UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Ralph Howell Jones
Interviewer: Chelsea Jones
February 20, 1993
CJ: My name is Chelsea Jones. I'm interviewing Ralph Howell Jones, my grandfather,
at his home in Lake Placid, Florida, 106 NW Lake June Road. It is February 20,
1993. I would like to start off by asking you about when you were born.
RJ: I was born August 11, 1918 in Henderson County, North Carolina.
CJ: Were you born in a hospital?
RJ: No, I was born at home. I will show you a picture of the house.
RJ: There was red tar paper on the outside.
CJ: How long had your family been in North Carolina?
RJ: Many, many years. We were original settlers of Henderson, Transylvania, Buncombe,
and Polk counties. [We settled] mainly in Henderson County though, which is on the
southern edge of North Carolina, on a little plateau up above Spartanburg and
Greenville, South Carolina.
CJ: What were your parents' names?
RJ: My father's name was Franklin Pierce Jones. [He was] named after a rather obscure
president. And my mother's name was Sally Kate Hood.
CJ: And did you have any siblings?
RJ: I had one sister, Mary Marguerite. And [I had] one brother, Franklin Pierce Jones,
CJ: Was your brother older than [you]?
RJ: No, my sister was six years older [than I], and my brother was nine years younger.
We were real strung out; it was almost like raising three only-children for my parents.
CJ: You said our family, the Joneses, were original settlers of North Carolina?
RJ: Both sides of the family were original settlers up in the mountains. We started out
very early in the history of the United States. One of my relatives was named Pace;
[he] was an original settler at Jamestown. Both sides of my family started on the east
coast of North Carolina and Virginia, and then they migrated down through South
Carolina and into the area around the Spartanburg and Greenville County areas in
upper South Carolina. And then they turned north and worked their way up through
what is called the Howard Gap, an old Indian trail. I do not know how it got the
name Howard, because that is certainly not an Indian name, but they worked their
way up into the mountains and found this little plateau that is most pleasant. It was
rolling land and it had some very good farm land there in certain areas that were
alluvial plains and very, very desirable for farming. And then the other part of the
area was great for apple orchards and that sort of thing. [There were] not very many
peaches, but mostly apples. It was a strictly agrarian economy and everybody was a
CJ: When was this [that the] family first [came to North Carolina]?
RJ: [It was] in the early 1800s. There were not too many people up there; only about a
dozen families. And the interesting thing was, that they were all Welsh. They
intermarried and what have you, to the point that by the time I was born in 1918 I
was still 100 percent Welsh. It does not really matter, but it is kind of interesting.
I do not think that I ever saw an Oriental person until I left that part of the country.
We had an old German gentleman named Betz, [who had] a Walrus mustache and
a big round tummy and that sort of thing. [He was] a very large man. He came in
and opened a dairy. People who were not Welsh were so unusual that people would
elbow each other when they saw him and say, "Hey, there goes that old German!"
So, it was very unusual to see someone who was not of Welsh extraction or a
Cherokee Indian. Do you want me to just roll on a little bit now?
CJ: The family came in early 1800s and they were there during the Civil War. You said
you had some stories about that.
RJ: About the Civil War? My grandmother on my mother's side was born in 1859 and
her name was Mamie McCall [Hood]. A very interesting thing about that is that
when my grandmother was four years old her mother died and left my grandmother
with two younger brothers. Her father then married a Cherokee doctor; she was the
only medicine [person] of any kind in that part of the country. She was a wonderful
person. They then had five more children--all of whom were highly intelligent and
extremely handsome. Uncle Cephas McCall later became sheriff in Henderson
County. And Uncle Sicey was a big apple orchard man.
But on the Civil War, an interesting thing is [that] North Carolina did not really want
to secede from the Union, but they were sandwiched in between Virginia, which did
want to secede, and South Carolina and Georgia who [also] did. So they were pretty
much carried along against their will. Very few people [in North Carolina] owned
slaves, particularly up in the mountains. If you will notice still, in that part of the
country, a very small percentage of the population is black. The slaves, when they
were freed, chose the surnames of their owners as a general rule. [It is] interesting
to note that you see very few black families today that are named Pace, Thompson,
Jones, Ward, McCall, Edney, Staton, Hill, Hyder, Stepp, Lyda (my related families).
You very seldom see black people with those names because those families were the
ones who lived in that part of the country, and they just plain did not own slaves.
Particularly a man named Edney that lived out in a little town called Edneyville just
east of Hendersonville. Mr. Edney would buy slaves and then free them. There is
still a little community where he gave these people land and there is a little
settlement down there. An interesting thing about them is that even back in the days
of slavery, just very quietly, the black kids went to school with the white kids in an
integrated situation all through segregation. Nobody ever said a word; everybody got
along fine. They all speak good English, [and have] very good diction. Some of
them are college educated and are very good apple growers. They are still living in
a little old valley that is all their own.
CJ: You showed me that. We went down around Chimney Rock.
RJ: Towards Bat Cave. Yes, I thought maybe I had showed you that. Anyway, getting
back to the Civil War and the fact that the Southerners in our part of the country
were not very keen on the war. My great grandfather, Captain Robert King Jones,
was very anti-slavery and he recruited a group of ninety men. If you think back to
how small the population was at that time, [that] was a majority of the people who
were of an age and physical condition to go to war. They marched through the
mountains to Knoxville [Tennessee] and served during the whole war in the Union
The interesting thing about that is, in our part of the county, they now put little
markers about two feet high and about a foot wide by the graves of former
servicemen of any and all wars: the Revolutionary War, [The War of] 1812, [The]
Civil War, World War I, World War II. It is interesting to note that in the old
cemeteries there, there are about two Union soldiers for each Confederate soldier.
I have this on good authority because my cousin Dr. George Jones, a historian and
retired Baptist minister, has really educated me [by] taking me all over the
countryside and showing me things.
One rather amusing thing that [George] did, was that he took me out to a cemetery
one time and said, "Here is a grave that you will be interested in." I looked at it and
I said, "Well, it says Sergeant Ledbetter." I looked at the dates and he had died in
1864. I said, "Wait a minute, he died during the war." [George] said, "Yes, he was
a sergeant in the Confederate army. He is interesting to you because he is your
cousin." This sergeant brought two privates out to capture your grandfather, James
King Jones, and his brother, John. They wanted to put them in the Confederate
army, because they were real desperate for soldiers by this time. They had left them
alone up until this time because of the fact [that] they were farmers with big families
and they were [more] valuable to them there with all their kids growing food than
they were as soldiers. But finally they needed a few more guns. So they sent
Sergeant Ledbetter and these two other soldiers out to capture Grandpa and his
brothers. And they did. But the local people found out that this was happening and
they did not like the idea, so a group of them gathered down the road.
Sergeant Ledbetter came down with his two soldiers and his two captives, and as they
got down to where these other people were, a skirmish broke out. Sergeant
Ledbetter was killed. Grandpa Jones was a small man but he was very smart. He
did not want to get shot, so he jumped off of his horse and rolled under a corn crib.
He managed to get his hands on a gun and he fired one shot and killed his own
horse. [laughter] Now this was a terrible thing to have happen [to you]. Fortunately,
the war ended very shortly thereafter. If the war had not ended, Grandpa would very
likely have been charged with murder.
But my great-grandfather, Captain Robert King Jones, served as the commanding
officer of this group of ninety men that went to Tennessee. I do not know what they
all did over there, but he came back after the war and lived very quietly until he
Now, I have left something out about our family that I think is most interesting. My
great-grandfather Jones did not particularly like living where he was and he was an
adventurous type, so he loaded his family up and moved to Texas.
CJ: From [where]?
RJ: From Henderson County. They traveled by horse and wagon all the way to Texas.
