PRESERVING A MILITARY LEGACY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
The following Reflections represents A2C Charles Jones’s legacy of his military service from 1955 to 1959. If you are a Veteran, consider preserving a record of your own military service, including your memories and photographs, on Togetherweserved.com (TWS), the leading archive of living military history. The following Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Military Service Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life. Start recording your own Military Memories HERE.
Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Air Force.
In July 1955, the day after my 17th birthday, a long-time friend, Mac Viars, and I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, and before the day was over, we were on a train headed for Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas.
Our original plan was to enlist in the Navy, but the Navy recruiter told us we couldn’t go until later. The Air Force recruiter said we could leave “today,” so that was decided. We needed a parent’s signature on an Air Force form when we enlisted. At that time, my mother was living in Baxter Springs, Kansas. So, Mac’s mother signed my mother’s name on my form.
After completing a physical exam, swearing in, and some paperwork, we boarded a train at Union Station in St. Louis wearing jeans, white T-shirts, “throw-away” shoes, and a few packs of cigarettes. We counted on getting all new clothes when we got there, and that did come true.
Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?
Basic training was quite an experience. During the first few days there, I was at a mandatory outdoor picnic celebrating (I think) the birthday of the Air Force. (In July, in the hottest place in Texas.) We were all wearing shorts, T-shirts, pith helmets and tennis shoes. I was sunburned so badly that I had hospital treatment the following day. I had very large blisters on all the skin that had been uncovered. I’ve been extra cautious about sun exposure ever since.
In October, after 11 weeks of basic training, I had a 10-day leave to visit my mother in Baxter Springs and friends in St. Louis before going to Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, for radar operator training. Mac and I had planned to meet in St. Louis during this time, but we misconnected and didn’t get together again until 48 years later, in 2003.
I attended Radar Operator school at Keesler AFB. Biloxi winter was not so great. No snow, but lots of cold, rainy days. Also problematic was the attitude of the Biloxi people. They disliked anybody in uniform, especially Yankees, Negroes, and Mexicans. The only people who were somewhat civil were the bartenders and tattoo artists. (No, I never got a tattoo.) I was glad to leave that town behind forever, and would never consider going there again. Radar school ended by Christmas, and I received orders to a radar squadron in Okinawa.
In January 1956, I arrived at Naha Air Base in Okinawa. I thought it looked like a pretty good place to be. Then, I learned that the trip was not over yet. My new station was really on Miyako-Jima, another island in the Ryuku Islands chain, about 150 miles southwest of Okinawa. Transportation to Miyako was by C-47s, which landed on a 3,000-foot dirt runway. There were only about 80 or 90 Air Force people on Miyako, making it a real informal duty.
After being on Miyako for a couple of months, a giant typhoon came through the area wrecking most of our antennas, but all of our people and buildings were okay. Many houses in the nearby village were blown away, and several people in the village of Herrara were killed. The typhoon continued to grow and moved across the East China Sea until it hit a town on the Chinese mainland. We heard that more than a hundred people were killed there.
During these years, the Ryuku Islands were still under occupation by the U.S. Army. So, the “governor” of each island was a U.S. Army officer, and the Miyako “Governor” was an Army major. The islands reverted to Japanese rule in 1972.
In March 1957, after 14 months on Miyako, I was on the troop ship General J. C. Breckenridge for 16 days, including a stopover in Yokohama and then landing in San Francisco. From there, I rode a train to Houston, Texas, and Ellington AFB, just south of Houston.
The duty at Ellington was more relaxed than Miyako. There were many radar operators and other guys there, but our equipment was tied up at some other base. We spent days going to Galveston Beach, playing softball, drinking lots of beer, and doing very little work. The year’s big news was when the Russians launched Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting satellite. It was kind of shocking.
After eight months of boredom, I saw a notice asking for volunteers to go to Alaska. I signed up. However, when my orders came through, they were for Korea, and I said I had already been to the Far East. The CO said that it couldn’t be changed and that I should pack my gear, get my shots, and get on my way to Korea.
Following a 10-day leave, I arrived at K-55, Osan Air Base, Korea, in February 1958, a cold, miserable place not far from Seoul. I thought it looked like a wretched place to be. Then, once again, the trip wasn’t over yet. My new station was K-53, an even more dismal place on an island called Paeng-Yong-Do, called White Cloud Island, because of the frequent fog cover. It’s a small island, five or six miles in diameter, right on the 38th parallel, 130 miles west of Inchon.
