• Cat T. Gardiner

Going Home


Hi-di-ho, my friends! Well, settle in because I have a story for you. There are stories and then there are stories that must be shared. Today, February 9, is an important day for a Gold Star family from Lake City, South Carolina, but, I think, for many years the significance faded for four reasons: It was too painful for a young soldier's parents to discuss; the passage of time; the death of those who knew the story, and lastly the loss of the mementos explaining why that date should remain at the forefront of their family's ancestral history. The story was unknown--until last summer. The family had only known they had an uncle who was killed by a land mine in the war.

Some of you, dear readers, may recall one of my first posts on The 1940s Experience about my purchase of a 9 page love letter on Etsy and how I sought out the daughter of the couple in that letter. It was my first foray in what would become yet another hat as: "Heirloom Detective." And the experience ended somewhat as I hoped it would (the letter returned to the family. Sadly, I was later surprised to see the remaining love letters still listed on Etsy ??? Odd, to say the least. Was the daughter not interested in them?) Later I went on to do a podcast series (Episodes 11-13) about the couple in that letter, but the experience never prepared me for a new discovery--a new G.I--in August 2018 when I stumbled upon a pile of rubberbanded letters in a box of various ephemera at the back of one of my favorite antique marts in Ocala, Florida. Four dollars was the measly asking price for 5 letters (of immense historical context) addressed to one man--a desperate man--a grieving man--a committed man in his tireless effort to learn the TRUE circumstances (not the official narrative) surrounding his eldest son's Killed in Action death on February 9, 1945 on the border of Luxembourg and Germany. The father, a former WWI naval officer never gave up. This was the Jones family's 1940s Experience and I'm honored to share it with you.

So lets fast forward 74 years and there I was, traveling with my husband for a couple of days on business when I popped into the antique joint and discovered several items with the same surname on it. I purchased only a couple of things, including the letters (because, you know, I'm a WWII-era girl and I love to give honor to the G.I.s.) When I got back to the hotel, I really dug in and was absolutely blown away by the content of these letters and, again, thought "WHY WOULD ANY FAMILY PART WITH THESE?" But I recalled my first experience with the romance letter and considered that maybe the Jones family--the relatives/descendants of "Francis Marion Jones" the young soldier--didn't KNOW about these War Department letters.

And, again, just as with the love letter, I considered that although I purchased this correspondence in Florida, they were not my letters. Thus began my internet search to find the rightful owners so I could return the letters to their provenance in South Carolina or wherever the search would lead. It did not take long before I stumbled upon a poetry book on Amazon written by a familiar name within the items I had purchased. The poet happened to be Francis's late mother, and the publisher of the book I later learned was his niece, Beverly! Wow! Promptly, I sent her an email through Etsy where she had a shop and, of course, I included a photograph of my finding. And I was right ... she didn't know about these letters, and in yet another very unfortunate and sad case of "unbeknownst to me, a family member sold everything in an estate sale" my new friend, a fabulous lady was crushed ... and over the moon happy. Turns out, she is the family historian and unaware that the "Jones" items I had purchased even existed. Jeepers, it felt good to deliver back to her these family mementos and to subsequently put Beverly in touch with the antique dealer! The letters and the other items are now were they belong: home with Beverly and her family and--although Francis never made it home--his story, his brave legacy did.

These letters and the confusing, contradicting accounts in four of them describing the battlefront circumstance of Francis's death attest to the love of a father for his dear son to know the absolute truth. Letter #5 (transcribed below) can now fill in the missing pieces of a family's legacy, finally setting the record straight (after five letters and seven decades) on how and where the young soldier was killed. This discovery brings to the forefront the honoring of a loved-one's sacrifice made for a grateful nation.

And that is why this story--and all the others--and the purpose of this website, and why I teach 1940s through living history and my novels are important: Honoring the men and women of The Greatest Generation. Who is left to tell their story when they're gone, when their family heirlooms are scattered, tossed, or disregarded - forgotten in time?

With Beverly's permission and assistance, I would like to share with you the story of a young Staff Sergeant on this very significant day, the day he was called home during his service to a nation he loved. The day he--and his family--gave all.

Named after South Carolinian Revolutionary War commander, Francis Marion Jones, a Chemistry major at Clemson University was called up by Uncle Sam on August 12, 1943, just two days before his 20th birthday. Was that a bad omen? Clemson, a university that would go on to have the one of the highest alumni casualties of WWII: 376. As luck would not have it he was also sent to the Army to serve with the 417th Regiment in the 76th Infantry Division. Their motto "Always First" would sadly come with a high casualty rate, too, especially on one mission: his last.

That sweet-faced fella was described by his brother Donald (Beverly's dad) as a kind and gentle soul, but oh, I see something else in the first picture below: he was jokester and had a happy demeanor. There's a definite twinkle in his eyes. And had I lived in his timeline, met him on the street or attended classes with him, I would have thought him an absolute dreamboat. Is it possible to crush on a photograph?

In the only remaining letter penned by him to Donald (found among Donald's possessions after his passing and shown below) he wrote from boot camp of the trials of military training, the pre-dawn to post-dusk days and that his brother should prepare himself for when he's called up but oh ... how he loved his M1 rifle and excelled as an Expert Sharpshooter! (My husband's favorite vintage rifle, I might add.) But there was more in that letter written between the lines: his easy-going attitude, all in stride, and in closing leaves a playful joke to Donald "Tell all the girls hello from me." - The closing is one I don't think we'd see much today between two young brothers: "Your loving brother, Francis".

