On a 2005 WWII in the Pacific cruise I met many WWII veterans who shared their personal experiences in conversations, lectures, and veteran round table discussions. The trip began in Honolulu, Hawaii, made stops at Midway Island, Majuro, Guadalcanal, Rabaul, Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Nagasaki, and ended in China. This post is about one of the WWII veterans I met on that trip.
James Donald “Don” Jones was born in Eastland County, Texas, on November 14, 1923. He enlisted in the United States (US) Marine Corps days after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. By the end of WWII Don was a veteran of Tulagi (August 7- 9, 1942), Guadalcanal (August 7, 1942 – February 9, 1943), Tarawa (November 20-23, 1943), Saipan (June 15 – July 9, 1944), and Tinian (July 24 – August 1, 1944).
These are some of the stories Don shared on the trip.
Tulagi, Guadalcanal, and Savo Island, Solomon Islands
Background. On August 9, 1942, in the aftermath of the catastrophic defeat of the US Navy at the Battle of Savo Island, US transport ships carrying men, rations, ammunition, gasoline, and other supplies left for safer waters to protect US carriers. Supply lines to US troops on Guadalcanal were cut off for months as a result.
After first landing on the island of Tulagi, Don and the 2nd Marine Division were sent to Guadalcanal to defend a ridge perimeter around the airfield.
Don spoke of the hardships on Guadalcanal due to malaria, dysentery, tropical diseases, jungle rot, and malnutrition. The Marines nicknamed the island “Survival Island.” Before US supplies began arriving again, they were surviving on rice stolen from the Japanese and native island food sources such as heart of palm. Don said he never ate heart of palm again after that.
Don spent much of his time on Guadalcanal in a foxhole on Bloody Ridge (also known as Edson’s Ridge) overlooking the airfield (Henderson Field). The extreme heat and humidity resulted in leather boots rotting off the feet of some Marines. While in his foxhole Don made a promise to himself; if he lived through the war, one day he would return to Guadalcanal and smoke a cigar on Bloody Ridge.
Saipan, Mariana Islands
On June 15, 1944, Don landed with the 2nd Marine Division on “Green Beach” along the southwest coast of Saipan.
When moving up the west side of the island, while crawling on his stomach across a field, Don found a watermelon. He ate the entire thing while bullets flew overhead. His thought at the time was, “Nothing ever tasted so good.”
Continuing north Don saw the overwhelming aftermath of the largest Japanese Banzai charge (suicide attack) of WWII on July 7, 1944. He said there were thousands of dead Japanese soldiers. The flies there were so thick that a plane had to spray DDT over the area.
On the northern tip of Saipan at Marpi Point Don witnessed civilian men, women, and children commit suicide jumping off the cliffs.
Tinian, Mariana Islands
The island of Tinian is visible from Saipan. Don landed there in July 1944.
When Don landed on Tinian, he had three 2nd Marine Division replacements with him. He told them, “Don’t get out of the sugar cane. Cross the field in the cane.” Two of the replacements were killed by Japanese machine gun fire when they stepped out on a road. At a Marine reunion years later the third replacement told Don, “For days I only followed you. You knew what to do.”
Don was wounded on Tinian and evacuated to a battalion aid station. He said the flies were so bad there that he asked to return to the front lines.
By the time Don left Saipan and Tinian, he had seen civilians jump to their deaths on both the northern cliffs of Saipan and the southern cliffs of Tinian.
Back in the US
After three years in the Pacific Theater, Don was stationed in Washington, DC, standing guard outside the office of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations in WWII. Don was in Washington, DC, when the war ended.
Nancy, Don’s daughter, wrote, “James D. Jones was discharged in October 1945. On his way to the bus stop he nearly cried. He had only been a Marine. For the last four years it wasn’t easy, but everything you needed, they provided. He had a wife and baby waiting in Texas. What would he do now?” It was a shared sentiment felt by many who survived the war and were returning to the challenge of reentering civilian life.
A Last Tour in the Pacific
Don Jones went on a second WWII in the Pacific cruise in 2008 with his son-in-law, Joe. Nancy wrote, “For my dad it is more a matter of saying goodbye this time to memories he has lived with for 60 years. Last time it was an emotional reliving of his war experiences.”
James Donald “Don” Jones died in 2008 and is buried in his hometown of Eastland, Texas. He was a proud Marine his entire life.
Semper Fi, Marine.
“Midway Atoll: WWII and Present Day,” a story about the first stop on a 2005 WWII in the Pacific cruise, was posted on this website in November 2015. Story link is https://www.ww2history.org/war-in-the-pacific/midway-atoll-wwii-and-present-day/ .