Lieutenant Colonel Elmer C. Jones, U.S. Air Force Reserve (Retired) died on April 5, 2014 at Wesley Long Hospital after valiantly combating colon and liver cancers. He was 89.
He was born in the family's home place, 1115 Gregory Street (which still stands) on August 11, 1924, the son of Arthur Clinton Jones and Juanita Robbins Jones.
He grew up in the Glenwood section of Greensboro and graduated eleventh grade from Greensboro High School (now Grimsley) in 1941; no twelfth grade was required.
He then worked for the "Greensboro Daily News" where he was an office boy and assistant for the "Terror of the Daily News," Society Editor Ann White. To earn more money he left the newspaper to work at Burlington Mills, operating a primitive punch-card machine, the forerunner of today's computer.
After World War II began, he applied unsuccessfully for the Army's Aviation Cadet Program: he wanted no part of ground combat after seeing the movie "All Quiet on the Western Front" before the war.
He was drafted into the Army in 1943 and assigned quartermaster training. He again applied to be an Aviation Cadet and was accepted. As an Aviation Student he attended Eau Claire State Teachers College in Wisconsin. As an Aviation Cadet, he attended preflight school and navigation training at Ellington Field, Texas. He graduated as a navigator on July 1, 1944, and was appointed a second lieutenant in the Air Corps of the Army of the United States. At the time the Army controlled its own aviation assets in "United States Army Air Forces" (USAAF), which after the war would form the heart of a separate service, the United States Air Force.
Then-Lieutenant Jones trained as a radar specialist in Boca Raton, Florida, staying at the Boca Raton Club, a luxury hotel.
He was eventually assigned to the 39th Heavy Bomb Group in the 314th Bomb Wing in the 20th Air Force. There he joined a B-29 "Superfortress" bomber crew designated P-10 ("P" represented the 39th Bomb Group). The crew comprised five officers and six enlisted men.
He was the crew's radar observer, code named "Mickey" to prevent the Japanese from knowing about the B-29's radar system.
His aircraft had two names: "DOUBLE TROUBLE" and "CITY OF MAYWOOD," the aircraft commander's hometown in Illinois.
The crew flew 29 combat missions over Japan. Some were in formations. Many, however, were solo or "single ship" radar photographic reconnaissance missions, which were dangerous since the aircraft flew alone; had no fighter escorts; and had no Navy ship or submarine "lifeguards" along the flight path over the Pacific Ocean for rescue if the crew had to ditch or to parachute in the water.
His aircraft stopped at Iwo Jima twice after Iwo was secured. There he climbed to the top of Mount Suribachi, famous for two flag raisings there in February 1945. The crew had the distinction of flying the longest nonstop combat flight of World War II: 4,650 miles nonstop for approximately 23 hours. The aircraft had to be loaded with extra fuel since no in-flight refueling was possible. Since diaries were forbidden, he recorded the mission, along with all his others, on the blank pages in the New Testament he was given after joining the Army. The flight was front page news in the "Greensboro Daily News" and featured the iconic World War II photograph of him seen above. On the internet archives of "Air Force Magazine" can be found the story of the flight, written by his proud son for the April 2010 edition of the magazine. His performance during the longest mission was specifically commended with an award of one of two Distinguished Flying Crosses he earned during the war. When the mechanical camera failed, he used his hand camera and obtained pictures of superior quality. In late July 1945 , his crew flew a special mission to obtain radar pictures of bomb runs on Hiroshima and Kokura a week before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The crew's thirtieth mission was flying over the battleship U.S.S. Missouri along with other aircraft after the Japanese signed the surrender document aboard the ship on September 2, 1945. The irony of his war service was the number and length of flights over the Pacific Ocean: he could not swim.
An expert poker player, he played poker with other officers at his base on Guam and "cleaned them out." He earned $50.00 per month playing poker. Consistent with his unselfish nature, he sent his winnings to support his mother, younger brother, and grandmother.
In addition to his two Distinguished Flying Crosses, he earned an Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters; Asiatic-Pacific Theater Medal with three battle stars; two Presidential Unit Citations; and other awards. For surviving 29 missions over Japan he was a member of "The Loyal Order of Flak Dodgers." He served in the United States after being recalled to duty during the Korean War. He remained active in the Air Force Reserve until retirement in 1972 as a lieutenant colonel. He attended several reunions of the 39th Bomb Group and was the last surviving member of his B-29 crew. Soon after World War II he entered partnership with his uncle, John Robbins, who operated John Robbins Motor Company, a GMC truck dealership in Greensboro for many years. He bought the business after his uncle died and operated it until the mid-1980s.
In retirement he remained active in business. He worked in the company's building at 915 West Lee Street from 1950 until 2008.
He was in several organizations, including the Reserve Officers Association; 39th Bomb Group Association; The Air Force Navigators Observers Association; Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2087; American Legion Post No 53; Pope Air Force Base Officers Club; National Rifle Association; Guilford County Historical Society; the Military Officers Association of America; and the Black Cap Veterans Group.
He was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He was a proud Southerner and proud of his two great-grandfathers who fought in and survived the Civil War as Confederate soldiers. He was a member of Centenary United Methodist Church. In 1946 he joined Greensboro Lodge 76 of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons and became a Master Mason in 1947. He received a letter in 2006 acknowledging his 60 years of Masonic membership.
Although he only achieved the Second Class award in Boy Scouts, he was a first class person. He was a dedicated, conscientious husband; father, friend, and employer, always offering help to those in need and setting a great example for his son to follow. Regardless of economic conditions, he always ensured his employees received Christmas bonuses. He was also dedicated to his country, serving it with bravery, distinction, and competence during World War II and afterward.
Surviving are his wife, Aileen Mateer Jones, whom he married on June 28, 1947, and his only child, Colonel Charles A. Jones, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (Retired); brother, Ernest R. Jones; and several nieces and nephews. His oldest brother Roy Jones died in 2012.
The family will receive family and friends at Hanes Lineberry Funeral Home, 515 North Elm Street, from 7:00 to 9:00 on Friday April 11. The funeral service will be on Saturday April 12 at 11:00 am at the chapel at Hanes Lineberry followed by burial at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
The family deeply appreciates the compassionate care afforded by staff members at Wesley Long Hospital and Cancer Center during his
treatments and hospitalizations as well as the support of family and members of Masonic Lodge 76.
He was a great man. He will be missed.
On line condolences may be made to www.haneslineberryfuneralhomes.com.