Don called me a week or so ago and asked if I would like to go with him when he presented George Jones his commission as a Kentucky Colonel. Our Louisville people had gotten it for him. I am a Kentucky Colonel in good standing and I felt I should be there. Then there was another consideration, Southwest Airlines was offering a $58 fare to Tucson, a real bargain I simply couldn't resist. We flew to Tucson on Saturday and returned the next day. We drove our rented car to the rest home at Green Valley, a town about 25 miles south of Tucson.
"The General", as he is
called by most everyone here, is in a nursing home. The afternoon was already
getting hot when we walked in the building and Don asked at the information desk
for "General Jones". We were directed to a nearby room where a
sign on the door reads "General Jones." He has been confined to this
room for two years or so. The walls of the small room are covered with
photographs, a display box with his medals, a blueprint for Petzelt's [E
Company's famous inventor] flat trajectory mortar, an enlargement of the famous
flag raising picture on Corregidor, a large card about three feet high signed by
many of the old 503rd paratroopers attending the September's Lexington reunion
and many other mementos of one kind or another. I looked closely at the red
white and blue DSC in his medal box. Not too many people have won the
Distinguished Service Cross.
We went into the
room where he was lying quite still on a recliner chair covered with a heavy
blanket although the room was quite warm. Kathleen, a handsome lively woman, sat
in a chair beside him. He looked at us but said nothing. Kathleen told him who
we were. We quickly learned he is unable to speak distinctly, in fact neither
Don nor I could understand a word he said. His wife, Kathleen, can understand
nearly everything he says but even she occasionally is stumped. When we spoke
with him, Kathleen "translated" [her word] his answers. His hearing
has deteriorated and we used a kind of microphone connected to his hearing aid
to speak with him. Between the mini mike and our inability to understand a word,
conversation was difficult. His speech seemed labored and it took time for him
to voice his thoughts. Kathleen said he would enjoy hearing about the old days
in the regiment. Don had the Kentucky Colonel plaque [the ostensible reason for
making our journey here] in a cardboard mailer and had placed it on the bed in
the crowded room to be presented at the right moment.
We took Kathleen up on her suggestion. Don started out with the twice-told tale of the Poeleau Laut drinking scandal where a group of officers had bribed a steward to get them liquor and beer. Jones got wind of the plot but not before some of the first class passengers were quite drunk when he confronted them in their cabins. Jones, the senior officer aboard, summarily restricted the lot to their quarters for the remainder of the voyage. While Don told his story, Jones, from time to time, would smile ever so slightly at some remark he made. Kathleen told us Jones has recorded some of his thoughts on several tapes, his "memoirs" as Kathleen refers to them. She is quite familiar with the content of the tapes and how Jones thinks about certain things. Don finished the tale of his adventure at sea and Jones made some unintelligible comments [at least I couldn't understand a word]. I have watched a brilliant British scientist named Hocking on television who also was afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease. The unintelligible sounds he made were understood perfectly by his translator. The noises George makes sound more like snarls, grunts and growls but certainly not conversation but she understands what he is saying. His mind is clear and sharp and she told us it seems to him he is speaking in the same way as he always had. After listening to George's comments, she tells us the reason for the rather harsh punishment meted out to the drinkers was that Jones believed there was a real danger they would be attacked by enemy warships; the ship was sailing alone having left its convoy some days before. It wouldn't do to have his officers drunk when faced with an emergency. We also learned the identity of the man who informed on the alcohol plotters; it was one of the chaplains, which should surprise no one.
I told my story of how I had wrecked a jeep in Brisbane and had to stand before him and face his anger. I was in my cups and ran the jeep off the road down a steep embankment. It had overturned and lost all the engine oil. I was required to pay for all damages or about half a month's pay but he took no other disciplinary action.
He countered with his own story [told us by Kathleen] of an accident he had while driving his government sedan in Brisbane; for punishment he grounded himself for a week or so.
recounted Harry Akune's remarkable story of his Corregidor jump. Harry, of
Japanese ancestry, was a Japanese linguist and a trained POW interrogator. He
landed without a helmet or webbing and feared for his life because he looked
"different" [in more ways than one] clad only in his fatigues sans
helmet and webbing. His boss, the regimental S2, Francis X. Donovan had
driven off at the Mindoro airfield in the jeep where Harry had left his gear
while he answered a call of nature. I reminded Jones not only was this the
second time the man had ever jumped but, most importantly, it was truly a
singular act of courage to even board the plane unarmed and without water or
food. Luckily his fellow jumpers got a carbine for him from one of the crewmen
on the C47 as they flew to Corregidor.
