Saturday, October 8 was expected to be the final Honor Flight out of the Rochester airport. Donald Jones of Kasson, a World War II veteran, was one of 119 veterans on that flight.
Don, who will be
93 November 22, visited several memorials in Washington, D.C., toured the city
by bus and saw Arlington National Cemetery. The highlight for Don was visiting
the new World War II Memorial where he met former Senator Bob Dole and had his
picture taken with him. He served four years and eight months in the U.S. Army,
39 months were spent in combat on five missions overseas. It's no surprise why
the World War II Memorial would be a highlight.
"It was quite the sight," said Don. The memorial brought back quite a few memories of that time. Even 66 years after being honorably discharged, Don's memories are very clear.
Don volunteered for one year of military service but after Pearl Harbor he was in for the duration, February 20, 1941 to October 3, 1945. Don said he volunteered so he could have a few options as to what area he would go in to. He did not want to be in artillery or infantry.
Don was one of nearly 500 members of the 439th Signal Battalion. He is believed to be the last surviving member of that battalion. Don was part of five invasions in north Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Italy, Anzio, Italy and southern France. The 439th was made up of the landing troops and they arrived shortly behind the infantry.
Don insists Anzio was the most memorable because it was the largest and most violent armed conflict of World War II. The company was in Anzio five months and they lived in foxholes dug six feet deep with a foot of dirt on the top. It was two soldiers to a foxhole. "We eventually had a generator so that we had lights in the foxhole as long as the light could not be detected after dark," said Don.
He recalled a bomb landing near the foxhole that turned out to be a "dud". It would have left a hole in the ground the size of a small house. If the bomb had not been a "dud," Don said, "I wouldn't be here today".
Don worked on telephone lines, laying and repairing field wire, putting up pole lines and fixing them as needed. The battalion strung 920 miles of field wire just in North Africa. Don recalled working atop telephone lines in the field. He said there were times where he felt like "A sitting duck in a shooting gallery".
In Italy there
were daily air raids. While working the siren went off so a few of them dove
under an old mixer truck for cover. Little did they know the truck was being
used as a latrine. They didn't dare move and you can imagine their clothes
Don even had one brief encounter with General Patton. They were working when the general rode up to them, standing in the back of the Jeep wearing his helmet with the two-handled revolvers at his side. He made one comment. "You boys are doing a good job," he said and the Jeep drove off.
After the European war ended Don said he thought they would end up in Japan, but they were kept in Germany until October.
A little more than two years after getting out of the Army Don married Millie July 17, 1947. She died 65 years later the same month (January) he came back from the service. Don grew up around West Concord and moved to this area in 1940 and farmed until 1977. They raised two daughters, Diane Berg and Marilyn Agrimson. Talking of grandchildren Don said "I have a flock of them".
A few of the honors bestowed on him included the American Campaign Medal, Europe-Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, four service bars and six hash marks with each mark representing six months overseas. He attained the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Getting paid $21 a month Donald Jones has memories of a war he can't put a price on. He met new friends and lost friends. Visiting Washington D.C. and the memorials, especially the World War II Memorial, reinforced some of those memories.