Leaving his mark of the country’s military history was never something Temple resident Bill Jones thought he would do when he left Temple and joined the military.
Jones, who was born in December of 1920, spent 30 years in the Army flying a variety of aircraft in three wars. He fought in World War II, the Korean war, the Vietnam war and eventually left right before Operation Desert Storm.
Jones originally planned on working with artillery, joining Texas A&M University to get his commission with a focus on operating field artillery.
After having graduated, Jones realized that he didn’t want to do artillery as much as he originally thought and later asked to be transferred to the Army’s military aviation program. At the time he joined, Jones was one of 150 who were a part of the program.
Jones said the Army formed these air units to support troops on the ground.
Using his experience from college, Jones helped direct allied artillery on the Pacific front of World War II with landings in New Guinea.
Jones left the Army for a time, only to be called back in 1953 to fight in the Korean War. He said it was at this point that he decided to just stay in the Army and put in his 30 years of service.
It was during his time in Korea that Jones said he started doing some of what he thought was the most meaningful work during his service.
Jones was picked to be a part of the military’s first provisional helicopter company, with the focus on using the aircraft to be used as ambulances and rescue injured soldiers. Jones served as the company’s commander for only part of the unit’s operation before it was ended.
“The Air Force, the Navy and the Marines didn’t have a helicopter company so we had nothing to go by,” Jones said. “So the Army just cobbled together six different platoons of six helicopters each as a provisional company to support the corps. During the four years it was in provisional operation, I was only a commander for 14 of those months.”
This switch to saving lives was a refreshing change of pace, Jones said.
Later, Jones was brought to the Pentagon so he could help form guidelines for how future helicopter companies operated. This was despite the fact that, prior to joining the helicopter company, Jones mainly flew fixed-wing aircraft.
“Everything had to be visualized, conceptualized, and put onto paper and into documents,” Jones said. “Then we had to convince our own boss in the Pentagon, but we had to convince the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines. The Navy and Marines supported us, but the Air Force (still thought) ‘If it flies, it is us and if it walks, it is you.’”
This competition between the Army and the Air Force, Jones said, was almost the end of the Army’s aviation side. In the end, Jones said, it was his desk mate who ended up convincing Defense Secretary Robert McNamara not to go forward with this decision.
After working to form the concept for how helicopter companies would be used in the future, Jones stayed on at the Pentagon, eventually becoming an accident investigator with the Inspector General’s office.
Jones said that his main job was to investigate the cause of fatal accidents, which there were roughly 30 to 50 of annually at the time. While there were a total of around 250 crashes annually, Jones was only able to investigate those that were fatal.
These roles in the Pentagon took Jones through the war in Vietnam and up until Operation Desert Storm, which finally prompted him to leave due to the toll that a fourth major conflict would have brought on him.
After his service in the Army, for which he retired as a lieutenant colonel, Jones returned to Temple.
In his time flying for the Army, Jones had accumulated more than 20,000 flying hours in fixed-wing aircraft and 1,400 hours in helicopters.
Jones said he saw major changes in the community from the time he was growing up to the time he returned. One of these major changes was Fort Hood, where Jones had worked in helping mark the firing ranges for the artillery.
Jones, who will be turning 99 in December, said his advice for those going into the military would be to listen well in their classes. This was a lesson that he had not heeded in the beginning of his career but found out how necessary it was later on.