He got out there and he was absolutely dumbfounded to see all this dry land with the
mesquite, greasewood, cactus and that sort of thing. Mexicans were out in that part
of the country too. So he lasted a little while, and then he turned tail and went back
up to North Carolina.
When he got back he still thought there was something else somewhere out there for
him. So he loaded the family up again. This time, (again by horse and wagon,) [he]
went to Oregon. Now in this day and time, that does not sound like much. But
anyway, [when] he got out to Oregon, [he saw that] it was also something else
entirely different there, and he did not like that very much. So he decided to come
back to North Carolina, but there was an awful lot of family along. Some of them
liked it in Oregon, and stayed. Great- grandpa came back to North Carolina onto
his farm and stayed there. But today I have relatives in two places: North Carolina
Now, my mother's side of the family was much smaller and not anywhere near as
interesting, I do not think. But my grandfather on my mother's side was the first
college graduate in Henderson County. His name was Lemuel Furman Hood. He
went to Judson College, which was a little college that started in Hendersonville.
Now, I told you about Grandmother Hood; her name was Mamie McCall. Her
father married a Cherokee Indian lady and she had five other half-brothers and half-
sisters. That was a beautiful part of the family. They were real interesting people.
On my mother's side, her great-great-grandfather's name was also Lemuel Furman
Hood. They had a house out where the stage coaches came through, and a lot of
travelers came. Lemuel F. Hood was the first elected official in Henderson County--
a tax collector, of course. But the house that they built is still standing and it is on
the Howard Gap Road. [The Howard Gap Road] was a very historical road that was
an Indian trail; the Indians traveled down to the coast of South Carolina to get salt.
And that was the trail through the Howard Gap.
[Anyway], this house is still standing. It was made of hand-hewn chestnut boards that
are about a foot wide. It was the first house around there to be finished--inside and
out. The same materials are still in good shape. A man bought it [who] was very
interested in this sort of thing, and he and his family have passed it down for several
generations now. It is a showplace. It still has a big white oak tree growing out in
the yard that was a big tree when my grandfather was a little boy.
CJ: When was it that your great-grandfather traveled out to Oregon and Texas? Was it
after the war?
RJ: No, it was before the Civil War. Of course, that was the day of the big outlaw gangs
in the West and that sort of thing. And of course there were the Indian wars; he
went right through the Indians on the Oregon Trail, I guess it was. I do not know
exactly [but] I will have to ask my cousin George the next time I see him, and find
out exactly what it was. But great-grandpa was well-enough-to-do that he could keep
his holdings there in North Carolina (his original land grant) and go out and
homestead, wherever it was. He had left his farm back in North Carolina in
caretaker status. Today the trip would be nothing; in one day's time you [can] go to
Texas and back, and to Oregon and back. But in those days it took months and
months and months to do that traveling. As far as that goes, I have not maintained
or established any contact with the Oregon branch of the family, but my cousin
Probably the most interesting place for my family is in Saluda, North Carolina, which
is a little town about ten miles south of Hendersonville, almost on the South
Carolina line. My Grandmother Jones, Marguerite Pace, was from Saluda. Actually,
it was a little cove down below Saluda that was very protected. In the spring they
could start growing their vegetables and produce, about three weeks before anybody
else could. Her brother was named M.A. Pace [and he] established what was called
a dry goods store up in Saluda. They handled anything and everything you could
think of: patent medicines, produce, canned goods, meat, hardware, clothing. That
is what a dry goods store is. That store is in existence today. Until these two sisters
died, they ran this store. Eunice Pace died about a year ago, back in 1992. She and
Boo Franklin, her sister, operated that store for many, many, many years. It is still
in existence and still has all the old dry goods in there. And it is a big tourist
Perry Como stumbled across it a few years ago. He liked Saluda so much that he
came up and bought a mountain top and built a house there. That is his summer
home. He is a great favorite with all the people of Saluda; they love Perry Como.
It is very interesting to see the way that the people operate because Perry built his
house. I was down there one time, and I walked into one of the places where they
did not know me--I am related to at least half the people in Saluda, anyone named
Pace or Ward or Thompson down there are my cousins--and I walked in this one
place and I said, "Hey, did Perry Como ever build his place down here?" This person
said, "Well, I do not rightly know." And I said, "Well, I thought he did. Where did
he build?" They said, "Well, I do not know, somewhere around here." I was very
surprised about this, so I went down to M.A. Pace and I said to Eunice, "Eunice, you
know it is the strangest thing, people do not know anything much." She said, "Lord,
honey, whatchya talking about?" I said "Well, I was just in this place up there a few
minutes ago, and I asked about Perry Como's place. They did not know anything
about it." She said, "Lord, honey, everybody knows. We just do not want anybody
bothering him. I'll tell you where it is. You go down the Spartanburg highway here.
The next road after Dr. Salley's, you turn to the right and it's about a mile and a
quarter back out there on top of a mountain. But don't go down there bothering
him." I said, "Eunice, I had no intention whatsoever of bothering him; I won't bother
him. I have met him down in Jupiter, Florida. [He is a] very nice person and I just
wanted to know where he had built and I hoped he was happy." She said, "You can
depend on it. But we like to protect him; I'll tell you, but I won't tell anybody else
where he is." People up there are very close- mouthed about things like that.
CJ: Tell me about growing up in North Carolina. You were born in 1918 in
Hendersonville. What you wrote up about your life [said] it was East Flat Rock,
RJ: Yes, Flat Rock was a very interesting place because this was where the first
commuter system was set up for the benefit of the old aristocratic families down in
South Carolina, particularly in the Charleston area and some parts of Georgia too.
What happened was that, before the Civil War ever started, your big industrialists
and agriculturalists and that sort of thing mostly operated out of Charleston, South
Carolina. That is where the aristocracy is. One of those gentlemen from Charleston
who had a summer place up in North Carolina eventually became Secretary of the
Treasury for the Confederacy. For some strange reason, he was one of the few
Southerners that did not lose money during the war. After the war he was very
wealthy. I have often wondered about that.
Anyway, what happened was that [it was] very, very hot down there in the
summertime. And back in those days you had a lot of malaria and yellow fever and
that sort of thing. The people living down in Charleston liked to get out of there in
the summertime and come up to the cool mountains. It was just about 250 miles
from Charleston up to the mountains. It was nice rolling country most of the way,
but all of a sudden you hit the mountains. You just kind of jumped up on this little
plateau up there and at night it was nice and cool, [with] no mosquitoes and that sort
So these people were very powerful and very influential and quite a few of them
were on the board of directors of the Southern Railroad. They said to each other,
"Why not make it nice and easy to get to the mountains? Let's build a railroad." It
was very sensible, actually. Here are Columbia and Spartanburg and Greenville, all
right there out of Charleston, which was the principal seat of the state. So they built
a railroad to the mountains. But then they had a problem because they had a
terrible grade to go up. It was an engineering feat to marvel at for that time. But
they did build a railroad and they built it right on up to an area called Flat Rock,
which is about three miles south of Hendersonville.
Flat Rock was named that because [it is] one of the biggest pieces of granite in the
world. It was a landmark on the Indian trail to get salt from the ocean. Indian
tribes would camp here, in peace and harmony with each other; there was a truce
around Flat Rock.
These wealthy people came in and bought this beautiful land [which was] cool and
comfortable in the summertime. Everybody had at least 500 acres and they built
summer cottages that consisted of 15 or 20 bedrooms. [Their houses had] all the
fancy gingerbread on them and they had a crew of about a half a dozen of the local
people there to act as caretakers and farmers and gardeners. They also brought their
slaves--later their employees--who they treated very, very well. But with the railroad
in place, right after all the cold weather [was] gone--let us say the last of April--the
families would get on the train with their whole entourage of servants and come up
to the summer place in the mountains. The families stayed there until probably the
end of September; it varied, really.
