WWII: C.W. “Jack” Jones Aboard USS Enterprise when Kamikazi Ends Carrier’s WWII Action

C.W. Jones – WWI and C.W. Jones 2012

C.W. “Jack” Jones has a military family story that the media likes to talk about.  His parents Rufus and Nena Jones had eight sons, and while one died in infancy, five of the remaining boys served in World War II.

His father worked a 40-acre farm with two horses, raising corn, cotton, peanuts, peas, and sugar cane. They also raised cows, hogs, and chickens, which they killed for meat.  The senior Jones, a carpenter, also got $20 a month from the state for serving as a fire warden, responding when the fire tower spotted a blaze in the nearby forest.  “Poppa would fight fires.  He had a flap and a fire rake and that was it.  We also made crossties when farming was slow.”

When Jones started school at Atlanta, there were separate elementary and high schools.  Odelle Durham was one of his early teachers but it may have been English teacher Miss Parish (who became Mrs. J.W. Barr) who made the biggest impression on this young scholar.  “I was a pretty good student and made good grades under her.  I was at Atlanta through all 11 grades, graduating in 1942 when I was 17.”

Out of school, Jones worked at Western Auto under A.W. Berdon.  When he turned 18 (Nov. 15, 1943), he registered for the draft and in January 1944,  reported to Fort Humbug in Shreveport.  “I wanted to be in the Army like my other brothers but they told me you are in the Navy and sent me back home.”

It wasn’t until March 1944 that Jones got the call to actually report for service.  It was back to Fort Humbug, then San Diego by train for boot camp.  “I’d never been out of Winn Parish before.  We were in San Diego for eight weeks training but never got leave so I never saw the ‘Big City.’  But the plains and mountains we’d seen along the way were impressive.  During boot camp, I mastered all the other skills but never made swimmer.  It was good enough because they put me on the USS Miami, a cruiser headed for Pearl Harbor, anyway.”

Jones was at Pearl Harbor through the month of May, cleaning up old planes and other wreckage from the attack two years earlier.  Despite the romance of “Hawaii” today, back then there was little development to see other than the military presence on the islands.

He then boarded the USS Houston and crossed the Pacific to the Caroline Islands, just north of the equator.  There, he got aboard a barge that transported men to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, the largest ship he’d ever seen.  They were in the middle of the ocean so he boarded the Enterprise by way of a rope ladder up the side. There he’d stay for the rest of the war.

“I was a Seaman Second Class.  I became a Seaman First Class, then later was ranked as an Aviation Ordnanceman Third Class.  First thing they did was assign me sleeping quarters.  I had various duties before being assigned to the Aviation Ordnance Department.  There, different divisions had specific duties.  I loaded ammunition and bombs onto planes.  We had SBD dive-bombers, TBF Avengers which were torpedo planes and F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat fighters.  We had to climb up on the wings to load the 50-calibre guns and when loaded we placed masking tape over the barrel so the pilot would know the guns were ready to fire.”

At first, the fighters flew mostly daytime sortees.  In telling his story, the veteran is still impressed that the 50-calibre machine guns were mounted in the wings and the guns had to be synchronized to fire through the plane’s rotating propellers.  One of his duties was making up the rolls of shells and he said every fifth shell had to be a tracer so the pilot could check his effectiveness.  The bombs were either 500- or 1000-pound bombs and it took two men working together to load and arm them.  They were hooked to a trigger wire so that when the pilot dropped a bomb, the detonator was primed.

The Winnfield boy saw his first battle action in the Marshall Islands in what came to be called “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” due to the tremendous loss of Japanese aircraft.  Some 500 ships in Task Force 58 covered an area 75 miles across, with about 10 carriers, small and large, with their payload of planes and firepower protected at center by circling rings of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers.

“When we went in to attack, the enemy wanted to get to our carriers.  But they had to get past our defense first.  The task force had about 950 planes.  The Japanese had about 450 aboard carriers with another 200 land-based aircraft.  Our planes were going out all the time.  We got the planes loaded and refueled while the pilots went in to rest and debrief.  Then they’d take off again.  There were too many planes topside for them to use the entire length of the flight deck (809 feet) to take off.  There were two catapults at the front of the deck.  The pilots would rev-up their engines to full thrust before the planes were released by the catapult.

Jones admitted that it was “an exciting but scary time for a little country boy” as the Enterprise began its missions, including the invasion of the Marshall Islands, attack of Saipan and Battle of Philippines Seas.  “It was intense but each of the 2500 men aboard had a job to do and we had to do it in the time available.  Success depended on everyone doing their specific job, knowing that the enemy was out there somewhere and you didn’t know when they might attack.  But we didn’t have time to worry.  We had a job to do and we got it done!”

The Enterprise had been involved in major battles earlier in the war before Jones joined the crew, like Midway and Coral Sea in 1942, when Japan had expanded its offensive as far as it would.  After the Marshall Islands, the Enterprise (nicknamed the “Big-E,” said Jones) was ordered back to Pearl Harbor for repairs, refitting and a camouflage job.  By late 1944, the carrier was back in action in the invasion of the Volcano and Bonin islands chains and by early October sailed into the waters of the Palau Islands.  There they joined up with other carrier units.  Jones observed that the USS Enterprise and the USS Saratoga were the only Pacific theater aircraft carriers to survive the entire war.  (Only the USS Ranger had that distinction on the Atlantic side).  At this point in the war, newly constructed carriers were coming into service to bolster the American fleet.

