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Ashe County Veterans History Project: Ken Jones

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Ken Jones's Photos

Ken Jones's Story

Kenneth (Ken) Rex Jones, grew up in Ashe County with one older sister, four older brothers, and four younger brothers. His dad worked for Vannoy Flooring Plant and his mother was a housewife. He attended Beaver Creek High School and helped out in the summers with farm work. Ken’s uncle served in WWI, his father served in WWII, and one brother, Tommy, served in the Korean War. Ken began his military career in 1960 at the early age of seventeen, when he volunteered in the Regular Army by forging his mom and dad’s signatures on enlistment papers. After four months of initial training, Ken was sent home when his mother told on him for the fake signatures. As soon as he turned 18, Ken went back and stayed for twenty-three years. Ken says that he always wanted to be a soldier and that adapting to the military lifestyle was not hard.

Ken remembers Sgt. Redmond, a big black man, as the first hard-core individual he encountered in basic training. Years later, when Ken himself would become a senior drill sergeant, he would understand how Sgt. Redmond had to portray himself to his troops. In eight weeks you need to change an individual into a team player, you needed to know your people and how to motivate each one. Ultimately, if a soldier ended up in battle, he needed to know that you had to be mean to survive.

One life lesson Ken learned from his military service is to always be above board with questions, to be truthful and answer to the best of your ability. Don't beat around the bush.

During his time in the Army, Ken saw many parts of the world, spending time in South America, Japan and Europe, including eight years in Germany. While in Europe, Ken was part of a five-man team, and when serving as senior drill sergeant he was in charge of four platoons. Ken completed two tours of Vietnam, first in 1965-66 and then again in 1969. He spent time in Fort Jackson, SC, during 1977, becoming senior drill sergeant (at the age of 33) after graduating first in his class. In 1980 he led in position as 1st Sgt. while in Panama and by 1982 he was in Fort Campbell, KY. Ken finished his career as JROTC instructor in Olean, NY, at St. Bona Venture, a Catholic University in September 1983.

Ken shares some vivid memories of his involvement in heavy combat. When Charlie Company 7th Calvary Regiment became trapped in the Battle of Chu Pong Mountain, Ken's unit, Company 2nd of 5th Calvary, initiated a secret attack to rescue and them, surrounding and protecting them so they could get out. They encountered artillery so close that it was cutting their own trip flares. It was a rough six hours of hand-to-hand combat and listening to the whistle of missiles while ducked down in foxholes. When air support came at daylight, there was nothing left to do but gather up the dead and wounded, then leave. Despite the serious, life-threatening situations Ken encountered, there were times when ironically, humor, in the face of war, brought a moment of ease. Ken describes huge termite mounds, as tall as trees, and seeing an American soldier circling the mound in one direction with an enemy soldier circling in the opposite direction. Both had weapons drawn when they met in a sudden face-off. Suddenly, in the surprise meeting, both men dropped their weapons and threw up their hands before running away!

After returning from Vietnam, Ken doesn't recall much engagement with the public. He recalls feeling sort of like an “out-lander.” He never wanted to join a veteran’s organization. He just wanted to leave the memories behind. He says that veterans are reluctant to receive praise for their acts of heroism, not because of shame, but because it hurts. No one can relate to what war was like. “If you weren't there, you have no idea.” The United States military has kept us safe throughout our entire history. Without good military, we wouldn't have the freedoms we have today. One life lesson Ken learned from his military service is to always be above board with questions, to be truthful and answer to the best of your ability. Don't beat around the bush.