*click images to expand

I want to know more about Francis. I want to know if he had a sweetheart? What his dreams were? Did he speak French? (His mother's native tongue.) Did he like sports - or books? Why an interest in Chemistry? Sadly, we'll never know. His niece and her children would like to know, too, but all they now have are a total of 6 letters and Clemson University's honorarium in their "Clemson Corps." Perhaps, now the family can request a replacement Purple Heart and service medals from the National Personnel Records Center.

"From all accounts, he was such a kind and loving young man. I envision the sweet woman he would have married, the cousins I would have. I have two sons myself and I cannot begin to imagine the heartbreak my grandmother suffered at the loss of her older son. Reading of his death in that letter just brought me to tears." ~ Niece, Beverly Jones

Perhaps in the witness account of Letter #5 sent by the best friend who was present to attest to the details of Francis's passing, his parents found peace in that their son, blood of their blood, was spared a physically violent, bloody death in battle and that the gentle, kind young man was very well liked within his squad and would never be forgotten by his buddy.

October 7, 1946

Dear Mr. Jones,

First, I guess I owe you an apoligy! [sic] I wrote a letter to you August 5, and I was under the impression that it was mailed to you at that date. After receiving your second letter, I looked about, and found the letter tucked away under some other papers. In reality it was never mailed to you. I'm very sorry.

I'll do my very best in trying to answer you question as fully as possible. This the first letter of this kind I have ever written and I don't quite know how to start.

First of all I shall say I shall never forget Francis. He was one of my best friends and was also very well liked by the other members of our squad. I shall start from the beginning and tell you the whole story as I remember it.

We started out from the village of Echternach to make a forced river crossing into Germany. No doubt Coffee has located Echternach for you. We went across in assault boats, 12 men to each boat. I did not go across in the same boat Francis did but joined him again on German soil. Out of the 12 of us from the boat I was in, already there were only 6 of us left to be accounted for. The Company had a prearranged rendezvous spot, but we were all under such heavy fire that we couldn't possibly carry on as planned. After waiting quite some time the Company Commander sent order for the remainder of the Company to try to proceed on and try to take the objective. We started out and somehow our squad got lost from the rest of the Company. Going on our own with a 2nd Lieutenant in charge we proceeded through an apple orchard on the side of a hill to a small gully where there was a small creek. We followed along the banks of this creek, I would guess around 500 feet. I was next to the last man in the column and I was acting assistant squad leader for the 3rd Squad. All to [sic] suddenly came explosions and shouts for the first aid man who was at that time laying [sic] on the ground just along side of me. I told him he was needed up front and wished him the usual good luck. Just after he left he stepped on another mine and was killed instantly. Francis was hit by the first mine and after the second explosion, those of us who were left managed to carry all the wounded into a nearby building. We did everything possible for Francis but it was to [sic] late. To my knowledge he never regained consciousness. I am not absolutely positive but my own opinion is he was killed by concussion, because every round in his cartridge belt was discharged and there wasn't a mark on him that I saw. I am quite certain that a "Bouncing Betty" is the kind of a mine that Francis was killed by, because when daylight came the next day we could see other such mines laying on the ground unexploded. These mines are known to jump up in the air before exploding, that is why I say Francis must have been killed by concussion. All the rest that were killed or wounded were scarred in some manner. Well, Mr. Jones, I guess that's the story. If you have some particular question you would like to ask me, please don't hesitate to do so. Maybe I have skipped one or two of the most important details you were wondering about.Thank you for the invitation. I only hope I do get to see you some day. I feel certain that by talking directly to you I can make my views much clearer.

Hoping to hear from you soon,

I am, Very truly yours,

Stanley G. Domkoski

[for more information on the 417th/76th visit THIS website and THIS article for other accounts of that night crossing the Sauer River.]

IMHO Francis's story didn't end on February 9, 1945. Ripples of his life continued, no doubt shaping the man that his brother Donald became as he carried on his brother's memory. One of those ripples traveled 74 years into the future in the meeting of two people: Me and Beverly. I do hope we meet in person for not only do we share her uncle but we are so very alike as writers, family historians, heirloom detectives, and patriotic women. Thank you Beverly and thank you Staff Sergeant Francis Marion Jones., soldier, brother, son, grandson, uncle, friend ... and hero.

Thank you, dear reader, for staying with us to the end for here is where Francis's mother shares her poetic, prophetic fears years before her sons left to fight in Europe:

PRAYER FOR TODAY

by Marcelle Desplanques Jones, September 1940

(reprinted from "Messengers of Hope")

Gently the rain patters over the sod,

Scents of freshly mown lawn and of wet earth

Fill the air. How sweet is the peace of God!

And how good the sounds of the children's mirth!

Horrible pictures of the distant fight

Rise in bloody scenes, before my mind's eye.

Merciful God! Let not the Nazi might

Break upon this peace with a rain of Fire!

Forgive my selfish prayer, O Lord of hosts.

For love of my neighbor make me hate war.

Let me fear not sacrifice and its cost,

However severe the trials in store.

To weather the storm, give me strength and will,

In the face of death, make me steadfast still

Until next time, friends KEEP 'EM FLYING!

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All Rights Reserved, Author Cat T. Gardiner