A Life of Service to Country and Community
Don Jones knows about service. Now 89 years old, he can look back on a long distinguished career and say, “I have been blessed.” Don started life on a farm in Panola County, Texas. His father died when he was one year old and his mother had to raise two girls and four boys by herself for a time before remarrying. Don went to Prairie View A&M to begin college, but WWII and the selective service came calling on him and he was “drafted” into the Navy in 1944.
All three of Don’s brothers served during WWII. Casey was a Medic, Albert an M.P. (Military Police) and Robert was in Field Artillery. He said Robert saw the most combat of the group. Don took his basic training in Bainbridge, MD then on to New London, CT for submarine training. He then shipped out of California for the Pacific and docked in Pearl Harbor. He said it was very difficult to get used to military traditions. He served on the USS Ronquil #396 which was later used in the movie, “Ice Station Zebra.” Don was the only black man out of 92 men serving on the sub. They would go out on patrols into “enemy waters” and knew they were close to the enemy when they had to endure depth charges. Sonar was now in use by naval combatants and Don said you had to be very quiet on the sub at times to avoid enemy detection. They would put on thick socks to wear and no one was allowed to talk or move much while an enemy ship was in their area. The Ronquil sunk more than 400 tons of enemy shipping.
Don’s job as a Steward onboard was to “take care of three officers.” Such chores as getting them the correct “uniform of the day,” bring them coffee and meals, tidy up their quarters and any other jobs they deemed necessary. Don’s quarters was a bunk or “sling near the forward torpedo tubes.” His Captain called him up one day and “proceeded to call him every vile name in the book” and made sure the rest of the crew heard all of this over the intercom. Don was rattled and “the tears began to flow.” The Captain then surprised him by saying “Don, are you a man?” To which Don answered “Yes sir!” “Then don’t let anyone on this ship talk to you like I just did!” Don then had a lot of respect for his Captain and his “attitude changed.” However, being in such tight quarters, tempers flared among the men and Don had his “fair share of fights” with the other sailors. He remembered that in one of these, he got hit so hard by one of the sailor’s that his “tongue even hurt the next day.”
Don heard about the end of the war while stationed in Pearl Harbor and was eventually discharged from the Navy at the University of Oklahoma campus in 1945. He hitched a ride to Dallas and took a bus to Longview where his brothers picked him up. He said his mother was “so happy that all four of her sons returned home safely.” He married Dorothy in 1947, and they had two girls and a boy. Both girls graduated from college and his son and grandson graduated from the Naval Academy. Don finished his degree in education from Bishop College then obtained a Master's from Texas Tech and spent over 50 years teaching Special Ed at various schools including Dunbar and Estacado in Lubbock. Don and his brother Robert went on the 2014 Honor Flight.
Respectfully submitted by
Larry A. Williams Veterans Liaison Co-Chair Texas South Plains Honor Flight