What was interesting was that they set up a commuter system. On Friday evening
a train came northwest out of Charleston at about 1:00 in the afternoon. It was the
only time of the week it was scheduled to run in that direction. And this was a fast
train; it really moved. It ran straight from Charleston, 250 miles, right up in the
mountains. It made it up to Flat Rock in about five hours, which in those days was
really moving. They did not care where it went from there, [although] I think it did
go on over into Asheville. And then the train turned around. On Monday morning
they left Flat Rock at about 6:30 or 7:00, and made the mad dash back to Charleston
with the head of the family and anybody else that happened to want to go back and
spend a week down there. There was a lot of business conducted on that train.
This was the first train in that part of the country (or as far as I know anywhere else)
to have a train schedule set up to go like that--bang--up on Friday and--bang--back
on Monday morning, so that these people could commute. These people were really
ahead of their time. The commuters out of New York into Connecticut had not even
started at it, and here we were way ahead of them.
CJ: How did East Flat Rock get its name?
RJ: The local people were so frozen out as to having any voice in government and that
sort of thing, over in the Flat Rock area, that my father and a group of other men
moved over about two miles east of the Flat Rock. And not having any better
imagination, they named their little community East Flat Rock. That actually was
where the Flat Rock depot for the railroad was located; [it was] where all of the
commuters ended up. But they established a little community over there.
Eventually a textile firm came up in the late 1800s and started manufacturing men's
hosiery. At one time they employed as many as oh, I suppose 300 people. It was
most interesting when I was a boy to go down to the Chipman-LaCrosse Hosiery
Mill. They had these wide, tall windows that they would just open up. It was
fascinating to watch because they had these old stationary engines in there that
furnished the power. Now, this was in the early 1920s that I saw this. They had
these pulleys that had big flapping belts on them. These stationary engines were
back in one end of the place and they transferred that power by pulley the whole
length of the mill. It was very, very noisy and very, very dangerous, because these
belts that they used would flip off once in a while. If you were not careful--if it hit
you--it would just cut you in two. But they had these old engines that had the big
flywheels on them. They used oil (kind of like diesel oil) to burn. There was no
steady firing of the engine because, as it called on for more power, the engine had
to speed up. And the engine would go: "Putt! Putputt! ... Putt!" You did not
have the timing that you have on a regular engine now.
Of course in the late 1920s they converted to electric power, but they still had to
have steam power for a lot of things. This was the principal employer in the area
and, needless to say, they had a large community of mill houses. Actually, they
would have two families living in the same house--one on each side. I suppose they
probably had fifty houses in a little community that was gathered right around the
CJ: If that was the case, then did the citizens who created East Flat Rock succeed in
gaining power or political control?
RJ: Oh yes, they had their little political successes. It seemed to be that the workers in
the mill established a Baptist church. And the other people who furnished the
services and that sort of thing established the Methodist church. Now, my father was
a grocer, so he went to the Methodist church. He was one of the five people that
founded the Methodist church. His beginnings as a grocer were rather interesting
because he was a little old country boy from out in the upward section, which was
out east of there. He was also from one of the most confusing families that you have
ever seen in your life. Grandpa Jones was married and had some children, and his
wife died. Grandma Jones was married and had some children, and her husband
died. And Grandma and Grandpa got married and they had some children. Now,
this whole conglomeration of children ended up being of about five of Grandpa's
[children], five of Grandma's [children], and five of [both] Grandpa and Grandma's
[children]. They all lived and prospered. My father was one of the first [children]
of the Grandpa/Grandma group. They all produced large numbers of children with
the result that, when I was twelve years old [and] went to a family reunion, all sixteen
children were there with husbands and wives. One of the daughter's husbands had
died and another daughter's husband had just disappeared, [but] there were sixteen
children with fourteen husbands and wives. There were over 100 grandchildren and
twelve great grandchildren when I was merely twelve years old, and it continued.
But my father started out life as a barber; he opened a barber shop right down on
the corner down there at Upward, which was a crossroads. Then he went to work
for a relative (I have forgotten what his name was) over in the Flat Rock section,
who was the grocer. My father was a big, burly, handsome man with curly black hair
and big brown eyes and [was] jolly and happy-go-lucky. So he was an absolutely
marvelous public relations man. They did not call it that back in those days; he was
a great salesman. What he would do [is] every morning he would take a nice horse
and a light wagon and circulate through all of these estates. The people who ran
these estates were just dying to know what the news was and my father had all of it.
So these influential people came out to talk to him. And the cooks also came out
and gave him orders. So he would take the orders in the morning, go back to the
store, make up the orders, and then deliver them that afternoon. So he was the
grocer to all these places. And he knew which day to go to which estate. There
must have been about twenty-five or thirty of these estates. He did not go to each
one every day, but about every other day he would go to a certain group of them.
Then he graduated from that to his own little store, and he was a grocer for over
CJ: That is how he supported your family?
CJ: When did he marry your mother? Do you know?
RJ: Oh, he married my mother in about 1910, I would guess. Dad was born in 1888 and
Mom was born in 1891, and they were both [from] very long-lived families. For
instance, Grandpa Jones [was] an example of a real hard southern man. He was a
small man; I do not think he weighed over 140-145 pounds, but he was very wiry.
Grandpa was always very physical. When he was seventy years old, he was chopping
wood with such vigor that a chip flew up and blinded him in one eye. Ten years
later, [when he was] eighty years old, he was chopping wood when a chip flew up
[and] partially blinded him in the other eye. So he could see just enough so that if
you were in a bright doorway, he could see your silhouette. Grandpa slowed down
a little bit but, until a year before his death, every morning and every evening he
took the milk bucket, walked down to the creek, across the footlog, up to the barn,
milked the cow, [and] came back.
Now, I said my grandparents were long-lived--every one of them lived to be over
ninety years old. Grandpa Jones was ninety-seven; [he] milked until he was ninety-
six. Grandpa Hood lived to be ninety-six. Grandma Jones [was] ninety-three, and
my Grandmother Hood dropped dead when she was ninety, fixing lunch for Grandpa.
So you see we have lived pretty well. Now my mother was a little sickly; she only
lived to eighty. And my father lacked two months making it to ninety.
CJ: That was papaw, right? When did papaw die?
RJ: Oh Lordy, what did you ask me that for? [It was] 1978, I think. Yes, it was 1978.
He lived a very full life and he also had a great deal of stamina. Now, I did not look
much like my father; I am tall and slender. He was very chunky and husky, where
I am wiry. But he had his little store out on the corner in East Flat Rock.
After he retired from the store, he was famous for his garden. He raised beautiful
raspberries; that was his big deal. But an interesting thing about this also was that
his garden always had two rows of flowers along one edge. He favored dahlias [that
have] big beautiful blooms in red, yellow, purple, and white. He also liked zinnias
a great deal, and gladiolus. For many years before he died, Dad would go out to
work in his garden. He would always have it plowed; someone would come with a
tractor and plow it for him. The last ten years. He had arthritis and had a hard time
getting around, so he would usually use crutches. But he would get out in his garden
with one crutch, and he had a special little hoe that had a blade about three inches
wide. He would leave a crutch in the shed and then he would go out using the hoe
and one crutch to get out in the garden. Then he would lean on the crutch, he
would take his hoe and he would do what he called "work" the whole garden. He
would dig that whole garden up. At about the time that he got finished, he would
have to start over again because it took him that long. But he was a landmark for
many people; they would give directions by saying, "Well, now, if you go out
Spartanburg highway, you turn left at the school, well, you know that garden where
that man is up there with the hoe and the crutch is.." He was used as a landmark.
That is just a little interesting sideline.
