The winter sky burned bright with shades of orange on the night he died. It had been rainy and gloomy for the past week but that day, the sunset was strikingly beautiful. It seemed a fitting tribute for the Air Force Navigator, as if the heavens had reached down to greet him for his final mission.
Dick was the humblest WWII veteran I’ve ever had the honor of meeting. He served in the 453rd Heavy Bomb Group in the famous 8th Air force as a B-24 Navigator and later as an intelligence officer (453rd Heavy Bomb Group, 2nd Combat Wing, 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force). He kept some of his achievements so quiet that no one knew about them until he passed away. Quiet, thoughtful and peaceful, he’d much rather spend his time looking out on to the pond behind his house than boast about his war exploits. With apologies to him, I have to insist on boasting here on behalf of him.
His service got off to an interesting start when, flying with his crew from South America across the Atlantic to North Africa, lightning struck the plane Dick and his crew were in, knocking out the planes radio direction finder and one of the engines. Such as navigator was he, that Dick led the plane to a perfect landing in North Africa using just the stars for navigation. They later ended up at a base called Old Buckenham “Old Buck” just outside the village of Attleborough in Norfolk, England.
Dick’s executive officer just happened to be the famous actor Jimmy Stewart. The two got along well as they had both attended Princeton and spent time living in the same cape cod town. Their friendship began when Dick entered a plane one day and made a joking gesture to his friend who was piloting the plane, only to realize that the pilot was not his friend but indeed Jimmy Stewart. Their friendship continued once they were both made intelligence officers.
Between February 11th 1944 and July 11th 1944 Dick flew 35 missions over Europe, one of which was on D-Day. His missions included raids over Germany and occupied France. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism during the war.
Flying 35 missions Dick was often faced with one of the worst realities of war. That the men you saw every day could suddenly be gone. Planes were shot down and the only thing you could do was hope that the men inside had enough time to parachute out. On April 8th, Dicks squadron flew a mission over Brunswick, Germany. Dick was sick that day so a friend of his took his spot as navigator. Later that day Dick learned the horrifying news that the plane had been shot down. The crew he trusted and trained with, who shared in each other’s joy, sadness and anger. The men who had just been here this morning. They were gone. There were reports that there had been several parachutes coming out of the plane but no one would find out until several weeks later that the men were now prisoners of war.
WWII didn’t define Dick. After the war he finished his schooling at Princeton and then Harvard. He was devoted to his lovely wife and the two spent a year teaching in Turkey. They returned to Cape Cod after, and Dick became a math teacher in town. He was active in the running of the town and was always the “Mayor” of the town’s annual 4th of July parade.
A few years ago, my father was able to take Dick on a ride of a vintage B-24. The plane took off in blue skies, the familiar feeling of the bumps and peculiarities of the plane coming right back to him. Many of the others on the plane stepped uneasily around the rough corners and grooves of the large machine. Not Dick though- Dick felt like he was home.
Note: Picture Above, Dick Jones Is top row (standing) on the far right. Picture is property of the Jones family and may not be duplicated, shared or reproduced without express written permission from the Jones family.