Travel to P-Y-Do was usually on C-119s or C-47s, which landed on the beach and was possible only at low tide. Supplies, such as gas, oil, and other heavy things, arrived on Army landing craft boats, LSTs,s or LCUs.
K-53 was only a couple of miles south of a North Korean island called Cho-Do, which contained a North Korean Army base. We watched them; they watched us. But nothing ever happened while I was there.
The worst things that did happen were several suicides by Koreans who worked on our compound. They overdosed on Malaria pills which were plentiful in our mess hall, and one a day was recommended for us. People who wanted to die took many of them, bringing convulsions and death. Another thing that happened frequently was the theft of gasoline and oil from our storage area. The extremely clever thieves were known as “slicky boys.”
In September, I was temporarily transferred to K-39 on Cheju-Do, a large island off the south tip of Korea. There has never been any combat or bombing there, so many trees and other growth make it attractive. In addition to its nice climate, it had many other good features such as nice quarters and good food. There were lots of wild pheasant there, and high-ranking officers and VIPs visited there on hunting trips from Japan. Nowadays, Cheju-Do is a major resort area. After a few months, I was transferred back to K-55, Osan Air Base, just south of Seoul.
In January 1959, I was sent home on emergency leave to help my mother. The Air Force had a policy that people returning from overseas with less than 180 days left on their enlistment would be discharged. At this time, I had about 120 days left, so I was sent to McConnell AFB, near Wichita, Kansas, to process out.
If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which made a lasting impact on you and, if life-changing, in what way?
This was the fifties, and there were no conflicts or major operations where I was stationed. However, we had one exciting night in Miyako.
One evening, while I was on scope duty, I received a radio call from a Marine Corps F3D (Douglas F3D Skynight), a two-engine jet fighter, asking for a position report, a common occurrence. There were two F3Ds flying together. After positively identifying them, I gave them their position just south of our radar station. One pilot replied that I must be mistaken, that he was close to Okinawa. I called the control officer to take over because we operators were not supposed to argue with pilots. Unfortunately for them, I was correct, and they were about 150 miles off course and didn’t have enough fuel to return to Okinawa. They decided they would land on our dirt runway, which was only about 3,000 feet long. It was okay for C-47s or other non-jet aircraft during daylight but too short for jets and not good for any aircraft at night because there were no lights on it.
The controller made quick arrangements to get our few vehicles to the runway, along with a bunch of guys holding kerosene lanterns. I went along as a lantern holder. So, the runway was lit for a short time with headlights and lanterns. I guess it was almost adequate. The first aircraft hit something just short of the runway, knocked the nose gear off, and then crash-landed, digging a deep furrow for about a thousand feet. The noise was deafening.
There were two men in the plane, the pilot and a radar operator. The radar man suffered a broken back, but the pilot was okay. The second plane made a good landing and then ran off the end into a field without serious damage to the plane or crew. We returned after sunrise the next day and found pieces of the first plane and lots of 20mm shells scattered along the crash path. Some marines from Okinawa came in a few days later to salvage what they could. Somehow, they flew the good plane out and then burned the wreckage of the other plane.
Did you encounter any situation during your military service when you believed there was a possibility you might not survive? If so, please describe what happened and what was the outcome.
I had no life-threatening experiences other than several typhoons while on Miyako-Jima.But our buildings were pretty safe, so I wasn’t too concerned.
Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of and why? Which was your least favorite?
My time in Cheju-Do, Korea, was too short. It was very nice in most ways, and I worked with a good crew.
My least favorite: is Keesler AFB because it’s near Biloxi.
From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect back on to this day.
Two overseas tours taught me about life, different cultures, and interesting people. I still think about some of them.
What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?
I did accomplish one worthwhile thing while at Ellington AFB. That was to take and pass the USAFI-GED tests to get a high school equivalency certificate. My scores were good, and the State of Missouri granted me a High School Equivalency certificate about a year later. Ten years later, it allowed me to enroll in the University of Missouri.
Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or other memorabilia, which one is the most meaningful to you and why?
Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?
John Mitchell, a close friend while at Ellington, helped me to get my finances under control. He was the best poker player I ever saw.
