Essex World War II veteran served with JFK's elder brother in Navy

Alvin Jones served as machinist on 32 combat missions

  • Alvin Jones Jr. flew 32 combat missions as a mechanic on a B24 bomber.
Alvin Jones Jr. flew 32 combat missions as a mechanic on a B24… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
November 10, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Wherever Alvin T. Jones has lived throughout his adult life, he has reserved wall space for his Navy memorabilia. He displays his three Air Medals and his Distinguished Flying Cross, his honorable discharge, dated 1945, and a wedding photo of a young uniformed sailor and his bride.

Another photo shows Jones in the center of the 10-member crew of a B-24 bomber.

At 89, he recalls the name and assignment of each man posing in 1944 in front of that plane. Most notably, he recalls his pilot, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., the smiling young man holding a puppy in the picture.

"Kennedy was such a good pilot that we would have flown with him anywhere," he said.

Veterans Day offers the nation an opportunity to reflect on all those who have served and to take note of their stories. Mark Evans, historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command, said recording the recollections of veterans like Jones is critical.

"For so many reasons, we need these accounts, but most importantly because of what these veterans did," Evans said. "Almost everyone knew someone in the armed forces then. There were epic battles, where more men were lost in a few days than in the last 10 years of war across the world."

Jones, a resident of Essex, grew up in Waverly and briefly attended Clifton Park High School. He had tried to join the Navy when he was 17, hoping to learn a trade. Recruiters told him he was too young and too scrawny, but he succeeded in enlisting at 19, immediately after Pearl Harbor.

"I wanted to join anyway, and that attack really ticked me off," he said.

After boot camp in Norfolk, he was assigned to an ammunition ship, delivering supplies to naval ports in the North Atlantic, including Iceland and Labrador.

"We prowled the North Atlantic for months on a zigzag course," he said. "We were so loaded with ammo that they wouldn't let us sail with the convoys."

He later served on a flying boat squadron searching for German subs.

Eventually, he volunteered for the Navy's aviation program, took the requisite training and landed in a squadron of B-24s, called PB4Ys by the Navy. His pilot was Kennedy, the eldest brother of the family that would include a president and two senators. The two would fly together for 21/2 years.

"That was good duty with Kennedy," Jones said. "At first, it was just four of us, the pilot, co-pilot, radioman and me. I called him Joe and he called me Jonesie."

For several months, the crew ferried the planes, known as Liberators, from Norfolk to San Diego, where designers modified them to meet the Navy's needs.

"It really was one of the sturdiest planes," Jones said.

While training for combat flights in Providence, R.I., Kennedy would often take his crew to the family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass. Jones did not recall touch football games of legend or sailing on the Atlantic, but he remembered relaxing evenings by the water amid a lively, friendly family.

The crew expanded to 10 and transferred to England in the months before D-Day. Theirs would be bombardment duty, trying to minimize threats from enemy submarines and planes.

"Our forces could never have landed on D-Day without support from these planes," Evans said. "They were extremely important to defeating German U-boats. The crews put in long hours, often in freezing cold. The squadron suffered heavy casualties, with many planes shot down. But these crews continued to do their mission."

Jones was an aviation machinist's mate who inspected the plane before every flight. Kennedy usually borrowed a quarter from his mechanic, so he could call a girlfriend before takeoff. Their crew's navigator was probably the least experienced, but "Kennedy always straightened him out," Jones said

"Before every flight, I would check the plane and start the engines one at a time," he said. "Kennedy would come out to the field and say, 'Jonesie, are we ready to go?' But he already knew I had made sure we were."

From their base in Devonshire, England, they flew 32 combat missions and were frequently attacked by enemy planes. Their squadron took heavy casualties and lost more than half its planes.

"Missions flown by such men as Joe Kennedy Jr. and Alvin Jones played a key role in weakening German coastal batteries, airstrips and submarine bases along the coast of the Bay of Biscay and elsewhere," Edward Renehan, author and Kennedy historian, said in an email. "In so doing, they saved an incalculable but large number of American and British lives, both on sea and land."

The planes were rugged and could take punishment, but they rattled constantly, offered little protection from the elements and small comfort to those who flew in them, Evans said.

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