Richard Jones says as a 20-year-old he was too busy to think about his possible demise while wading ashore in thigh-high water off the coast of France two, maybe three days after the bloody June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion against entrenched German Army defenders.

The beach he slowly approached was named Omaha by the Allies. He and his U.S. Army Air Force unit crossed the English Channel in a transport ship and were let out from a landing craft at a point he considered to be not as close to the beach has they could have been.

“The whole beach, I mean all of it, was like a huge city; trucks and tanks and equipment of every kind being offloaded, organized and moved out,” Jones said slowly, weakly and somewhat breathlessly last week at his assisted living apartment in Ellensburg. “And thousands of men, they just kept coming and coming in and landing and they were moving out, too. Forming up and moving off the beach.

“You see, we had to break out of the coast and fight our way inland.”

As he trudged higher up the slope of the beach to his unit’s staging area, the reality of the risks sank in. Not far away were the covered bodies of GIs arranged row upon row, being readied for burial.

Overhead there was the constant rumble of allied aircraft and explosions in the distance.

Occurring at the same time was what seemed like a continuous transporting of the wounded to the beach on stretchers, brought from inland combat zones and lined up for evacuation back to England.

And mixed in with this was the debris of war’s destruction yet to be removed: burned out and blasted vehicles, landing crafts and tanks and what looked like piles of soldiers’ loose equipment.

Jones said the violence of the D-Day landing was easily envisioned.

“We finally got our assigned trucks sometime later, maybe a few days. We were carrying troops and medical supplies forward, closer where the fighting was,” Jones said. “We were going up a dirt road they made with a bulldozer, and up a draw from the beach there were graves on both sides of the road, just lots and lots of graves.”

Jones, now 95 years-old 75 years after landing in Normandy, has recently fallen into very fragile health. He said last week he’s contemplated his leaving this world for a brighter existence with God.

“And that all has to do with Jesus. I’m in His hands. Well, now, I’m just wore out, you see, just wore out, but it’s OK, it’s really OK,” said Jones closing his eyes and putting his hand to his forehead as he lay on his bed.

But he said it was all right to ask him questions despite his declining health, and he wanted to try and answer the best he could on one condition: no glory.

He was asked what he thought about the 75th anniversary honors being bestowed on those who participated in the D-Day landings and those who lost their lives in Normandy, as well as all those who served in World War II whether they’ve passed on or are still living.

“Yes, it’s OK, recognizing those that died, but it (WWII) wasn’t the final end of evil in this world,” said Jones who’s lived in the Kittitas Valley since 1992.

He quietly said his own life has no special claim to be honored.

“I was drafted just like millions and millions of others in that war; we all had a job to do, we had to fight, it had to be done, the whole terrible business just had to be done,” Jones said. “It was awful, just an awful price in so many lives. To me, there’s no glory in this, none at all. Now don’t you glorify me (in a newspaper story). No, don’t you do it.”

It won’t kill you

Jones grew up in rural Idaho communities and graduated from high school in Cambridge, ID, leading his 40-plus-student class as valedictorian in ceremonies in June 1942. The United States had been at war on two fronts since Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese Imperial Navy aircraft attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Jones knew he would be called up sooner or later to serve. When not in school he worked for farm families in the area, as well as on his family’s farm.

“I had a good scholarship to study business in college; I was pretty good at math and accounting,” he said. “They (local draft board officials) told us boys around the time we were looking to graduate to not try to go to college because we’d all be drafted within a year anyway.

“Well, that’s what happened.”

His hometown family doctor, in readying him for service, said he heard a “funny sound” in Jones’ chest, likely from a childhood illness affecting his heart. The doctor said it would kill him, eventually.

“But the heart specialist in Boise, well, he listened, too; said it won’t kill you. And that was that.”

Training took Jones to Salt Lake City and Ogden, UT and later to Biloxi, MS. He was put into the Army Air Force’s Quartermaster Corps and assigned to the Army Medical Corps. He was to transport, organize, deliver and maintain supplies of medical equipment.

“They sent me to a truck driving and maintenance school in Virginia, and I had to learn how to tear down and put back together a truck with just some basic tools. I had to do it there in front of them to prove I could do it.”

With a bit of pride in his weak voice Jones said he earned a special driver’s certification, qualifying him to operate nearly any wheeled military vehicle. He also gained a marksman badge with the M1 semi-automatic carbine and sergeant’s stripes.

