Fueling the war effort
October 29, 2013
By Dan Aznoff
Squak Mountain man helped supply victory in the Pacific during World War II
Heroes come in many shapes and sizes. For Kathleen McNicol, her hero is a 92-year-old man who spends his days in the workshop attached to his home on Squak Mountain. That man is her father, World War II veteran Earle H. Jones.
The retired staff sergeant disagrees with his daughter’s personal bias. He described his role in helping to transport fuel from airfields in India as “playing a small part in the team effort” it took to win the war in the Pacific. Jones spent 20 months in the control towers at the air bases Shamshernager, Jorhat and in Santa Cruz near Bombay to coordinate the delivery of 100-octane fuel through the narrow passes in the Himalayas to Allied troops stationed in China.
It’s not that Jones did not want to be a hero. He was turned away twice when he tried to enlist before the start of the war. Ironically, he was finally drafted into the Army Air Corps a full year after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Born in the house on his family farm in Lost Springs, Kansas on April 4, 1921, Earle Jones grew up during The Great Depression and spent two “memorable years” working in Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps. He also rode the rails between his hometown in Kansas and Boise, ID until he eventually ended up in New York in 1940 selling pretzels for 10-cents on the boardwalk at the World Fair.
With a little encouragement from his daughter, Jones can still bark out the rhythmic words of the enticement he used to peddle the salted snacks.
“Here they are. Genuine Alpine pretzels. Tasty, tempting and delicious. Try them once and you’ll try them again. Three pretzels for just 10 cents. Yes I said 10 cents.”
It was during his stay in New York in the days leading up to the war that Jones tried to follow on the footsteps of his older brother, Don, who was a Marine assigned to Hickam Field near Pearl Harbor.
After two unsuccessful attempts to join the Army voluntarily, Jones moved to California to take a job with an airplane manufacturer. It was only after he had settled into his new career in December of 1942 that Jones received his notice from the draft board and was ordered to report to the Presidio in Monterey.
The young recruit was immediately shipped off to the Army Air Corps base in Florida but was shipped out after only three days of orientation and no real combat training to Sioux City in South Dakota to learn to become a radio operator as part of the Army Airways Communication System (AACS).
His technical training continued in Alabama. Jones finally received his infantry training and intense instruction on jungle survival at the Jefferson Barracks Military Post south of St. Louis.
“That’s where they taught us how to use a bayonet,” he said.
Jones received his orders for deployment in February, 1943. His military journey brought him back to where he started in Southern California aboard the USS Mt. Vernon. The former cruise ship had been commissioned as a troop carrier to transport 8,000 soldiers plus 2,000 sailors and Mariners across the Pacific.
Jones recorded details of the 33-day journey to Australia in his diary, but did not need his notes to remember that the weary soldiers were not allowed to leave the ship when it docked in Melbourne. Jones was finally able to sleep in a bed on solid ground when the ship arrived in Bombay and the soldiers were assigned to barracks at the British base known as Camp Whorley.
It was during his stay in the port city that Jones witnessed the first casualties of war. A small fire on an ammunition ship unloading supplies caused an explosion that ignited another ship filled with explosives. The blast could be felt as far away as the British base 24 miles inland.
“My buddies told me about the horrible conditions they found near the port. There were bloodied arms and legs scattered in the streets and in the back alleys,” Jones remembered. “Eventually, it got so ugly that soldiers were told to put two arms together with two legs and a body even if they did not match.”
The staff sergeant spent the balance of the war assigned to the control towers at various air bases in India. Jones and the other volunteers spent two months in the jungle on Burma preparing an AACS network to support the invasion of Japan, but the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki eliminated the need for the ground assault.
When the war ended, Jones was away from camp hunting jackals when his unit shipped out. When he returned to base, he flew to Dhaka in a refurbished C-54 cargo plane. An hour into their flight, Jones was called into the cockpit and asked to repair the radio and the compass.
“Everybody was so anxious to get home, nobody noticed that the plane did not have an operational radio or any navigation equipment before we took off,” he said with a forced smile. “There we were….flying over India without as much as a compass.”
The plane lumbered toward the coastline under heavy cloud cover until one of the captains spotted some railroad tracks that led right to the airfield. Jones still rates his adventure in the cockpit as his most vivid memory of the war.
Jones’ next adventure was aboard a riverboat on the Hooghly River. From Bombay, he sailed home on a Kaiser ship through the Suez Canal and spent Christmas Day in the Mediterranean. The 28-day trip home ended when his troop carrier sailed past the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
“The Army took me around the world,” said Jones. “I tried to start my military career in New York. And years later that is where they welcomed me home.”
Jones used his GI benefits to earn his degree in mechanical engineering from the Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State), and returned to work in the aircraft industry in California. In another twist of fate, he ended up back in Kansas working for Boeing before relocating to the Puget Sound area.
The former radio operator spent the majority of his time with the military side of Boeing, contributing to the design of the B-52, the B-47 and the AWACS. On the commercial side of Boeing, Jones added his engineering skills to the 727, the 747 and early versions of the popular 737 as well as concepts for rapid transit systems before he retired.
In addition to the degree he earned when he returned stateside, Jones also picked up a wife. He married the pretty girl named Johnette he met during the one semester he spent at McPherson College in Kansas. They were married for 54 years and had four children together — Beverly, Kathleen, Michael and Jonathon.
“There were many Americans who have been honored as heroes for what they did to keep our nation safe,” said Jones. “I was lucky enough to have served with some of the best.”
Dan Aznoff is now a freelance writer with a passion for capturing the stories of past generations. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.dajournalist.com/for-the-record.