But the Chipman-LaCrosse Hosiery Mill was one of these places that was the
mainstay as far as the money that was brought in. Of course, they paid the workers
as little as possible. It was the first place I ever got a job, in fact. When I graduated
from high school it was the middle of the Depression and I went down and was
employed by Chipman-LaCrosse to work in the finishing room. That was the place
where they boxed their product and sent it out. I put labels on boxes. And they
started me off at $8 a week, for which I worked five and a half days--forty-four hours,
for $8. In three months I was supposed to start making $12, which is what everybody
else made. I was pretty happy the way things were; I enjoyed working and it was
kind of interesting work. But lo and behold, [when] the time came and I finally
asked for my raise, they fired me so they could keep from giving it to me. So I was
pretty downcast by that, because getting another job was really a problem in those
days. I thought, "I will just go downtown and go the movies." They had the matinees
in those days. It only cost me 35 cents to go to movies, which was actually pretty stiff
for the kind of money I was making. Of course I had never intended to make a
living working in a hosiery mill. Anyway, I went to the movies. I came out of the
movies and standing in front of it I just thought, "What am I going to do?"
The manager of the other theatre walked by at about that time and said, "Hey,
Ralph!" And I said, "Hey, Jack, how are you?" He said, "What are you doing now?"
I said, "Nothing." He said, "You want a job?" I said, "Yeah! Doing what?" He said,
"Being a doorman down at the state theatre. You are just exactly the right size to
fit the uniform." So I said, "Well, how much does it pay?" He said, "$12." I said,
"You have bought yourself a man." So I had a wonderful time. I went down to the
state theatre. It was a nice looking uniform and I wore it. This was really one of the
most sought-after jobs in town. All my friends came to the movies. Once in a while
I could let one in if they did not happen to have any money. I thoroughly enjoyed
But I had decided a long time before that what I really wanted to do was go into the
navy. I was waiting on the school bus one morning, and it was so darn cold that my
hair froze to my head. And I decided right there that I wanted to do something that
would get me out of this cold weather. So the summer that I was twelve years old,
my cousin came home from the navy. He was a third class yeoman. Jim was a big
handsome fellow; he was very jolly. So I finally said, "Hey Jim, how do you like the
navy?" He said, "Oh, it is all right." I thought that was very unenthusiastic for a man
who had this beautiful white uniform on, had money, [was] happy and travelled all
over the world. I could just envision the jolly sailors lying around on deck on the
battleship saying, "Hey, let's go to Honolulu." Or saying, "Isn't it about time for us
to eat, let's go down and have something to eat." Now, needless to say, I found out
later on that this was very poor thinking on my part. Anyway, I actually had just
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been waiting to get in the navy. Unfortunately, I was not very big; I only weighed
127 pounds and the minimum was 132. But one day before the theatre opened, I
went over to Asheville to the recruiting office. The chief petty officer looked up and
said, "Can I help you?" So I said, "Yes, I wanted to see about getting in the navy."
"Come in son! How old are you? Why, you know you are young enough that you
might have a chance to go the academy." I said, "What is that?" I did not even know
of the existence of such thing as the naval academy. Anyway, he looked [at me] and
said, "Let's see here now. Step on the scale. 127 [pounds]. Son, you are supposed
to weigh 132, but now you are a high school graduate." Well back in those days, the
navy would take just about anything they could get that was a high school graduate.
They liked that idea. I took the papers home and my parents very reluctantly signed
them to allow me to enlist in the navy. I took them back and the old boy said, "Well,
all right. We will be calling you up pretty soon." So I even went and recruited a
cousin of mine. I said to Gary Jones, "Gary, I am going in the navy." [He said],
"Hey, tell me about it." I said, "Why don't you come in with me?" So, he went over
and he signed up and they called us. Lo and behold, I did not go, and Gary did.
CJ: When was this?
RJ: This was in April 1937. It was just too much of a change for me. Finally, I got to
think about this. So I went back over and I stuck my head in, and this old chief petty
officer fastened a real cold eye on me and said, "Yes?" I said, "Chief, call me again.
This time I will go." So he very reluctantly got a waiver for me again about my
And on August 1, 1937 I entered the navy in Raleigh, North Carolina, after a real
scary session with a doctor who thought I had flat feet. Fortunately, I spoke up and
told him that I was on my feet all the time and it never bothered me. I have had 200
physical since then and nobody else has ever looked at my feet again.
Anyway, a group of us went up to Norfolk [Virginia], and we got on the ferryboat in
Portsmouth [Virginia] to go across to Norfolk. All of a sudden I grabbed this other
recruit's arm and I said, "My God, look at that!" He said, "What! What is it?" I
said, "Look at that, that sailor has work clothes on!" Well, the disillusionment ended
right there. We got over to bootcamp and I loved it. The marching drill was the
main thing we did, but it was just like dancing and I had a ball. We did three
months of bootcamp and then we went home for boot leave. My whole idea in
getting into the navy was to get to Honolulu, [Hawaii]; one way or another, that was
the place in the world I wanted to be.
So I came back from bootcamp and lo and behold they stuck me in radioman school.
I did not want to be a radioman; I did not want to stand watches. But they were
teaching me to type; I had never managed to touch a typewriter before. That was
kind of interesting. And I deliberately flunked out because I did not want to be a
And they made a mess cook out of me. So I went down, and I had so much fun in
the galley preparing food for about 5,000 people. It was interesting to see how it
happened. Well, I ran around in that galley like a wild man and almost messed
myself up because now they wanted me to be a cook. I did not want to be a cook.
I finally got up the nerve enough to tell the commissary officer. I said, "Commander,
I want to go to sea." He laughed and said, "I cannot blame you. I do not like
Norfolk very well myself, either."
So I went down, and lo and behold here I was on a ship. We tore out to sea at
seven knots and we went to Guantdnamo, Cuba, and then down to Panama, and then
on up to San Diego [California]. And on the way up the west coast of Mexico, boy
was I having a ball. I really enjoyed myself; it was so fascinating. We had a choice
of what ship we should go on. Oh, I dallied with the idea of going on a destroyer or
submarine tender or what have you. But all of a sudden, there is the U.S.S. Langley,
the navy's first aircraft carrier. They had taken the forward part of the flight deck
off and changed it to a seaplane tender. But there was aviation, and I decided to go
there. So I went down, signed up for, and got aboard the Langley. When I reported
aboard the yeoman came up and took us down to the mess hall, and he was assigning
us to various divisions. He said kind of casually, "Do any of you type?" I held up my
hand. Good Lord, if I typed fifteen words a minute, it would have been surprising.
He said, "Do you want to strike for yeoman?" I did not realize at the time that the
two best ratings at sea are the yeoman (they are very influential because they are
stenographers) and the other is the quartermaster. The quartermaster runs the ship
from the bridge. He is the one who does the navigating and that sort of thing; a very
responsible job. But anyway, I said "Oh, no." So they put me out on deck. I was
swabbing decks and this, that, thus and the other, and [I was] the mess cook again.
All of a sudden, this fellow came up to me one day and said, "Hey Jonesy, come with
me. I want to show you something." I said, "What is it?" He said, "Come on, I want
to show you." So he took me down to armory and he said, "Look, I am the
navigator's yeoman. I am also the librarian. I am in here and the armory is the
office. Believe me, by 10:00 in the morning, work is over for the day. You have the
rest of the day to do as you please. This is really great and you do not stand any
watches." Well, I hated to stand watches. So, I said, "All right, I will take it Charles."
So I did.
