JAILED FOR FREEDOM
Barstow man recounts experience for national POW/MIA recognition day
Barstow â€¢ The last time 81-year-old William â€œBillâ€ Jones shared his story as a prisoner of war, he lost 16 pounds. Jones loses his appetite for lunch after recalling the experience.
Even though it happened more than 50 years ago, Jones is still a prisoner of war. The memories are forever burned in his mind. A tattoo â€œPrisoner of Warâ€ embedded on his right arm is a constant reminder of his past.
He used to have nightmares every night. Though the nightmares donâ€™t come as often, he can still recount the vivid details.
â€œIt was all just about the same, going up hill to meet the enemy, clashing with the enemy and getting our butt kicked,â€ Jones says.
Does he ever try to forget?
â€œThat would be like separating snowflakes from a snowball,â€ Jones says, smiling.
Born in Arizona and raised in Kansas, Jones enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1949 simply because he wanted to serve his country. Jones was in the 11th 82nd Special Forces American Ranger Airborne division.
Under President Harry Trumanâ€™s administration, the U.S. entered the Korean conflict, a war between North and South Korea, from 1950 to 1953.
In June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. The U.S. and United Nations brought military aid to South Korea, while China aided North Korea.
â€œWe were put on alert,â€ Jones says.
Jones says they tried to â€œprotect the refugees from the onslaught of communists,â€ but they did not have enough manpower to fend off the enemy.
â€œWe went through three regimental commanders at 1 a.m.,â€ Jones recalls.
With no relief in sight, a major South Korean city Taejon fell to North Korean forces in just three days.
Jones recalls Major Gen. William F. Dean and his three cooks commandeered a tank from the North Koreans on the streets of Taejon. Dean was captured a few days later.
Approximately 30 American troops traveled south of Taejon to take control of higher ground. They took cover in a large stone cave.
â€œWe didnâ€™t know it, but we walked right into the middle of the communist Fourth Infantry Division headquarters,â€ Jones says.
Three or four grenades were thrown into the cave, catapulting him and two others out and onto boulders.
â€œI carry a limp today because of this,â€ says Jones, sitting in his wheelchair.
â€œYelling at the top of my voice, â€˜Help God,â€™ was all I could utter,â€ he says. â€œThe 40-foot drop to the floor seemed like it took forever. North Korean soldiers, they were on us like white on rice.â€
Out of ammunition, they carried only rifle butts and bayonets. Jones remembers his bayonet sinking into the soft gut of a North Korean soldier. Jones realized he couldnâ€™t withdraw his bayonet.
â€œCatching a subtle glimpse of a North Korean with his rifle aimed at my head, I begin to realize it was the end of the war for me,â€ he says.
A bullet punctured Jonesâ€™ steel helmet, penetrating into his skull bone.
â€œThe bullet wound in the left side of my head just above the ear,â€ he says. â€œFelt like a smashed doughnut, all sticky, gummy, with a hole in it.â€
Jones recalls the â€œvoice of Godâ€ instructing him to roll over and play dead. The North Korean soldiers moved the wounded men beneath a tree approximately 50 yards away.
What happened next is a horrific scene that stands out in Jonesâ€™ memory: A South Korean school girl rushed to render aid to them. North Korean soldiers beat her in the face about half a dozen times.
â€œThe girlâ€™s face was badly swollen with damage to her flesh,â€ he says. â€œPicking herself up from the ground, she withdrew to the forest hut. That was the last we had seen of her.â€
Life as a POW
It was only the beginning of Jonesâ€™ experience as a prisoner of war.
For POWs, there was no help forthcoming. They could not simply pick up the phone to seek comfort from friends and family. They could not drive to the hospital to be nurtured back to health by doctors.
Instead, they were beaten, shot, frozen and starved to death.
They slept in a sows' pen. They slept in piles of American soldiers at night.
â€œWaking up to find several men had expired during the night,â€ Jones says.
In 1950, the POWs were introduced to a new North Korean commander known as â€œThe Tiger.â€ On the first day of the march, The Tiger called for volunteers to be executed.
â€œOne American soldier stood still as The Tiger addressed his disciplinary action towards American POWs that could not keep up,â€ Jones says. â€œThe American soldier did not quiver in his boots or show signs of fear. Was asked if he wanted a cigarette, he declined. A blindfold was placed on his eyes and The Tiger pulled out his Luger and shot off his head â€” this officially began our death march.â€
They were not allowed any drinking water or even a handful of snow without a chance of getting severely beaten. To survive, POWs ate whatever they could find in the mountains: dandelions, ginseng, garlic and wild onions.
â€œSeveral of the GIs including myself would clean over kernels of corn from our dung and eat it again,â€ Jones recalls. â€œNot socially right, but proper for survival.â€
Jones admits hard labor of carrying water was the best thing that happened to him. The worst part was never knowing when or if he would be released.
When Jones was released on Aug. 28, 1953, medical personnel diagnosed him with extreme starvation, weather exposure for an extended period of time and blindness.
Jones was told he would never have any children because of his physical condition. But he proved them wrong. He has five adult children, 20 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
He thanks his wife, Anita Jones, for helping him through the experience. Shortly after her death, Jones moved to the Veterans Home of California, Barstow where he has stayed for a year. Jones was awarded a Purple Heart with two silver stars.
In 1981, Jones returned to North Korea to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. For three weeks, people of all ages attended to hear him share his story.
â€œThere were 2,300 conversions to Jesus Christ as a result of preaching the gospel,â€ he says.
Jones prays every day for â€œthe problems other people have,â€ he says. â€œThe sick and the hungry throughout the world.â€
Despite the brutalities he witnessed and endured, he has found forgiveness â€” even for those who tortured him.
â€œI donâ€™t have an unkind word to say about any human being,â€ he says.
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