In November 1943 he and thousands of his fellow allied soldiers were shipped on the RMS Queen Mary from New Jersey to the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, then to the southeast coast of England. He was part of the big military buildup before the invasion of Hitler’s Fortress Europe and was attached to a P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber unit.

“It was no secret what we were getting ready for; everybody knew it, just didn’t know when,” Jones said.

Starting the early evening of June 5, 1944 and through that night and into the morning of June 6, Jones said there was a continuous stream of allied aircraft roaring overhead, heading for France.

“There were thousands of aircraft, I mean thousands,” Jones said. “I knew there were paratroopers up there, too.”

Once Jones and his unit drove off the beach, maybe a few days after D-Day, they never went back.

After allied forces broke out of the Normandy area Jones followed his unit through France to near Paris, then to Belgium and into Germany and the Rhineland.

Remembrance

Jones, during last week’s interview, at one point said he wanted to continue to share his experiences despite the slowing of his speech and his obvious expenditure of energy. Once he told the interviewer to not cut him off: he wanted to keep going with details and not jump over them.

Those details came in short spurts of remembrance:

n There were precious little fruits and vegetables while he was in England, but farmers could grow lots of brussel sprouts. “Brussel sprouts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And Spam and powdered eggs. Those powdered eggs came in 5-gallon cans and turned a pretty blue when they cooked them.”

n A shipload of fresh lemons from Spain made it to England through the blockade of German U-boats, “and it was like we were in heaven. Some ate them like apples.”

n Before the allies’ big breakout from Normandy, Jones said Army Gen. George Patton visited his P-47 unit and told personnel (while standing on a wing of a P-47) they were now formally attached to his 3rd Army. “He said those planes were to bomb the Germans ahead of his tanks to make the way more clear.”

The 3rd Army’s armored units were going to move fast, Patton said, according to Jones, and he wanted all support units, especially the crucial medical supplies, to keep up but stay five miles behind active combat areas.

Jones said Patton “looked right at me when he said that.”

n Jones witnessed allies accidentally shooting down a P-47 from his unit that was trying to intercept a German reconnaissance aircraft that came over their encampment each night at dusk. “I was one of the first that got to his wreck to pull him (the P-47 pilot) out. He wasn’t hurt bad but it really shook him up bad for quite a while. But he flew again.”

n Jones’ unit, at times, passed many yet-to-be-recovered bodies of enemy dead among blackened, twisted vehicles, and he saw close up smoldering pits in a recently liberated concentration camp where camp guards tried to quickly burn bodies that couldn’t be destroyed fast enough in the ovens.

n “There were many friends I know from my unit that didn’t come back. I didn’t have time to be sad right then, we had to stay linked up to the Third Army. But I know they’re buried over there.” He said he’d seen “awful things over there” that he couldn’t talk about.

n A rumor ran rampant at one point as Jones drove through France that the Germans were using poison gas; cumbersome gas masks were ordered to be worn continuously. After two or three days it was discovered that French cows, killed in the fighting, had decomposed and finally burst open. No poison gas. The masks came off.

n While billeted outside Paris, he met and fell in love with Francette Roux, the daughter of a couple active in the resistance against the Germans. They married and Jones later brought her to the United States, settling in Weiser, ID. She died in 1950 after the birth of their son, Randy Jones.

He later met and married Phyllis Marian Oltman in 1982 in Idaho. They moved to the Ellensburg area in 1992. She passed away in 2007.

Evil in men’s hearts

Jones, near the end of last week’s interview, said he doesn’t subscribe to the notion that his U.S. generation, who were immersed in World War II, should be considered “the greatest generation” as some historians, social commentators and writers have declared.

There are great people in every generation, he said, and serving in the military or a war doesn’t automatically ennoble someone.

“For my generation, it was our time, it was our place, it was our lives, you know, to stand up to evil and do what we had to do,” Jones said. “Every generation has something it has to stand up to, its problems, its struggles. Evil is still out there. The war in my lifetime didn’t end it. Every generation can to do something great against evil... I wish I had the final answer to this evil out there, I really do, and make the world a better place for everyone. If I knew the answer I wouldn’t be here.”

After what seemed like a long pause with his eyes closed, Jones quietly said only God can really change the evil that is in men and women’s hearts, change it to something good.

“That must be the answer,” he said.

He was asked how he wants to be remembered.

“Oh, well now, I really don’t need to be remembered. In my time I was called to do a job, like millions of others. That’s my life. I suppose, looking back, I really just tried to be a good man,” Jones said.

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