Archive for Monday, May 12, 2008

Martin Jones: In his own words

Martin Jones during World War II

Martin Jones during World War II

May 12, 2008

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The following are excerpts from "Infantry Platoon Leader: My Experiences in World War II," a self-published book by Martin Jones.

Jones, now 85, is a native of Osage City who served in the Army. He was captured by Germans in the Battle of the Bulge and was a prisoner of war for more than four months.

On life as a prisoner of war: In late afternoon of December 19 when we were ordered to surrender, I thought about trying to escape, but I decided my obligation was to stay with my men. The next day I was glad I made this decision. We destroyed our weapons and stayed together until German soldiers came and ordered us to form a column of two, with the officers in the front. We began walking into Germany. We walked several hours before stopping for the night. I stayed in a partially destroyed barn.

The next day I searched along the line of POWs for some of my men. I found Sergeant Parchinsky and other men who thanked me for staying with them while the captain abandoned them. As we walked through Prum, Germany, guards kept us POWs from getting water from a pump in the town square. Townspeople watched as we trudged through town. We walked in the bitter cold until midnight when we reached Gerolstein and a railroad line. Early on December 21 our guards gave each POW a sack of crackers and a small can of cheese. Then we were packed into small German railroad boxcars to begin the journey to a POW camp.

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On being liberated: May 2, 1945, was a joyful day. Shortly before noon we approached Gars-am-Inn, a small town on the west bank of the Inn River thirty miles east of Munch. As we looked down on the town from high ground west of it, we saw red crosses painted on the roofs of some buildings. We saw the Inn River and a large metal bridge across it. As we watched from a distance of less than half a mile, retreating German troops blew up the center section of the bridge, dropping this section into the river. We felt almost as if our guards had led us to the best spot from which to see the action before us.

As we walked down a curving hill into Gars, we saw that the red crosses were painted on the roofs of buildings in a monastery or convent. We learned later the place was being used as a German military hospital. We continued walking to the town square, which was only a short distance from the Inn River and the impassable bridge.

We spent some time in the town square while our guards and the ranking American POW, a colonel, discussed what we should do. The guards wanted to walk several miles downstream where we could cross the Inn River single-file on a dam. They promised us a good, hot meal on the east side of the river that night. Our guards had promised us good, hot meals several times, but we had never gotten one. After a short discussion our colonel told our guards that we were staying in Gars and not walking any farther. The colonel told our guards quite bluntly that this town, with red crosses painted on the roofs of some buildings, was the safest place we had seen in months. The plainly visible red crosses gave us some assurance the town would not be bombed by either the German or the Allied Air Force. The village of Gars-am-Inn was probably the largest place we had seen since we left Nurmberg.

The colonel told us POWs to spread out all over town. He said if he gave an order to assemble, we should ignore it, because we were staying in Gars. Kessinger (Jones' friend) and I walked a short distance and knocked on the door of a home. When the housewife opened the door, we asked for food. She invited us in and led us to her kitchen. She provided warm water for us to use in washing, and she gave us some bread and jelly. What a joy that was to wash and eat bread and jelly! Kessinger and I returned to the town square in late afternoon and learned that our guards had disappeared. We surmised they had thrown their rifles away and started their homeward treks.

At dusk we heard the wonderful sound of American tanks coming down the hill into Gars. Tanks of General George Patton's 14th Armored Division moved into town without firing a shot, for which we were exceedingly thankful.

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Reflections on his service: My service in the Army in World War II, including my capture and imprisonment, was a never-to-be-forgotten experience, a "defining moment," but one I would not want to repeat. Nor would I want others to experience what I did. I was young, resilient, and morally strong. At the time I was captured, I was in good physical condition. I learned to be mentally tough. I learned that a human being can suffer inhumane treatment and become stronger because of the experience.

When people ask me how I could experience what I did and not be bitter, I cite my youth, my excellent family background, my faith, my youthful years in Osage City, my excellent education in Osage City and at the University of Kansas, my sound military training, the support I received from fellow soldiers and my desire to see what would happen in the next sixty years. The assistance we POWs gave one another was significant. The support I received almost daily from my buddy, Lynn Kessinger, was a tremendous help, as we encouraged one another to hold on and keep going. He was one tough soldier, and from him I learned to be tough. I was fortunate to have him as my friend and cohort."

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