[It was] one of the happiest things I ever did, because as the navigator's yeoman, my
special sea detail was on the bridge, anytime we had general quarters or were going
in to sea or out to port. The navigator, Logan C. Ramsey, was the nicest man. He
started teaching me navigation. And in all this spare time I had, I was all over that
ship: I was in the engine room, I was the flagpot, I was bothering the signalman, I
was in the galley aggravating the cooks. I knew that ship better than anybody else
on there did. I knew where every nook and cranny was, what everybody did, and I
pestered them to teach me. I really learned a lot about ships.
But the real prize thing that happened was that we swung on the hook. In other
words, we were anchored out at San Diego for a couple of weeks. And I got to see
San Diego and southern California there a little bit. Having pulled up the anchor,
guess where we went? [We went] as straight to Honolulu as we could go. You talk
about something where you have a golden horseshoe; I really had it. The navy was
doing just exactly what I wanted it to. Every time I changed my mind, they allowed
me to. Here they were, going to the first place I really wanted to go. So we went.
At first sighting of Oahu [Hawaii], we were coming around the southeastern end of
the island where there are these beautiful mountains. It was about 6:00 in the
morning. I walked out on deck and just stood there for several hours while we
proceeded around the southern end of Oahu and then to Pearl Harbor.
CJ: When was this?
RJ: This was in March of 1938.
CJ: So you had been in the navy for almost a year at this point?
RJ: No, I had only been in since August 1937, about six months [before]. Anyway lo and
behold, since we were a pretty good size ship they had hula dancers meet us on the
wharf. I rushed to shore as fast as I could get there and I just loved it. We rattled
around Honolulu for a while and then we went back to San Diego and went up to
Alaska. And then we came back down. By this time it was 1939. And lo and
behold, they were having the World's Fair in New York, and the whole fleet was
going. So we went down through Panama again. That was a wonderful place to be
too. We went up to the Dominican Republic to what is called Sabana Bay [de la
Mar], and we had flight operations out of there with some seaplanes out of Panama.
And then we went on up to New York for the 1939 World's Fair, which incidentally
was very, very boring. But we came back from there and got out to Honolulu again.
I was just as glad to see it the second time as I was the first time; I love that place.
All of a sudden, I had another wonderful opportunity to get transferred off onto Ford
Island, which is right in the middle of Pearl Harbor. So I went off to a PBY
Squadron. It is an old patrol plane that patrolled in all directions out from Oahu.
Again, this was wonderful because our working hours [were] from 7:00 in the
morning until 1:00 in the afternoon, and then I was free.
CJ: What did you do with the squadron?
RJ: Oh, I was the yeoman. I was actually the messenger because I had not gotten a rate
yet. But anyway, I was very happy because I never had the duty [and] had every
afternoon off. I just lived on Waikiki, [Hawaii]. I bought a car and had a couple of
girlfriends, and life was real good. Then all of a sudden, I made third class and the
bottom fell out. They set me on board the most dreadful little ship you have ever
seen in your life. It was a destroyer-type tender.
CJ: What was it called?
RJ: It was the U.S.S. Childs. It had been an old destroyer and they had taken a couple
of the stacks out and put a 100,000 gallons of aviation gasoline in there. I am telling
you it was sitting on top of a bomb. Surprisingly, the ship lasted through World War
II. But anyway, it was miserable. And all of a sudden I had to stand watches. But
I was the helmsman. I was steering the ship. I found out something else about that,
because I was on watch at midnight one night and we were going through the islands.
I was not sleepy, but I became hypnotized by watching the compass. I got forty-five
degrees off course and almost ran the ship aground. Fortunately, I woke up in time
and got back on course without getting caught.
But, luck reared its beautiful head again, I was only on that bucket for six weeks. I
was transferred off it to the most wonderful squadron: VP-22. It was a very unique
PBY squadron with the most memorable group of people I have ever met in my life,
wonderful people. One of my shipmates was Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, who was
then a lieutenant. He was later chairman of the joint chiefs of staff for four years.
He is still alive; eighty years old and he is hard as a rock. He is a wonderful friend.
I chat with him occasionally. But anyway, I got with this squadron and I spent a year
and a half there. [It was] wonderful.
But, before that, let me back up to 1939. On September 1, 1939, war was declared
between England and France and Germany. It was kind of uncomfortable. We were
there in the Pacific which was an awful long way away, and everybody had an opinion
of the Japanese: that they would be so easy to take care of if we had any problems.
Nobody thought anything much about it.
Then came December 1941 and we got a real surprise. The fleet had moved out in
the early part of 1941 to Lahaina Road, which was down in Maui (Hawaii). The
fleet was anchoring out down there and that was not a very safe place to be because
you had a lot of water there and it was nice and deep. Japanese submarines could
have really decimated the whole fleet there; I mean, they would have been gone
forever. So they decided they would move them up to Pearl [Harbor] about eight
months before the war started. In other words, it was about February or March.
Well, this was most exciting because every Friday afternoon the fleet would steam
majestically into Pearl Harbor. [There was] just a stream of them coming in. Of
course, I was off duty at 1:00 and I would go down on the seaplane ramp and stand
and watch these ships come in and maneuver to their berths. The battleships tied
up to Ford Island, right in front of my barracks. The rest of the fleet would tie up
in the various docks or anchor out in the stream or what have you. They would do
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what is called nesting; you would have six submarines tied up to a submarine tender,
or six destroyers tied up in a group, here and there. But you would have maybe 100
ships in the harbor. It was really the biggest concentration of warships that anybody
had ever seen at that time. Once in a while at night, one of the most beautiful things
was, the whole fleet would have a searchlight parade. Bang--these huge searchlights
would go on the Pennsylvania (flagship), pointed straight up. And all of the other
ships would follow immediately. They would choose a night when you had a flat
cloud cover and all of a sudden the world is lit up. We used to go out and lie on the
lawn and watch this. Then they would maneuver these in a pattern or in a random
pattern. For about thirty minutes you would have this searchlight drill, and then they
would all go off at the same time. It was an absolutely magnificent thing to see.
But, back to the story. Ships would come in. They did not start their liberty until
4:00, so I had time enough to get downtown. And then the flood would come; here
came all of these people off of the ships. Street cars could not move [because] there
were so many men there, all milling around and doing various things. This was very
exciting to me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The interesting thing about it was that
the navy people, the marines, the coast guard and the soldiers, all seemed to get
along so well together. It was amazing that we had as little trouble as we did. This
went on for month after month after month, until December 7. On the night of
December 6, I had been ashore. I came back aboard and I did not get there until
about 5:00 in the morning. It had just been so exciting over in town, and everyone
was having such a good time. I had gone in and gone to bed.
When 8:00 came I was really dead to the world. When all of a sudden [there was
a loud] "BOOM!" I jumped straight up and said, "What was that?" Somebody said,
"Oh, shut up Jonesy." And by that time [there was another] "BOOM!" I vaulted out
of my bed and I said, "My god, we are being bombed. The Japs are on us." I lived
up on the top floor of the enlisted barracks and I ran out on the roof and here all
the battleships were tied up right in front of me, about 100 yards away. I looked to
the west. That was where my squadron was located. The first bomb of the war had
gone through my hangar roof. [That is where] the only person [was] killed on Ford
Island that day. The Japanese were not interested in seaplanes; they were interested
in ships. I looked down that way and coming from the north was a string of Japanese
planes that I recognized immediately as being torpedo planes. They were just at
treetop level, because if they dropped the torpedos above forty feet the torpedos
would broach, [which] means they would hit the water and just kind of bounce out.
And then [the torpedo] would not be accurate. So they had to be below forty feet,
drop the torpedo, and it would stay close enough to the surface [so] that it would do
the damage it was supposed to do and not run into the bottom (the bottom of Pearl
Harbor is only about forty feet).
