Piggott Veteran Served as a Witness to History

Thursday, November 10, 2016
Sam Jones holds an image of him as a young Marine.(TD photo/Tim Blair)

For nearly 30 years Samuel J. "Sam" Jones was a member of the United States Marine Corp., serving his country in both times of war and peace. During his time of service Jones, who has made his home in the Piggott area since retiring over 40 years ago, participated in historic campaigns and battles and bore witness to history in the making. Earning a variety of medals and commendations, he put together a service record which included action in several major battles in both World War II and Korea, and documented his part in the allied efforts in Vietnam. He was also a champion marksman, led military shooting teams and played a hand in working the bugs out of one of the most famous assault rifles in history.

Recently he sat down and recounted some of his experiences, and looked forward to a reunion held last month.

"Our numbers are dwindling, I'd say in four or five more years you won't be able to find a World War II veteran, they'll all be gone," Jones said of his former comrades in arms.

A native of Southeast Missouri, Jones grew up in the area west of Bernie. He began his service to his country on Jan. 1, 1944, when he joined the USMC at the age of 18 and one-half years.

"I went to St. Louis to Jefferson Barracks and told them I wanted to be in the Marines," he offers. "I didn't know they were only taking five Marines a day, but I put up a pretty good fuss and this big Sergeant came in and gave the man a nod--and I was a Marine." From there he was sent to MCRD, San Diego, for boot camp. "After boot camp I was assigned to the 28th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton, Calif. and, in August of 1944 my unit was relocated to Camp Tarwawa, Hawaii, for further training."

During this time Jones noted the training mainly consisted of beach landings, "we'd hit the beach and turn left, because there was a mountain there, we didn't know we were getting ready for Iowa Jima, and that was Mount Surabachi."

On Feb. 19, 1945, Jones was among the American forces who landed on Iwo Jima, and participated in the bloody battle for the island against the Japanese forces. "I hit the beach as a mortar man, in the mortar crew, but Surabachi was overlooking the beaches and I landed in the very left flank," he explained. "And, they were looking right down at us shooting-and a lot of young men died right there on that beach. "

Men from Jones' unit, the 28th Marines, were the ones who raised the American flag on top of Mt. Suribachi during the battle-the image of which was captured and later immortalized as the famous memorial in Washington D.C.

"After the flag went up the rifle companies had lost so many men they took all except a skeleton crew from the mortars and they put a rifle in my hands, so now I'm a rifleman," he added. "After I joined that rifle squad we started the attack the next day, and that's when I found out we were really in a war. There wasn't anybody between me and them, it was up close and personnel."

Jones noted the battle lasted 36 days and nights, and proved to be the last man-to-man battle in his opinion. "In Korea, Vietnam or even Iraq if one side is getting hammered too bad they can back up and re-group, but not on Iwo Jima. There's no such thing, you're face to face," he explained. "Whoever could shoot the fastest, and straightest, lived to talk about it. You think it wouldn't change you, but it does."

Enemy troop strength had been estimated at 5,000, but the Marines found some 23,000 of the enemy deeply entrenched in caves and bunkers. "We had about 6,800 Marines killed, and another 20,000 wounded," he surmised.

Following his service on Iwo Jima, the 28th Marines returned to Hawaii and trained for a possible attack on the Japanese homeland. "We were supposed to go to Okinawa, but there weren't enough of us left so they sent us back to Hawaii. The core unit I was in, of the 81 men in that platoon there were 19 of us left," he added. "It went on for 36 days and nights, you'd live through the day and wonder if you'd make it through the night. It was the bloodiest battle in the Marine Corps' history."

After the Japanese surrender, his unit moved to Kyushu, the southern-most island of Japan, as occupation forces.

After returning to the mainland, he was stationed at the Naval Base, Great Lakes, Ill., Naval Ordinance Plant in Detroit and at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. In early 1947 he was transferred overseas to the 5th Marine Regiment, stationed on the island of Guam. He returned to the U.S. In early 1948, and was discharged with the rank of Sergeant.

At this time Jones' life also took another turn, as he married Betty Sue Blackwell, a native of the Pollard area, on March 9, 1948, and the couple moved to Oklahoma City, Okla.

