One of the most qualified military men to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was a person raised and educated in North Dakota.
Gen. David Jones was in three wars, serving as a pilot instructor in World War II, a squadron pilot commander in the Korean Conflict and an operations planner and commander in Vietnam. Jones was also a director with the Strategic Air Command, a commander of the American military forces assigned to NATO and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, where “he managed a worldwide organization of men and women who employed the world’s most advanced defense systems.”
Jones was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by a Democrat president and was reappointed by a Republican president, and while serving in that position from 1978 to 1982, “he became known for his restructuring of military commands.”
David Charles Jones was born on July 9, 1921, in Aberdeen, S.D., to Maurice and Helen (Meade) Jones. In 1930, the Jones family moved to Minot, N.D., when Maurice was hired as a representative for Benson Quinn Commodities (BQC), an independent grain merchandising firm out of Minneapolis. His job was to represent BQC to grain elevators in northwestern North Dakota. Also relocating to Minot at the same time was Ernest “Jiggs” Sands, whose family had moved from Alberta, and he soon became one of David’s close friends.
Growing up during the Great Depression meant that David Jones needed to find ways to help the family financially, so he delivered newspapers, mowed lawns, shoveled snow and snared gophers. At the time, “the township paid a bounty of five cents” for each gopher he snared. Because he developed a strong work ethic, Jones later said, “Growing up in North Dakota was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
During a severe snowstorm, while Jones was in high school, Army Air Corps planes that were flying to Alaska had to make an emergency landing in Minot. When Jones found out about this, he went with some friends to observe the planes. The pilot of one of the planes allowed him to climb into the cockpit, and while Jones was sitting in the pilot’s seat, he believed that “destiny called.”
In 1939, Jones and Sands graduated from Minot High School and both enrolled in Minot Teachers College, now Minot State University. While there in 1940, they, along with 13 other college students, enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) at the Minot airport. CPTP was a flight training program, sponsored by the U.S. government, which was to increase the number of civilian pilots. It was the government’s belief that many of the young people receiving this training would later become military pilots.
After two years of college in Minot, Jones and Sands transferred to the University of North Dakota in 1941 so that they could experience ROTC training. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, Jones and Sands dropped out of college and, early in 1942, enlisted with the Army Air Corps and both men were sent to flight school for 10 months.
Following graduation, Sands was sent to England to serve in the 8th Air Force as a bombardier/navigator. While flying over Cologne, Germany, Sands’ plane was shot down, and he became a prisoner of war. After his liberation from prison, Sands served 10 years in the North Dakota Senate and, in 1980, was elected lieutenant governor of North Dakota.
Following graduation from flight school, Jones was commissioned as a second lieutenant and spent the next two years as a flight instructor at air bases in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. On Aug. 3, 1945, he finally got overseas when he was assigned to the 3rd Emergency Rescue Squadron in occupied Japan. Jones began as a unit pilot flying Catalina flying boats (seaplanes), and was later given command of the squadron. Jones remained in Japan until May of 1948 when he was assigned to be a unit instructor of the 2236th Air Force Reserve Training Center (AFRTC) at Godman Field in Hardin County, Ky.
At the time, there was a lot of excitement at Godman Field because, four months earlier, a P-51 pilot with the AFRTC crashed when he tried to chase a UFO that had been hovering over the field.
In 1949, Jones attended specialized professional military training courses in Florida, Mississippi, Kentucky and New Mexico. On Jan. 9, 1950, he was assigned to the 19th Bombardment Squadron at the March Air Force Base (AFB) in southwestern California. During the three years Jones was there, he rose to the rank of aircraft commander, then operations officer and, finally, commander of the squadron.
On June 25, the Korean War began when 75,000 soldiers from North Korea poured across the 38th parallel, the boundary that separated North and South Korea. When war broke out, the 19th was immediately summoned for action. They bombed North Korean invasion forces and then attacked the enemy’s storage tanks, marshaling yards and armor (tank units) in the vicinity of Seoul, the capital of South Korea.
“In the first two months of the war, the 19th flew more than 600 sorties supporting United Nations ground forces by bombing enemy troops, vehicles, and communications points such as the Han River bridges.” Jones personally flew over 300 hours on missions, and his squadron earned the nickname “Jones’ bridge busters.” In June 1953, Jones was promoted to lieutenant colonel and, for all practical purposes, fighting ceased the next month with the signing of an armistice between the warring factions.
Jones returned to March AFB and was named commander of the 33rd Bombardment Squadron. One of the things that stood out about Jones during his time as a bombing unit commander in Korea was his ability to draw up excellent plans and execute them. On Sept. 12, 1954, Jones was named operations planner at the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), located at the Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.
Gen. Curtis LeMay was the commander of SAC, which was responsible for the Cold War command and control of the U.S. military’s strategic nuclear strike forces. LeMay was so impressed with Jones’ strategy and ability that he selected him as his aide on Jan. 13, 1955.
In April 1957, Jones was promoted to colonel, and on July 14, he was named deputy commander of the SAC’s 93rd Bombardment Wing at Castle Air Force Base, south of Sacramento, Calif.
We will conclude the story of Gen. David Jones next week.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.