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Navy veteran Jones joined war late, saw plenty of action

Published: Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 12:10 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 12:18 p.m. CDT

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Ernie Jones turned 17 just in time to join the Navy before the end of World War II. Perhaps he was a latecomer to the war effort, but he managed to see plenty of action nonetheless. He wound up on one of the most decorated ships of the entire war, and saw action in 13 different areas in the Pacific Theatre.

Jones joined the Navy in November 1944 and was sent to the USS Pennsylvania in May 1945. A survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Pennsylvania, Jones was on board during the bombing of Wake Island, then on to Saipan for ammunition before ending up in Okinawa. That’s where the action really got heated.

“As the Navy flagship, we took the admiral aboard, and a Japanese plane dropped a torpedo, striking the Pennsylvania in the rear propeller,” Jones said.

“I was taking a shower at the time. Imagine if you were in a barrel and someone was hitting it with a stick. It knocked us off our feet. I grabbed a handful of clothes off my bunk and went to general quarters. Fighting was supposedly at a standstill. It was only three days before V-J Day on Aug. 12.”

The Pennsylvania was towed to the other end of the bay in Okinawa for repairs, and as part of the gunnery crew, Jones slept on deck. When the announcement was made that the war had ended, Jones said everyone was so tired that no one made a sound. The Pennsylvania had fired more ammunition at the enemy than any other ship in world history.

Eventually, the ship was towed to a dry-dock in Guam. Jones had the dubious distinction of finding the last body of those sailors killed in the torpedo attack.

Crews were sent down into the keel of the ship to seal up the hole in the ship’s side. Jones was one of those sent down to shovel cement along the keel in order to seal up the torpedo damage.

“An officer came down the conveyor and asked us how much more cement we needed,” Jones said. “I said it was so dark down there, we couldn’t really be sure, so they sent down a light, and there was the body. It was partially covered up with cement. He had been there for 30 days. They asked me to bring him up, but I said that’s not my job.”

Jones remembers going up on the mess deck to eat after that job, and they were serving mutton. He says he’s not fond of lamb to this day.

The Pennsylvania suffered one last indignity. While on its way back to the states, a shaft broke on one of the propellers and it had to limp back to Bremerton, Wash. Jones spent the next year as a yeoman in the personnel office in Seattle, then was discharged in August 1946.

The USS Pennsylvania was used as a target ship during atomic bomb testing after the war, and was eventually sunk at Kwajalein Island in the South Pacific. Many of the Pennsylvania’s crew members, including Jones, have held reunions over the years, several of them here in Newton.

John Jennings can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 425 or via email at jjennings@newtondailynews.com.

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