Anyway, I knew immediately what they were after. They continued in their turn,
came over the navy yard and then turned and came straight toward me. They
dropped down to forty feet or below, [where they] would drop the torpedoes. I could
see the track that the torpedo was making in the water. Boy they were accurate, and
headed right for the battleships. Then the planes would actually have to pull up in
order to go over my head. I had a very unique experience. I believe I was the only
person that day that looked a Japanese pilot directly in the eye. I looked at him and
he looked at me. He could not do anything and I could not either. But he was not
over fifty feet above me.
Well the Maryland and the California and the West Virginia were right in front of
me. They all got hit and caught on fire. The Oklahoma was slightly to my left.
They had been hit so much on the port side, that it opened up and flooded on the
port side. And because the ship could not open its sea valves and settle itself straight
down, they capsized. I was looking directly at the Arizona when a dive bomber came
down and dropped a bomb. I watched the bomb go right down the stack. If you
could imagine a battleship jumping out of the water and then breaking in two in the
middle, you know what I saw. And then it settled straight back down. The only U.S.
admiral killed during the whole war, was Admiral Kidd, who was killed on the
Arizona. That was his flagship. Anyway, this went on for about twenty minutes.
Then I decided I had better get down to my squadron. So I got out and I ran down
the road toward my squadron. All of a sudden, a bomb hit about fifty feet in front
of me and I was surprised to see that this bomb, rather than knocking me over,
sucked me toward it. A bomb, when it explodes, causes a vacuum where air is
pushed up and everything is pulled toward the site of the explosion.
We were really getting it hot and heavy. And by this time we had ships firing in all
directions. We had added anti-aircraft; they had set up a screen at 5000 feet. Of
course, there was nothing up there. And in the middle of all this confusion, the
planes came in off the Enterprise. They were supposed to come into Pearl because
the Enterprise was on its way back into port.
CJ: This was the U.S. ship?
RJ: Yes. That is the aircraft carrier. Well, we started shooting our own planes down.
When they recognized what it was they got out of there, because they were unarmed.
But the Japanese had a free hand [to do] what they wanted to do. We were firing
our antiaircraft at 5000 feet and they were coming in at about 8000 feet, or under
500 feet so they were perfectly safe. After about the first twenty minutes of the war,
things were fairly calm. As far as seeing Japanese aircraft was concerned, they were
now coming in at high levels. They were either dive bombing or just dropping bombs
and flying off. After about an hour, the Japanese had done all they came to do; they
had dropped everything and hit everything that they could. And they pulled out.
The pilots wanted to come back and hit us again. Thank God they did not because,
if they had, they really would have aggravated us. But the damage was absolutely
There were many acts of heroism; one particular friend of mine really impressed me.
The battle for Pearl Harbor was over and done with, so my squadron gathered itself
up and they got twelve planes together. They sent them off down into the Pacific.
This was one of the most futile things they did during the war. Here are these old
PBYs that were good to go out and observe. But they were so slow that if anything
saw them observing, they would have sent some planes up there and shot them down.
The [PBYs] only flew at about 120 miles per hour--in a dive. They ended up in Java
(Indonesia). In six weeks time, ten of the twelve were destroyed. So my squadron
was destroyed. But when they left they left a lot of ground personnel, and I was it.
And it was my responsibility to transfer everybody. So I transferred all of these
people to where they were supposed to go, and I was the last member of VP-22.
I transferred myself up to Admiral Mark Mitscher's flag, and started working there.
I worked for Commander Kenneth Craig, who was to become one of my very closest
friends. He gave me a great deal of responsibility, and we are as close friends now
as we were then. In fact, [we are even] closer. He is ninety years old now and [is]
the finest old gentlemen you ever saw. I ended up deciding that I wanted to do
something different, so I went back to flight school.
CJ: When did you do that?
RJ: I went back to flight school at the end of 1942. I went to Corpus Christi, [Texas],
and got through flight school. I was commissioned and I transferred to south Florida,
to an advanced aerial navigational school. I liked that. So I applied for shore duty,
since I had been through two major battles. I had a part in the Battle of Midway,
but it is not really very interesting because I was in a dugout on Midway while it was
happening. This was not a pleasant experience. This was not exciting and interesting
like Pearl [Harbor]. This was just frightening. Anyway, I got to Florida in 1944, but
my whole squadron was transferred to Oklahoma of all places, as far as you could
possibly get away from any and all wars of the Pacific or the Atlantic. Anyway, there
is were I met Arlen.
CJ: So you were transferred to Oklahoma in 1944?
RJ: Early 1944. This was really an experience. We had been stationed in Miami, and
everybody was going out to nightclubs, spending all [of] their money and just having
a wonderful time. When they found out we were going to be going to Oklahoma
everybody said, "Shawnee, Oklahoma? Where in the world is that?" So a lot of
them immediately started doing their best to get out of the squadron and find some
place to stay in Miami. But I went to Oklahoma. It was a happy occasion. I tell
you, I have had an awful lot of luck. We got to Oklahoma and the people were so
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nice. Living was so much less expensive. It was a marvelous move. Now the people
who had been so anxious to get out of the squadron and stay in Miami were trying
to get back in it. We did not let one of them come back and it tickled me to death.
I had a wonderful time there because we took over the country club as an officer's
club, and we maintained the golf course. And the squadron was most popular,
because we were great bootleggers. It was a dry county. In fact, [the whole state of]
Oklahoma was dry, [so] we did a lot of bootlegging. Besides that, you could say,
"Hey, anybody who wants to play golf, come on out and play. That is all right, [there
are] no dues; just go on and play." So, we became very popular.
Another very interesting thing was that one of the squadron's members went down
to get married, and [he] just discovered here a while back that the minister that
married him was Oral Roberts. Yes, his marriage certificate is mounted in his
hallway; I saw it here a while back. Anyway, we were quite a force in town. We
married the girls right and left. Arlen's boss came into the bowling alley one
evening, and he had been drinking a little bit. The next thing I know, he had
grabbed my by the arm and introduced me to the prettiest girl in Oklahoma. So that
is where I met Arlen. She was very dignified, but I soon broke her of that. We were
married on April 29, 1945.
All of a sudden we were transferred out to [a place that was] really in the boondocks;
[it was] a little town called Clinton out in western Oklahoma. We got DC-3
airplanes. Talk about a wonderful airplane; that was the most marvelous flying
machine that has ever been invented. It could fly by itself. Everybody thoroughly
enjoyed them. [Anyway], the war was going along very comfortably. All of a sudden,
someone invented the atom bomb and the war was quickly over. In a matter of ten
days or so, the war was gone. All of a sudden, everybody was staggering around,
wondering what in the world they were going to do. So I stuck around a little while
and Arlen and I went down to New Orleans, [Louisiana]. [We] spent six weeks
waiting orders down there and then we went down to the Banana River, a big
seaplane base down on Cape Canaveral in Florida.
I hung around the seaplanes for a while, but now I wanted to go to college. So I got
out of the navy. I had liked Oklahoma, so I decided to go to Oklahoma A & M in
Stillwater. So I picked up my family and we moved up to Stillwater. I started
college, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
CJ: This was when?
RJ: This was 1946. I had decided to become a dentist, [until] I started thinking about
how it was that a dentist made his living, [and] what his work was like. I thought,
"No, I cannot do that. I have to be where I can at least see outside." We did not
have what I wanted there, so I decided to move back into the navy. I applied for
readmission to the navy and they took me back in. [They] transferred me to
Jacksonville, Florida, and I had a nice time there in a service squadron.
CJ: How long were you in Oklahoma before you went back into the navy?
RJ: I had finished two years of college.
CJ: So it was 1948?
RJ: It was late 1948 when I got back in the navy.
CJ: And Pierce was born [in] 1946?