At litte over a year later Jones joined the Marine Corps Reserve, and served in Oklahoma City until the unit was activated and sent to Camp Pendleton where they were integrated into regular Marine units. It was during this time his first child, Sammy Jr. Jones, was born. Sammy would also follow in his father's footsteps, and is now a retired Marine as well.

"I was assigned to Weapons Company 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment and was immediately put on a ship headed toward Korea," he offered. "In Korea I served as a forward observer for an 81mm mortar platoon."

During this time he was attached to C Company, and directed mortar fire in their support against North Korean and Chinese forces. It was during this time that Jones found himself a part of another battle which would be documented in the annals of Marine history.

In what has become known as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Jones and his fellow troops found themselves surrounded by the Chinese 9th Army. From late November to mid-December of 1950, the 17-day long battle played-out in freezing weather as 30,000 UN troops held-off 120,000 Chinese, and made a fighting retreat--inflicting crippling losses on their enemies in the process.

"We had to fight our way out of the trap, and bring our dead and wounded with us," Jones remembered.

The battle proved to be a turning point in the war, as UN troops were pushed from North Korea, but it also provided a boost in morale to the United Nations forces as the "Chosin Few" had prevailed despite the odds. The effort prompted one general to remark, "we didn't retreat, we just changed direction of attack."

Jones was recognized for his service in Korea, and was awarded the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for injuries he sustained. The Bronze Star was awarded for "heroic achievement in connections with operations against the enemy while serving with a Marine rifle company in Korea on March 9, 1951. The commendation noted he "displayed great skill and courage in performance of his duties as an 81 mm mortar forward observer." It noted "while advancing with assult elements of the company, he was subject to intense small arms and machine gun fire from well-entrenched and heavily defended enemy positions atop Hill 396. Completely disregarding his own safety, he moved to an exposed position and coolly directed a heavy and accurate mortar barrage which destroyed several bunkers and drove the enemy into the open where they were cut down by the attacking infantrymen."

Jones was also promoted to Staff Sergeant at the end of his tour of duty in Korea.

Following service in Korea, Jones returned to the United States and was assigned to Marine Baracks, Naval Ammunition Depot, in McAlester, Okla. While there he served as NCOIC (Non-commissioned officer in charge) for one of the guard sections. In early 1952 he was promoted again, this time to Gunnery Sergeant. Afterward, he was reassigned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he served as Platoon Leader for an 81mm mortar platoon, a job normally assigned to a First Lieutenant. While stationed at Camp Lejeune he and his wife had their second and third children, daughters Barbara Sue Jones and Linda Kay Jones.

In 1954 he was assigned to serve as 1st Sergeant of N Company, 4th Battalion, 8th Marines. The following year he was transferred to the Landing Force Training Unit, NAB, Little Creek, Va. At this location he served with the Advanced Amphibous Warfare Section. By 1957 he was promoted to Warrant Officer, and served as an instructor until he was transferred overseas to Okinawa.

While based in Okinawa he served as Adjutant, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. It was during this time the unit sailed under war time security into the Persian Gulf for combat action in that area, if needed. The remainder of the tour he served as platoon leader of the Battalion's recoileess rifle platoon.

Returning to the United States in 1959, Jones was assigned as Executive Officer, Headquarters Company, Landing Force Training Unit, Coronado, Calif. During his time in this position Jones took-up competitive pistol shooting, which opened another chapter of his military career.

In 1960 he won the silver medal in the Western Division matches, and went on to compete in the National Matches as a member of the Marine Corp Rifle and Pistol Team. He further distinguished himself as a marksman in 1962, when he became only the 197th person to shoot a score over 2,600 in a National Rifle Association pistol tournament. In 1963 his work was rewarded, as he earned the Distinguished Pistol Markmanship medal.

Jones was selected for assignment to Hawaii in 1964, to serve as Officer in Charge of the Hawaiian Marine Rifle and Pistol Team, as a member of the G-3 Section, Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force Pacific. He also served as Executive Officer, Pacific Division Rifle and Pistol Matches, a job assigned to him by Marine Headquarters and usually assigned to a Major, or above. In early 1967 his team received training on the new M-16 rifle.

