ashore. There were more than 100,000 Japanese defenders on the island, but most of these were deeply entrenched in the island’s interior, determined to hold at all costs. The Allies could successfully claim a victory over the Japanese resistance on June 22, but at a cost of 12,500 dead [one of whom was Johnnie Jones on June 15] and 35,000 wounded, while the Japanese had 120,000 casualties. The successful invasion of Okinawa did, however, provide a platform for the invasion of the Japanese home islands, which, due to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, never took place. (Source: “Battle of Okinawa Ends,” The History Channel Website, accessed June 14, 2012, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/battle-of-okinawa-ends.)
In another of the many ironies in the story of the Jones family, Johnnie was killed on the birthday of his younger brother Burman and sister Kathleen. Johnnie became the third of the Jones brothers to receive the Purple Heart, only five months after the death of Burman in January.
Burman Gray Jones
Army Private Burman G. Jones was born on June 15, 1921, at Gilboa, Nicholas County, where the family lived at that time, although family members remember growing up in Hartland in Clay County. Like all his siblings, Burman attended Clay County schools; Young American Patriots notes that he attended Clay High School. According to the U.S. Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, Burman entered the service at Huntington, West Virginia, on July 3, 1942, at which time he stated he had completed one year of high school; was single, with dependents (which quite likely was his mother and possibly siblings, as his father had been injured in a sawmill accident; Burman had not yet married); and his civilian occupation was as a “semiskilled miner” or “mining-machine operator.”
Burman’s concern for family—along with his optimism—shines through in a letter written April 28, 1943 (on Army stationery, with place name blacked out), three months before the death of his brother Ozro:
Will try and write to you now that I have a little time to myself. I’m getting along fine and I’m in the best of spirits.
Tell Alice and all the kids “hello” for me. I will write to them when I possibly can. Be sure and send my [me] Eugene’s address.
Dont worry about me mom. I would a lot rather you wouldn’t. Keep praying and I’m sure everything will be alright. Im begeing [beginning] to see things more clearly, and I’m going to pray some myself. My faith in Christ our lord will keep me safe. Mom I realy mean it if your faith in Jesus is strong enough, nothing is impossible for you, and if you pray and beleive your prayers will be answered. Im sure they will. But you might as well not pray if you worry that the thing you pray for wont be granted. You see mom if you pray for me theres no use to worry.
Write to me V-mail. My address is….
I will write again as soon as possable.
On November 8, 1943, the Rev. A. C. Schoolcraft presided over the marriage of Burman Jones and Dorma Myers, also of Clay County and three years younger than he. Assigned to the 358th Infantry, Burman was killed in Belgium on January 13, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge, one month into that standoff.
On December 16, 1944, Hitler had launched a fierce offensive aimed at stopping the momentum the Allies had gained since the D-Day landing. The German troops struck at the Ardennes Forest, where four American divisions were stationed to gather strength for the next stage of their campaign. German tactics during this operation were particularly vicious, and the Americans had not only battle conditions to contend with but harsh winter weather as well. In the long run, according to an account from the United States Army Center of Military History, it was the tenacity of the American soldier that prevailed: “But the story of the Battle of the Bulge is above all the story of American soldiers. Often isolated and unaware of the overall picture, they did their part to slow the Nazi advance.” British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill regarded the Battle of the Bulge as the greatest American victory of the war. (Source: “The Battle of the Bulge: Overview of the Battle,” accessed June 18, 2012, http://www.army.mil/botb/. For a comprehensive online account of this military campaign, see Hugh M. Cole’s 2007 work The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/7-8/7-8_cont.htm.)
Burman would be the second of the Jones brothers to receive the Purple Heart.
Eugene S. Jones
Although his name is not engraved on the West Virginia Veterans Memorial because his death did not occur during a period of conflict, Army Staff Sergeant Eugene S. Jones was the fourth son of William O. and Florida Jones to lose his life in the service of his country. Born on February 11, 1924, Eugene attended Clay County schools and entered the service at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, on April 3, 1943. Eugene married Dorma Myers Jones after Burman’s death, and Eugene and Dorma had a child, Carol Elaine.