RJ: That is right. He was born October 19, 1946. I forgot to mention that; how could
I ever forget the good doctor? Anyway, we moved to Jacksonville and it was, again,
most pleasant. We were in the navy there. Then they tightened up again so I got
out of the navy and joined a reserve squadron flying PV airplanes. [It was] a terrible
airplane. Anyway, I liked it and I could go to reserve squadron one weekend a
month. I got four days' pay and that really helped. I started back at the University
of Florida and on the weekends--once a month--I was in this reserve squadron. I
could still fly; anytime during the month that I wanted to, I could go down there and
get a plane. And [I could] fly wherever I wanted to. So that was real nice, because
I could hop up to North Carolina occasionally and see my parents.
A year later the Korean War started. And all of a sudden, they called my squadron
back to duty. I had to quit school again and I was now [back] on active duty. I did
not really mind, but a reserve squadron is not a very good part of the navy to be in.
Anyway, I was one of the more experienced pilots. They were going to give us a
different type of airplane. I had found myself some students and I was teaching three
of them to fly twin-engine planes. I had pretty good status. I was doing very well
with the old PV; it was a hard plane to fly, but I just happened to be able to fly it
better than anybody else. So I established quite a reputation. All of a sudden they
decided to give us P2V airplanes, which are big old Lockheed airplanes. [It is] a
terrible airplane. I feel like suing Lockheed for ever producing such a monstrosity.
Anyway, they decided to check me out. They were going to make me one of the
plane commanders. That was quite an honor, since only about one out of every four
was going to be a plane commander. I went out one morning on my second flight
with the executive officer of the squadron. We took the commanding officer of the
squadron next door with us because he had never flown in a P2V before and he
wanted to see what it was like. So we went out, and L.B. Worley was the executive
officer of my squadron; he was flying the plane. He flew it in a manner that I did
not appreciate very much. In fact, he did some terrible things--things he was not
supposed to [do]. He was making some practice landings at a deserted airfield down
in Palatka, Florida, and then we started back to the base. We were at 1000 feet
going towards the Naval air station over the St. Johns River. So I said to Mr.
Worley, "Mr. Worley, why don't we let the skipper fly co-pilot on the way in? It
would be a nice courtesy." He said, "Now that is a good idea." And I said, "I could
sit back here on the radioman's table and observe."
So I got up and ushered this little redheaded man from Tennessee up to the co-pilot
seat and I sat down on the radioman's table. We were seven miles from the naval
air station and I could see it very plainly. All of a sudden, I felt a kind of concussion.
I turned my head and looked, and this big cloud of smoke was floating up from the
belly of the plane. So I ran back into the aft compartment of the plane, and we were
on fire. [It was] a big fire. So I ran back up front and I jerked Worley around in the
seat and I said, "We have a serious fire back aft. Get on the ground--quick." I
meant for him to ditch in the river if he had to, because I knew we were going to
explode if this continued. But anyway, there was a little airfield over there, and all
he had to do was just turn and land. So I planked myself down on the radioman's
table and leaned against the bulkhead and we got down, and I could see trees going
past the side of the plane. I said, "Oh, boy, we are going to make it." And all of a
sudden, he added power. I thought, "What in the world is going on?" I jumped up
and looked, and he was going to drag the runway. In other words, look the runway
over, and then come back around and land. I jumped up to grab the throttle; I was
going to jerk the throttles off, but there were trees right in front of us by this time.
He was still about ten feet off the ground, so there was no way we were getting on
the ground. So I just said, "Oh, Lord." He applied power and started climbing out.
He got up to about 500 feet and had just started a left turn, when the plane exploded
and flipped over on its back. He put on full emergency power which pulled the nose
down towards the ground and we went into the ground at 250 miles an hour at a 45
degree angle in a forest. I knew I was dead, so I just sat there and read the
instruments. My next thought was, "What's going on?" Then I said, "Oh, my God.
We have crashed, and I have lived through it."
I could taste blood and I could taste mud. Of course, I was in deep shock because
I was severely injured. I opened my eyes and looked around. I tried to get up and
I could not. I did not realize that both of my arms were broken in several places and
that I had two skull fractures, that my jaw was broken, [along with] seven ribs and
my right leg. In addition, I had a punctured left lung, a smashed left kidney and a
ruptured bladder. It was getting awfully hot. I tried to get up again and I could not.
I could see these little spots of light and I said, "What in the world is that?" All of
a sudden I realized this was grass burning about six inches in front of my face. Of
course, I was just cooking from the heat of the wreckage of the plane, where all of
this aviation fuel was spilled. We had spilled a couple of thousand gallons of
gasoline and it had caught on fire. It burned twenty acres of pine forest off.
This fellow named Logwood was lying about ten feet in front of me and he was
groaning. I tried to get up to go help him and I said, "Shut up Logwood. I cannot
help you, but somebody will be here pretty soon."
Anyway, when I saw these spots of light I thought, "Oh, that is fire. I better get out
of here!" I could not get up, but I would pull my legs up and I would push. I pushed
myself about ten feet away. Pretty soon I saw those spots of light again. I said,
"What in the world is that? Oh I remember; that is fire." So I pushed myself about
another ten feet, and then I could hear people coming. They were shouting and I
answered and they answered back and said, "Hey, somebody is still alive up there!"
All of a sudden, there was this tremendous explosion. Logwood quit groaning,
because he must have breathed in flames or something. Anyway, that twenty feet
that I had managed to push myself probably saved my life. Of course, I got a flash
burn out of it; it burned my whole face, both of my hands, my left leg and what have
you. The rescue team came on in and they carried four of us out that were still
alive. We did not count one little sailor named Barnett, because he was just cut a
little bit. It was one of the most miraculous things you have ever seen in your life.
Anyway, they got us out from the airstrip. And rather than bringing an ambulance
the six miles, they had flown a plane down there that they could not get the
stretchers in. They had to stand me up on my left foot to put me in the plane to fly
me to the hospital. They had to do the same thing, even with all those broken bones,
when I got to the hospital. They started working on one guy and he died--then on
another one, and he died, and on another one, and he died [too]. I was all they had
left and they had figured that I had the least chance of any of them. And I lived.
I spent a year and a half in the hospital recuperating.
I am in excellent physical condition except that my arms are bent out of shape pretty
badly and I have a lot of difficulty with some things. It is difficult for me to type now
with my left hand; I have to type with the sides of my fingers with my left hand. But
I can still do pretty well. [So] I retired from the navy.
While I was still a patient in the hospital, I started taking courses down at the
University of Florida. I would go down there and stay four days, and then on Fridays
I would come back and report in at the hospital and spend the weekend. I
continued, and got my master's degree at the University of Florida.
RJ: In 1954.
CJ: [In] what subject?
RJ: I got a Masters in Education. Now I had another stroke of luck: I still loved the
navy and lo and behold, my first job after retirement from the navy was teaching at
the Guantanamo Naval Base, in the dependent school there. So I took Arlen and
Pierce, and we moved down to Guantinamo. I spent a wonderful year teaching
school down there.
And all of a sudden, they were getting ready to move a General Electric plant down
from Lynn, Massachusetts, to Hendersonville, [North Carolina]. I came home for the
summer and I just casually went down and applied for a job at personnel. And they
hired me. So I was at General Electric for three years--long enough to realize that
industry was the last thing I wanted to be in. But I was a good personnel manager.
So, I got out of that. Arlen and I were up in cold country in Hendersonville, so I
said, "Let's go back to Florida."
So I came to Florida and started looking around Cape Canaveral [for work]. I saw
several jobs doing technical recruiting and that sort of thing, because I was real good
at that. But I said to Arlen, "You know something? I want to do what I want to do."
She said, "What is that?" And I said, "Teach. I trained for it and I am going to do
it. And I liked what I did at Guantanamo." So I went down and in five minutes'
time I had a job.