"I first went to Vietnam because of the M-16 rifle," he offers. "I was stationed in Hawaii with the rifle and pistol team and it was requsted that we go to Vietnam, so they bundled us up and brought us back to Barstow, and we were trained in completely detailing the M-16 rifle, take it apart and put it back together and shoot it."

Upon completion of the training, his team was set to Vietnam to train Marines already in country on the use and care of the new rifle. "And we went there and set up these four man teams so I could move around from one location to another, and stayed two or three months," Jones noted.

After returning to Hawaii from temporary duty, he was reassigned to Vietnam for a tour of duty.

During his service in Hawaii, Jones had taken his young family with him, but when he was ordered to Vietnam they moved to the Pollard area, where they stayed with Betty's mother, Ella Fletcher.

While in Vietnam, Jones was assigned as an administrative officer for the 1st Combined Action Group, headquartered at Chu Lai. At this post his knowledge of the M-16 rifle was once-again pressed into use, as he was relied upon to train Marines on the use of the new weapon. "Each time a jam, or any malfunction, was reported they would dispatch me to find out why," he explained.

Jones' background, and knowledge of infantry tactics, also prompted his commanders to name him as Combined Action Company acting commander on three different occasions.

On one occasion, the company he was commanding was operating in the Tam Key area as the Viet Cong began what would become known as the Tet Offensive--one of the largest attacks on U.S. Forces.

In July of 1968 he was ordered back to the United States, and was assigned duty as Adjutant, Weapons Training Battilion, Quantico, Va., an assignment which lasted three years.

His final overseas assignement came in 1971, as he was ordered to Iwokuni, Japan, where he served as Administrative Officer for H&S Squadron, Marine Air Control, Group 18. It was during this tour of duty that he took-up golfing as a hobby, something which would occupy much of his retirement years.

When he returned to the U.S. In 1972, Jones was assigned duty as Administrative Officer, Computer Science School, Quantico, Va. He remained in this job until his retirement.

Jones retired as a Cheif Warrant Officer W-4 (Marine Gunner) on May 31, 1974, having served 28 years, two months and 11 days on active duty. The designation Marine Gunner is a title of honor given to only selected Marines, bestowed upon them by the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

During his time of service to the country Jones received a number of awards and medals, including--Bronze Star with a Combat V, Purple Heart, Navy Commendation Medal with a Combat V, Navy Achievement Medal with a Combat V, Combat Action Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with four stars, Navy Unit Commendation Medal, Good Condut Medal with two stars, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with one star, World War II Victory Medal, Navy Occupation Medal, National Defense Medal, Korean Service Medal with five stars, Vietnam Service Medal with four stars, Korea Presidential Unit Citation, Gallantry Cross Unit Citation/Vietnam, United Nations Service Medal/Korea and the Vietnam Campaign Medal.

After leaving the service Jones and his family made a home on Crowley's Ridge between Piggott and Pollard on the five acres he had bought about five years before retiring. He also took advantage of the time to re-new his love of golf, as he became an active member, and club president, of the Sugar Creek Country Club. Originally from the Pollard area, his wife continued what would be a nearly 30 year career in nursing, and also spent time playing golf with her husband in their leisure time. She passed away in December, 2012 at the age of 82.

In recent years Jones was encouraged by his family to attend one of the many 5th Marine reunions, and thanks to his son and daughter he was able to do just that last month. Details of the trip may be found in part two of his story, to be featured in the Nov. 16 edition.

Veterans Day will be observed Friday, Nov. 11, with the traditional wreath ceremony on the courthouse lawn in Piggott, and an open house at the War Memorial Building. Both events are organized by the American Legion Post #38 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #4517 and VFW Auxiliary.

The wreath ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 11, at the Veterans Memorial located on the east side of the courthouse in Piggott. The ceremony is held to honor all veterans, and everyone is welcome to attend.

There will also be an open house at the War Memorial Building, located one block south of East Main Street on South Garfield Avenue, in Piggott. The open house will be going on from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, and all veterans, and their families, are encouraged to attend.

Coffee and donuts will be served beginning at 8 a.m., and from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. chili and barbecue will be served. Families of veterans attending are reminded to bring a dessert. The VFW Auxiliary is also holding a silent auction during the open house, and items are still being accepted. Those wanting to donate an item to the silent auction, or obtain more information about the event, may contact Pam Wayer at 870 544-2722.

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