The Enterprise was part of the strike force against Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Formosa and the Philippines.  After reprovisioning in the Ulithi Islands, the ship joined the American invasion of Leyte Gulf in October 1944.  There were four or five days of intensive fighting in which the carrier USS Princeton was sunk.

“After the Leyte Gulf Sea Battle ended, the Japanese began using their most efficient weapon on the American fleet, the kamikaze.  We were ordered to stay at general quarters at all times.  During the invasion we were on-ready, day and night, never pulling off our shoes or clothing.  We ate K-rations, not the good mess hall food.  I even remember spaghetti being served out of buckets.  We never knew when the kamikazes were going to hit.”  In late October, the Enterprise experienced a “near miss” from a suicide pilot.

A return to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1944 was welcomed by the crew and it ushered in a new era of their warfare.  “We sailed back out on Dec. 24.  I remembered it was Christmastime and I thought of home again.  We returned to the Philippines with an air group specially trained for night carrier operations.  We were not exempt from day activities but our mission now involved the harassment of the enemy at night.  The carrier swept the sea north of Luzon and the waters of the China Sea, hitting shore targets and shipping from Formosa to the French Indo-China area.  We also covered raids day and night on Tokyo during February 1945.  Then the ship took on its latest objective, the Marine landing on Iwo Jima on Feb. 19.  We remained in the area until about March 9.  Over 5,900 Marines and 23,000 Japanese lost their lives in a land area less than 12 square miles.”

On March 18, Jones came to understand that God was watching over him.  One of his helpers from Drew, Mississippi, was not so fortunate.  A kamikaze came in at such a shallow angle that the bomb did not explode…the detonator was located in its nose and the bomb landed on its belly.  A fire broke out and  Jones’ mate died from his burns several days later.  That night or early the next morning, the Franklin was hit by torpedo planes, with 700 fatalities and 265 others injured, leaving it without power, to be pulled out of harm’s way by the Enterprise.

“But several days later, our ship was damaged and we had to return to Uilithi for a week of repairs,” said Jones.  We returned to action in early April, when kamikaze planes were standard procedure for the enemy.  We were at battle stations on May 14, 1945,  off of Okinawa.  Action of enemy planes had begun early in the day, around 0700 hours.  A Japanese pilot in a bomb-laden Zero broke from the clouds above and placed his plane on the deck of the Enterprise, just behind the forward elevator.”

The plane disintegrated but the bomb, the engine and the body of the pilot continued forward into the elevator pit.  This time, the bomb did explode, sending the 15-ton elevator at least 400 feet into the air (some pilot accounts put it as high as 1000 feet).  Newsweek magazine carried the report and picture in May, 1945. Amazingly, only 14 men were killed and 68 injured but the carrier’s deck was buckled and warped while the elevator and one catapult were knocked out of commission, as was the ship.  The Enterprise and crew headed to Pearl Harbor two days later, then to Bremerton, Washington, for extensive repairs.

“The war wasn’t over but it was over for us.  On June 7, 1945, I got my first leave to visit home for a while.  We were leaving the Puget Sound Naval Yard in September, 1945 when the Japanese officially surrendered.  The Enterprise with its crew was a warship without a war.”

Services of this historic carrier were not complete, however.  It picked up 1,149 liberated POWs at Pearl Harbor and steamed through the Panama Canal to New York where the crew, with Jones, stood on the deck in a naval parade of 47 ships passing before President Harry Truman on Navy Day, October 27, 1945.  Soon, Jones’ war would be over.  He disembarked in New York and went to Norfolk, VA.  On Nov. 13, 1945, he was discharged…though he had to report to the New Orleans Naval Personnel Center before it was official on February 2, 1946.

“I didn’t go sight-seeing or anything,” the veteran said about his time after the war.  “I came home as quick as I could.”  Unlike some who said they picked up where they’d left off, Jones said his time at war had taken its toll.  This country boy worked through this trauma, under a doctor’s care, for a year or so, working odd jobs before he got his feet back on the ground.

When he got himself back together, Jones became associated with Milam’s Department Store, first driving a delivery truck, then serving as a clerk.  Then he went to Milam’s Furniture Store.  Finally he’d take a postal exam and would go on to work for the USPS for over 26 years, retiring November, 1985.

Describing himself as having been “raised in a church” (Sardis Baptist), he has been active in churches since his return.  He became a deacon at South Winnfield Baptist Church in 1956 where he directed Sunday School, Training Union and music. Perhaps recalling God’s protection aboard the USS Enterprise, he said he surrendered to the ministry 50 years ago (February 1962).  Ordained at Laurel Heights Baptist Church, he’s served as pastor at Sardis, Union Hill, Yankee Springs, Hebron, Shady Grove, Zion, Friendship and Trinity.  He’s filled a number of pulpits since retiring.

As to the romance in his life, Jones explained that before the war, he had met Moeice Lashley.  “During the war, we’d communicate some back and forth, but it wasn’t often.  It was delayed or cut up with all the military censorship. You only got mail when you went into a port for repair.  When I returned, we started dating.  That led to us getting married Dec. 21, 1947.”

They have two daughters, Joyce Yvonne Jones and Paula Gail Jones.