RJ: [I was] teaching in Eau Gallie, which is now a part of Melbourne, Florida. And we
had a wonderful time. Pierce did very well in school. He went to Melbourne High
School which is supposed to be the school, and he continued on with his education.
I taught quite a few years in Brevard County, [but] then the teacher walk-out came.
I was one of the top men in the teacher's organization, so they fired me. [It was]
purely because the teachers walked out.
It happened that a friend of mine was the Superintendent of Schools in Palm Beach
County, so I just called him. He gave me a job and we moved to Boca Raton,
[Florida, where we] lived very happily for twenty-four years.
CJ: When was the teacher walk-out?
RJ: Oh my goodness, what did you ask me that for? It was 1968. It was a very traumatic
thing, [and] it was one of the most unselfish things that you have ever seen. The
teachers were not asking for a thing for themselves; they were asking for better
schools and better equipment. And Governor Kirk (Claude Kirk, Jr.) really gave us
the business. It set education back a great deal in the state of Florida as far as I am
concerned, for what they did to us. And they knew what they were doing when they
did it. But I was very happy in Palm Beach County and I loved seventh grade
science. I had the best time; I thoroughly enjoyed my working life. Fortunately,
because of my retired status from the navy, I could afford to teach. Of course, Arlen
started her professional career as an extension home economist. She was highly
CJ: Did she start that when you all moved to Boca [Raton] or had she been doing that
RJ: Oh, she did that in Brevard County. Then she got transferred down to Palm Beach
County a year after I started teaching in Boca. Both of us are now retired and living
here in beautiful Lake Placid, which is very placid.
CJ: Where did Arlen and Pierce stay while you were in the hospital, and when you went
back on to active duty?
RJ: They lived there in Jacksonville Beach. Oh, I had a marvelous time in the hospital.
I learned an awful lot about medicine--particularly orthopedic surgery. I am a real
expert on that. They did a very rough type of carpentry, but the military has some
excellent doctors. They seem to always concentrate them in the hospitals. My
orthopedic surgeon, a big Jewish gentlemen, was one of the finest people I have ever
Then this other doctor treated me for my burns (my face was third degree burns).
He would allow nothing to touch my face and as a consequence did not shift any
tissue. My face became so stiff that nothing could move but my eyelids. But he kept
me soaked with mineral oil. Oh God, I hate the odor of mineral oil. But it was a
wonderful thing for me because it kept the air and bacteria away from me and the
tissue did not shift. As a consequence, my face is not scarred. Whereas, it would
have been horribly scarred if they had very foolishly put bandages on. Bandages on
burns are not a good idea in my estimation, at least this doctor convinced me. He
was very fierce in protecting me from any kind of bandage or anyone touching me.
He just had an awful battle with the dentist who was trying to wire my jaw back
together. He stood over the dentist to make sure that he did not touch my face.
But I had a wonderful time in the hospital. We pulled pranks on each other. [I
have] a funny little story about that. In the officer's ward, my room had double doors
leading out onto a lanai in a U-shaped enclosure. My doctor was the chief of
surgery--Captain James Brown. And it was so funny, because I recognized him the
instance I saw him; I thought he was his father. His father was Dr. John Brown of
Hendersonville, North Carolina, who delivered me as a baby. So as a consequence,
I was very powerful. I had a corpsman sitting by my bed twenty-four hours a day.
One day this retired officer came by. (They had a lot of retired, high-ranking officers
that would come there for treatment.) This fellow walked in and he said, "Hey
Jonesy! I am going over to the exchange and to the post office. Can I do anything
for you?" I said, "No--I don't know." And then I said, "Oh, wait a minute. [There
are] a couple of letters over there. How about mailing those letters for me and
getting me some stamps? There is some money up there." He said, "All right." So
he walked out and I looked around and the corpsman was sitting there shaking his
head. So I said, "What is the matter with you?" He said, "That is the first time in
my life I ever saw a lieutenant send an admiral on an errand." I said, "Oh, that is
right, he is an admiral isn't he?" [laughter] But everyone was most kind to me.
Of course I had a real bout with medical addiction to Demerol. But I astonished
everyone by gradually [reducing my dosage]. I stopped the drugs during the daytime,
and then at night. I announced one time to the ward doctor: "Oh, Dr. Driskell, I
am off Demerol now." He said, "Oh, who took you off?" I said, "I did." He said,
"Well, you cannot do that." I said, "You mean I am not supposed to?" And he said,
"No, you cannot just quit." I said, "I did. I have not had a shot in two weeks." He
said, "Well, boy, if you were not off before, you are now." Everybody in the hospital
was astonished that I was able to do it. So they came around and asked me if it was
true that I managed to do this. I said, "Sure, it is very easy." So I started training
people to quit smoking that way. It is a secret process. I teach people how to do it,
easily. Well, I have talked you to death.
CJ: Let me get a few names spelled. You said there was a German gentlemen, Betz?
RJ: Betz. I did not know the rest of his name. Old Mr. Betz--he was a nice old man.
CJ: And Mamie McCall?
RJ: Mamie McCall Hood.
CJ: And Uncle Cephas and Sicey?
RJ: Sicey and Cephas.
CJ: Where did that come from? Do you know?
RJ: I have no idea. I have never known anyone else named that. But I have never seen
any man as handsome as Uncle Ceph; he was absolutely beautiful.
CJ: He was gorgeous, yes.
RJ: [He was] a good looking man; [he had] black hair, brown eyes, and then he had nice
coffee colored [skin]. He was the most beautiful Cherokee Indian you ever saw.
CJ: What happened to that part of the family? Do we still know people from that part
of the family? Were they accepted?
RJ: Oh yes, there are still members of that family living in that area.
CJ: You said the last names of that part of the family is Staton?
RJ: No. McCall.
CJ: Your great-grandfather was Robert King Jones?
RJ: Captain Robert King Jones.
CJ: What was he a captain [of]; was that just honorific?
RJ: No, he was a real captain in the Army of the United States--the Union army.
CJ: What was your father's name?
RJ: My father's name was Franklin Pierce Jones.
CJ: And your grandfather's name was [what]?
RJ: [It] was James King Jones. Oh incidently, the Kings are a big part of my family too.
CJ: You must be related to everybody in Hendersonville.
RJ: I am.
CJ: Sergeant Ledbetter?
RJ: Ledbetter. He was a cousin.
CJ: And Lemuel Furman?
RJ: Lemuel Furman Hood.
CJ: And your sister's name was Marguerite?
CJ: Was that a family name?
RJ: No, [it was] just a name.
CJ: Boo Franklin--is that a shortening or something?
RJ: Boo Pace Franklin.
CJ: Was it a nickname?
RJ: Well honey, do not ask me; I do not know. (Actually, yes.)
CJ: What was the name of the hosiery mill?
CJ: You said that your father came from Upward?
RJ: There is a crossroads named Upward which is about three miles east of East Flat
CJ: The U.S.S. Langley.
RJ: Very well done.
CJ: You said that was the first aircraft carrier?
RJ: [It was] the first aircraft carrier in the navy.
CJ: And it was a plane tender? Is that what you called it?
RJ: A seaplane tender.
CJ: That means planes landed on it?
RJ: It was very obsolete as a carrier, so they just made a seaplane tender out of it. [It]
carried a lot of aviation fuel and we would go out and rig out booms and we could
refuel the seaplanes at sea.
CJ: Oh, OK. [Who was] Ramsey?
RJ: Logan Ramsey. Oh, he was a wonderful gentlemen.
CJ: And Kenneth Craig.
RJ: Kenneth Craig.
CJ: And is that the family that you met with over in Pearl Harbor at the reunion with his
RJ: Um hum. His daughter is the wife of the commander in chief of the Pacific fleet
CJ: Thank you very much.