Soldier remembers D-Day with pride

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 5, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / June 5, 1999

LAPLACE – For William Benton “Bill” Jones of LaPlace, Sunday is a day of memories and quiet pride. It’s the 55th anniversary of D-Day, and he wasthere.

Jones, 83, who said he’s the most-decorated Louisiana veteran of the Second World War, flew over Utah Beach in a glider during the massive invasion of Normandy which turned the tide on Hitler’s Nazi Germany on June 6, 1944.

He remembers seeing off Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower the evening before the amphibious assault.

The Denham Springs native was one of a group of seven Jones family members who joined the war effort, including his brother, Henry Clay Jones, and cousins Carey, Lloyd, Collins, Pender, Murry, Lee and Elizabeth Jones – a family contribution to the war effort dwarfing the fictional family in “Saving Private Ryan.”Their grandfather, Leonadis Jones, was a World War One veteran and two uncles, Wallace and Dr. Clinton Jones, were Spanish-American Warveterans.

That Jones’ fighting spirit and fierce patriotism was also boosted by William Benton Jones, his father, a captain at Angola Penitentiary.

Jones, a retired sales manager of Armour Meats, said D-Day began for him at 2 a.m., skimming over the hedgerows of Normandy in a massive, British-built Horsa glider, large enough to carry troops, artillery and a jeep.

That morning, the troops left the southern coast of England at 1:30, headed for France.

“The troops were supposed to have smudge pots out to guide us in, but there was so much smoke, we couldn’t see them,” he recalled.

Instead, anti-aircraft fire was so fierce from the responding Nazi troops “you could walk on it.”His glider banked left and crash-landed into a hedgerow. The impact killedthe six other men on board.

Glider pilots originally were only supposed to make two invasions before being rotated to other duty. However, fatalities were so high and the needso great he made four invasions, including southern France, Weissel and Bastogne.

After the March 1945 Weissel invasion, which broke the back of Nazi resistance, he was captured by the enemy and spent nearly a year in a German hospital before being exchanged and released to home forces.

During that time he was listed as missing in action and feared dead.

Instead, he was recovering from a broken arm and broken leg, which scars he carries to this day.

Along the way he piled up a Bronze Star, Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with three clusters and four Presidential Citations, part of his total 18 decorations.

Once back home, he took his native discipline and talkativeness into a sales career, coming to LaPlace more than 20 years ago. He also rose inthe ranks of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (senior vice commander) and the American Legion (post commander).

He also inspired the “Save-A-Cop” drive in the 1970s, along with then- Sheriff Lloyd B. Johnson, which raised funds to buy 74 bulletproof vests in60 days, enough for all the deputies in his department.

Told of Stephanie Wilkins’ “Kids For Kops” program with a similar goal, Jones smiled and said, “I’d love to meet her.”Nowadays, Jones looks at today’s military lack of readiness and the public’s lack of concern and respect for the military and says it distresses him.

“We were highly-disciplined and highly-trained,” Jones said. “It makes mesick. We couldn’t fight a real war today.”He’s since visited the beaches of Normandy and seen the acres of white crosses marking the graves of thousands of his fellow men. “It was anamazing thing to me, the guts that they displayed in that war.”

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