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Ira B. Jones III: A hero who proudly served

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I still miss 'Sonny'

My family moved to 307 White St., when I was about 2 years old. 

We moved next door to the Joneses – Big Ira, Minnie Craig, Sis, Ira B. III (Sonny) and Susan. Only a gravel driveway separated our houses.

Immediately, the Jones family became my family, too.

When I started to school, I listed my mother, father, sister and the Jones family as my immediate family. I spent every Friday night sleeping at the Jones’ home. I would sit on our front porch steps waiting on Big Ira to come home from his travels. He was in the insurance business and traveled quite frequently.

Now to update you, Sis Jones married Francis Bell. Their children were local attorney Francis Bell and Ira Jones Bell, who is a real estate appraiser. Susan Jones married Luther Williams during World War II, but divorced him after the war. They had one child, Luther Williams, who is a pediatric cardiologist in Columbia. Susan married Charley Connelly after the war and they were happily married until Charley’s death. 

But my story isn’t about them. 

My story is about Sonny Jones, who was also the grandson of the late Ira B. Jones Sr., who was chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court.

Sonny was the love of my young life. He was one of these charismatic people who never met a stranger and you immediately fell in love with him at first sight. 

At the tender age of 2 years old, he was my love, my best friend and my hero. 

Sonny attended The Citadel and graduated from the University of South Carolina before going to work in his dad’s insurance agency.

Then Dec.7, 1941, came. Sonny immediately went into the U.S. Army Air Corps and trained at Florence Army Airfield Base and Maxwell Field in Alabama (now Maxwell Air Force Base).

When he would fly over our houses, Sonny would cut his engines and we would run out and wave big white cloths at his plane.

After training, Sonny was sent to the Pacific, where he flew with the Flying Tigers commanded by U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault.

Those were very tense times for our families. Sonny became a flying ace in a very short time. We got letters on White Street that had big blank spots on them. Minnie Craig kept a map of the Pacific under the glass top of her breakfast table so we could try to guess where Sonny was.

He completed 103 missions overseas and his medals included the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with clusters, a Purple Heart, American Defense Ribbon (with two battle participation stars), expert aerial gunner’s medal and expert 45 Thompson Submachine Gun, Carbine and Others.

In 1945, Sonny, now a major, was sent back to the states to test the first United States jet fighter, the (Lockeed P-80) Shooting Star. He also flew a big plane, a B-24 Liberator, into Lancaster’s Coulbourn Airport. For you young people, that was across from the present Lancaster Golf Course on Airport Road.

They had four Air Force people guarding the plane and I believe the entire county came out to see it. Sonny was home four days and then returned to Dayton, Ohio, to resume testing the Shooting Star.

On Aug. 2, 1945, two officers arrived at the Jones’ house to tell us that Sonny, 25, had been killed in the jet he was testing. They were not equipped with ejection canopies at that time.

Sonny was brought back in a closed casket. He lay in the Jones’ home until the funeral at their home. He was buried in Westside Cemetery with full military honors. I was only 10 years old at the time and don’t remember all of the Air Corps dignitaries who attended his funeral, but I do remember the officers had a lot of medals and ribbons on their uniforms.

But I still miss Sonny. I put an American flag on his grave every Memorial Day and flowers on his grave every Aug. 2.

Only once in a lifetime you know someone who is so special that you still remember them and love them after so many years. Sonny was one of those rare individuals who remains in your heart and life lone after they are gone.

Lancaster can say we had one of the aces of World War II who flew with the Flying Tigers and tested the first jet plane.

I remember Sonny and I hope that someone else still remembers him and his sacrifice.

 

– Pat Willis is a Lancaster native.