On Friday, January 13, 1950, thirteen men, eleven of whom were students about to graduate from their training program, were killed in a glider crash at Lawson Field, Fort Benning, Georgia. One of those men was Eugene Jones, the instructor on board. Across the nation, newspapers carried the story of this horrendous loss of life, the first glider fatalities since 1946 at the base where most World War II paratroopers were trained. Eyewitness accounts indicated that two gliders were coming in for what looked like a normal landing, when very suddenly one tipped and crashed, possibly the result of strong wind currents, though the other glider landed safely. (Source: “Lawson Air Force Base, GA Glider Crash, Jan 1950,” [transcribed by Stu Beitler from the Greeley (Colorado) Daily Tribune 1950-01-14], accessed June 14, 2012, http://www3.gendisasters.com/georgia/17579/lawson-air-force-base-ga-glider-crash-jan-1950.)
Of the five Jones brothers, the only one who survived was William Lawson, who enlisted at Clarksburg, West Virginia, on June 22, 1943. He joined the fledgling Army Air Corps and spent some time as a recruiter, remaining in the military until his retirement. Remembered by his nieces and nephews as “Uncle Lawson,” he returned to his West Virginia roots periodically but died in a veterans’ facility in the Washington, D.C., area. After the death of Eugene, he was offered an immediate discharge from the Air Force if his mother so desired, but he declined. The stoic Mrs. Jones is characterized by her statement: “I am glad that I still have one son in the service of my country.” Tragically, Florida was herself killed when she was struck by a car in March 1954 while walking on State Route 16 near the Clay-Nicholas County line.
The momentous legacy of the Jones family has been kept alive in part by the concerted effort of nephews and nieces, including Steve Thomas, Joyce Kendall, Aileen Wrenn, and Jean Samples (children of Alice Jones Thomas); Charles D. Holcomb, Jr., William E. Holcomb, Sherry L. Foreman, Nancy A. Cunningham, Ricky O. Pritt,, and Kathy L. Cunningham (children of Kathleen Jones Holcomb Pritt); and Carol Brown, daughter of Eugene and Dorma Jones.
Aileen Wrenn relates that she can’t remember her Uncle Ozro or Uncle Johnnie very well, but she does have fond memories of her Uncle Burman and Uncle Eugene because they were at her house a lot, her mother being their “big sister.” Aileen recalls that she was about eleven years old at the time of her uncles’ funeral, and she remembers the family’s sadness and how she stood next to her Uncle Eugene holding his hand. Aileen reminisces about how the uncles were fun to be around—they were very good to their nieces and nephews. It was “very exciting,” she says, to have grown-up uncles, recalling that Burman took her to her very first movie and taught her to roller-skate. But the one memory that is indelibly etched in her memory is their generosity at Christmas: “At Christmastime, they always brought chocolate-covered cherries,” which was a “big deal” for large families emerging from the Great Depression. Aileen was old enough to understand the significance of the first time her grandmother received the sad news of a son’s death, and then another, and then another, calling those times “awful and scary.”
On Sunday, March 20, 1949, Ozro, Johnnie, and Burman Jones were buried in Reed Cemetery in Clay after a full military funeral at the Clay Funeral Home chapel. More than 2,000 people attended the ceremony, including several top military officials. After the service, the crowd marched down Main Street following three flag-draped coffins, each strapped to a caisson drawn by horses. Family lore has it that there weren’t enough ambulances to carry them, so they used horses. Members of all branches of the service took part in the rites.
And so, with the dedication of the bridge in their honor, the story of the Jones brothers comes full circle, and the people of Clay County—and indeed of the nation—can have a better understanding of this remarkable family.
The following people contributed information and pictures for this story: Roberta Faile, Sherry Foreman, Charles Holcomb, René Moore (daughter-in-law of Steve Thomas), Aileen Wrenn, and Carol Brown. Article by Patricia Richards McClure
West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history. For more information contact Constance Baston at (304) 558-0230.
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