Another Ellington friend, George Head, taught me a lot about car repair, both engine and bodywork. I thought he was a mechanical genius.
A very good friend while I was on Miyako-Jima was Dean Seals. He often kept me out of trouble when my temper was going in the wrong direction, and he was the definition of a very sensible cool character.
List the names of old friends you served with, at which locations, and recount what you remember most about them. Indicate those you are already in touch with and those you would like to make contact with.
Although we were the same age, Mac Viars, a very good friend, was more mature than I was, and he helped me deal with the discipline and other rigors of basic training. We had worked together on a dairy farm near St. Louis for a couple of years. When we had time, Mac and I (and others) enjoyed reading Mickey Spillane detective novels. Really racy stuff in those days. Mac used to say that he would write one someday. In 2001, he published his first detective novel, “Quick Justice.” He had a second book planned but never got to finish it. We got together at his home in Florida several times beginning in 2003. Mac died in 2015 after years of health problems.
Can you recount a particular incident from your service, which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?
Once, on a C-119 flight from Osan Air Base to K-53, I had a slightly scary moment.
This was a 100-mile flight over water. So, we had to sit on parachutes and wear Mae West life jackets. One of the engines was not working very well, and the co-pilot came back to have everybody put on their parachute. He checked each one, and when he got to me, he saw that my chute had no D-ring. That is, nothing to pull if the chute was needed. He found a different chute for me, and I rode the rest of the way wondering. I had mixed emotions about jumping out of a plane. I was too scared to do it, but if forced to jump, I might have enjoyed it. Fortunately, we got to K-53 without further problems.
One day, I rode to Houston from Ellington with two guys who needed to get Texas driver’s licenses. I didn’t have a car, but I took the driving tests since I was there too. I passed, and the guy who owned the car didn’t. He got plenty of razzing later back in the barracks.
What profession did you follow after your military service, and what are you doing now? If you are currently serving, what is your present occupational specialty?
I returned to St. Louis and ended up at TWA at St. Louis Airport. Jet service had just begun, and I stayed at TWA for nine years.
In 1962 I met My future wife, Ruthann, at the St. Louis Airport, where she was a ticket agent for Braniff Airways. Soon after that, we set a wedding date of October 13th. About a week before the wedding, the Cuban missile crisis was developing. The Russians were building missile bases in Cuba. President Kennedy ordered a Cuban blockade and called up lots of reservists. I received a notice from the Air Force that I should report to the Joplin Airport “tomorrow, with my uniforms” for transport to some air base somewhere. I called the officer who had sent it, telling him that I was not near the Joplin airport, had been away from active duty for more than three years, and no longer had any uniforms. He told me that he would take me off the list, and he did. So, I didn’t go anywhere. I learned later that the guys who did go just sat around at some air bases for a few weeks and were sent back home.
In 1966 I enrolled as a part-time student at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Later, the “Cold War G.I. Bill” was enacted, which gave me the financial help I needed to continue as a student at UMSL. In 1973, I graduated from UMSL with a bachelor’s degree in physics.
I joined Belcan Corporation in St. Louis as a tech services manager in 1980. I spent a lot of time “on the road” in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, and I stayed at Belcan for the next 25 years.
In May 2004, I had a heart attack followed by emergency bypass surgery. (5 bypasses) I went back to work but decided I needed to retire so that I could keep up with cardiac rehab sessions. I retired in January 2005. Since then, I have been a GED Teacher for my local school district. My GED activity continued at various locations, including the County Jail. I’ve enjoyed teaching in this program for the past 17 years and plan to stay at it.
In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career? What do you miss most about your time in the service?
I think that the structured life of an enlisted person in the Air Force helps a guy to be responsible and self-sufficient in civilian society. Even after all these years, I’ve had men tell me that my “gig line” reveals that I’ve had military I’m not sure that I miss anything other than some great friends. It was an important job in my life that was a big step toward my future job as a civilian.
Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Air Force?
I would advise those who have recently joined the Air Force to take advantage of available educational opportunities and any on-the-job training. Foreign travel can offer them the chance to learn about other cultures, see interesting places, and learn another language.
In what ways has togetherweserved.com helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.
This list of questions caused me to think about many details from the past that I thought were long forgotten.