Joseph Gordon Donald Jones

Essex resident was a longtime volunteer aboard the SS John W. Brown

  • Joseph Gordon Jones
Joseph Gordon Jones
April 12, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Joseph Gordon Donald Jones, a retired Baltimore County police officer who served in the U.S. merchant marine and the Navy during World War II, died April 3 of a kidney infection at Franklin Square Medical Center.

The longtime Essex resident was 84.

The son of a plumber and a housekeeper, Mr. Jones, who was known as Gordon, was born the fourth of five children in Baltimore, and raised in Essex and the city.

He dropped out of city public schools after his father's death in 1941 to help support his family. He worked as an iceman delivering ice to homes and went to work in 1942 aboard the Curtis Bay Towing Co.'s tugboats.

Not long afterward, Mr. Jones lied about his age and joined the U.S. merchant marine, where he served aboard the freighter SS Herman Winter.

"It was winter 1944. I was on the deck crew of an old coal burner, the SS Herman Winter, built in Philadelphia in 1887. I was 17 years old. We left Baltimore March 5, headed for Boston and then Halifax to pick up a convoy to take us to Liverpool," Mr. Jones told Ernest F. Imhoff, a retired Baltimore Sun editor and reporter, whose book "Good Shipmates" chronicled the volunteer restoration of the Liberty ship John W. Brown, which had been built in Baltimore in 1942.

Mr. Jones said that two days later the ship encountered a strong southeaster with fog and squalls near Martha's Vineyard. He had started to doze off at 4 p.m., when there came a terrible grinding sound below him.

"It was a hell of a sound," he told Mr. Imhoff. "Rocks tore a big hole in the bottom of the ship. We had gone far off course and struck a ledge off Gay Head, the southwest point of the Vineyard off Massachusetts."

As the sea began pouring through breached plates, Mr. Jones ran topside to the main deck as the vessel began breaking up.

"The ship settled and was a-creaking and a-groaning as it was breaking up. Later became known as Wreck 22. We sent out distress calls," he recalled.

In the waning light, the officers and crew of the doomed vessel could see Gay Head Lighthouse with spectators standing on a high cliff looking at the ship. It took several hours before the successful rescue was completed.

"I heard it may have been a faulty compass. My discharge [papers] crossed out 'Baltimore' and they wrote 'at sea.' My pay as a merchant seaman stopped as the ship crashed. That didn't happen in the Navy," he told Mr. Imhoff.

After serving aboard the Liberty ship SS John Fiske, later that year he left the merchant marine and joined the Navy, where he served aboard the USS Arena Mercedes, a station ship that was anchored at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

"I was next to go to Okinawa and the invasion of Japan when they dropped the bombs. War over," he said in the interview.

After the war, he worked in manufacturing at the Albert F. Goetz Co. and Rheem Manufacturing Co., from the late 1940s to 1959, when he joined the Baltimore County Police Department.

During the 1960s, Mr. Jones earned his general educational development diploma and studied at Essex Community College and Michigan State University.

He began his police career in eastern Baltimore County and later became a corporal and then a sergeant. He was later promoted to desk sergeant in Edgemere, and a district sergeant in Dundalk and in Essex when the department opened a precinct there.

Mr. Jones' police work at times became personal, such as when one of his sons, Kenneth W. Jones, who now lives in Essex, was caught speeding.

"How many of you can say that you've decided to hook school, and while speeding away from school in your father's car you get caught by radar, run by your father?" said another son, Gordon E. Jones of Colora, in his father's eulogy.

Mr. Jones was working in community relations at the time of his retirement in 1983 from the Police Department.

When Project Liberty Ship brought the SS John W. Brown to Baltimore for restoration and eventual operation, Mr. Jones eagerly joined in the volunteer effort in 1993 with his wife, the former Virginia Malone, whom he had married in 1944.

Mr. Imhoff described Mr. Jones as being a "burly, friendly shipmate," who joined the Brown's deck department, where he became an expert at chipping paint with an 18-point powered needle gun.

In recent years, Mr. Jones, who had been in failing health, could no longer climb the accommodation ladder to the ship's deck, but still drove to the pier where he greeted and swapped news with his Liberty shipmates.

"Gordon Jones was a proud American who served his country in the wartime merchant marine and Navy," said Michael Schneider, who is chairman of Project Liberty Ship.

"In his retirement years, he continued to serve as a volunteer on the John W. Brown. He and his wife, Virginia, made quite a dynamic duo — Gordon working with the deck department maintaining the ship, and Virginia performing a variety of administrative tasks to keep that end of the organization going," Mr. Schneider said.

"Gordon will be remembered by his shipmates as a hard worker, a dedicated volunteer, and a man who went out of his way to help his shipmates," he said. "We were most fortunate to have had the benefits of his talents, interest, good nature and support."

Mr. Jones was also an accomplished leather worker and in his retirement years made wallets, pocketbooks, key holders and holsters for police officers. He worked for the Community College of Baltimore County's Dundalk campus, conducting leather-crafting classes for the veterans at Fort Howard Veterans Hospital.

He also enjoyed carpentry, doing home repairs, and bass fishing. He had been an avid Baltimore Colts and was later a Ravens fan.

Services were April 7.

In addition to his wife and two sons, Mr. Jones is survived by another son, Gary T. Jones of Bel Air; five grandsons; and two great-grandchildren.

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