He is very very ill. The disease has
relentlessly disabled him. He is virtually unable to move a muscle. He spends
most of his time in bed but on the occasion of our visit he was dressed and
sitting in a reclining chair. His hand occasionally would drop involuntarily off
the recliner and Kathleen would reach for it and return it gently to his side.
He can chew his food and has not lost too much weight. While we were there he
had several chocolates from a box of Sees Candy Harry Akune had sent him. It is
fortunate, according to Kathleen, he has a sweet tooth; she is convinced this
craving keeps his weight up.
Kathleen said that
he has asked that he not be fed by artificial means if that time ever comes when
he is unable to chew and swallow on his own. The physicians have assured her
that starvation would not be painful. In fact, she was told, after several days
the patient experiences a kind of euphoria. The week before, his children, who
had not seen him for nearly two years, were shocked by the inroads the disease
had made. Their recent visit leads me to believe he indeed is gravely ill. The
week before he was in an intensive care unit suffering from pneumonia. All of
this activity has taken a severe toll on Kathleen.
It is rather sad
to see this once vital man lying there helpless, unable to move, unable to
breathe on his own. He is hooked to a breathing machine that fills and empties
his lungs through a hole in his throat. Each intake of breath makes a rasping
sound as the breathing apparatus does its work. He is cared for 24 hours a day
by the nursing home staff.
Kathleen told us
he has greatly enjoyed our visit. Mary, his 80 year old secretary and her
husband came in while we were there. Don presented the General with his Kentucky
Colonel commission that was handsomely framed and ready to go up somewhere on
the crowded walls, to hang there with the many other testaments to his full and
rewarding life. . I remembered to bring my wallet sized card certifying me a
Kentucky Colonel and showed it to him. He looked at it but I saw no
noticeable reaction. We all toasted the occasion with punch and cookies prepared
by the nursing home staff. George, was never averse to drinking something
stronger when he could and I remember often enough he was the last to leave the
officer's parties we occasionally had. Both
Mary and Kathleen agreed they hadn't seen George in such good spirits for some
time. George's sweet tooth was at work as he put away two of the
chocolate chip cookies and sipped the sweet punch through a straw.
We left George
while he had dinner and would return later to continue our talk.
Kathleen, lives only a few steps away across the road in a very lovely duplex.
She had drinks for Don and I after we ended our afternoon session.
Later we sat down to a potluck dinner served al fresco at a block party
organized by the people in her neighborhood. Her semi-detached house is filled
with furnishings that came from their much larger house in Tucson. The study was
filled with mementos of their past, pictures of the two of them, [a truly
handsome couple in the happier days], their children, grandchildren and former
spouses. Some of her grandchildren appear to be well into their 30's and I would
suspect there are great grandchildren as well, although she didn't mention any.
A bookshelf lined one of the study's walls. I looked through signed copies
of Devlin's <<opus magnus>> and "Fly" Flanagan's
Corregidor book. The comments written inside the covers, were, as you might
expect, laudatory of him, as well they should be.
The community in
Green Valley is called La Posada [the inn], a retirement community with various
types of living arrangements. The nursing home where George Jones is, is part of
it. There are apartments and detached houses with limited or no care at all and
various kinds of arrangements for meals, services etc. Leisure World in Laguna
Hills has similar arrangements. Unlike Leisure World., the occupants here have
no equity in their housing and at their death title remains with the housing
We returned to George's room but Kathleen's long hard day had exhausted her. She excused herself and left. Without her interpreting the General's remarks, the evening visit was very difficult for Don and me. We did the best we could. We told more stories talking into the little microphone connected to his hearing aid. George at times would reply at length but we couldn't make out a single word. I thought what a pity we were unable to understand what he was trying to say that could have told us so much.
spoke of many things. One of the stories concerned a directive that required
each company commander to read a letter on VD control to their troops while we
were at Negros. The directive obviously was meant for troops in the lowlands.
The 2nd Battalion was fighting in the mountains and not only were there no towns
there weren't any people other than the enemy intent on killing us, in the
inhospitable perpetually foggy rain forests. The nearest town was a three hour
walk most of it on a primitive trail down the side of a three thousand foot
mountain. The company commanders were required to certify they had assembled
their men and read the directive to them. I doubt that anyone in the 2nd
Battalion read anything of the sort. Why was it sent to us? Did he, the
regimental commander, expect his commanders in the mountains to read this absurd
memo? Who ordered this? I am sure he had the answers to all of these questions
but we would never know what they were.
He watched us carefully from his chair saying nothing, as we rose to go. I went to his side and gave his useless right hand a farewell squeeze. The orderly came in and turned on the TV. Our visit over, we moved out into a brightly lit hallway. We left him alone with his thoughts and walked out into the night.
air felt fresh and cool on my face after so long in the hot stuffy room.
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