An American Hero

In the movie Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks portrays Captain John Miller, a fictional high school teacher from Pennsylvania.  After surviving D-day, Captain Miller is given the assignment to find Private James Ryan. Ryan lost two brothers in the invasion of Normandy and his only other brother was killed in the South Pacific a week before.  Army regulations required that the sole surviving brother be sent back home.  Along the way, Miller and his squad have to keep fighting the war.  In the end, Captain Miller achieved his mission. Private Ryan was saved.

In real life, Laurens County had its share of teachers serving their country.  At home, the female teachers led the Victory Corps programs.  They worked with other women, adults and students alike in making bandages, sponges, and surgical dressings by the tens of thousands.   Teachers supervised the selling of war bonds and worked with their students in a variety of activities to help the effort to win the war. The male teachers, those young enough and fit enough to join the service, enlisted.

Others, like Captain Miller,  didn't make it home.  This is story of a Dexter High teacher and how he gave the last full measure of devotion to save our country.

Henry Will Jones was born about 1917  in what became Lanier County just as our country was entering World War I.  After graduation from Lanier High in 1934, Jones continued his education at Georgia Military College (1935), Abraham Baldwin College, and the University of Georgia, where he graduated in 1940.  With his bachelor of science diploma in his hand, Jones accepted a position as the first vocational-agricultural teacher at Dexter High School on July 1, 1940.  The school, in need of a coach for their six-man football team, asked Jones to be the head football coach.  On Sunday, Jones attended the Dexter Baptist Church, where he taught the Intermediate Boys Sunday School classes.   When he needed to rest and eat a fine meal, he boarded with Mr. and Mrs. W.G. Smith.

The fateful day of December 7, 1941 came.  America was at war.  Jones left his teaching position to enter the United States Marine Corps.  Jones reported to the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, where he graduated as a second lieutenant on August 25, 1942.  From Quantico, Henry Will was sent to New River, North Carolina, where he completed his training as a paratrooper in October 1942.

Before he was transferred to San Diego, California, Jones spent a few days with his family and friends back in Georgia.  In December 1942, Henry Will was shipped from the west coast to the killing area of the South Pacific.  Holding the rank of first lieutenant, Jones was attached to the first Paratroop Division of the First Amphibious Division.  Lt. Jones was stationed at New Caledonia until September 1943.  He landed on Guadalcanal in September and from there went to Bougainville.
While in this zone, he saw service and suffered a slight wound.   Henry Will remained in Bougainville until January 12, 1944, when his paratrooper detachment was sent home to be organized into the 5th Marine Division.  As the war progressed, paratroopers were no longer needed.  Jones and his buddies were retrained to be regular infantry fighting Marines.

Captain Jones landed with his outfit at San Diego on February 7, 1942.  Ten days later, he was back home in Lakeland on a well-earned leave.  The following day, Lt. Jones became Captain Jones.  Before his return to the Marines, Captain Jones drove to Dexter for one last visit.

Captain Henry Will Jones returned to the West Coast and was assigned the Fifth Marine Division, which was stationed at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, California.  The captain was given the chance to remain in the country for an indefinite time to participate in training of recruits. Since he wasn't married and had no children, Henry Will decided to go into combat and let someone with a wife and kids stay in San Diego and train new Marines.

Captain Jones' first new assignment was as commander of Company I,  3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Division.  He led his company in the invasion of Peliliu Island, the main island of the Palau Islands.  His last two letters were dated October 12th and 13th.  On October 18th, 1944, Captain Henry Will Jones was reported killed in action when his tank was struck by enemy aerial bomb buried just beneath the surface of the ground.

In honor of his admirable valor, the Secretary of the Navy posthumously awarded the Silver State Medal to Jones' family.  On March 24, 1997, the State of Georgia honored Captain Henry Will Jones with the naming of a bridge in his home county of Lanier.   The resolution read:

WHEREAS, Captain Henry Will Jones of Lanier County was killed in action on October 18, 1944, while serving as a  commanding officer of a United States Marine Corps company in the South Pacific during World War II; and he was awarded  posthumously the Silver Star Medal by the Secretary of the  Navy in recognition of his exemplary valor; and

WHEREAS, he had graduated from the University of Georgia and was an instructor in the Laurens County school system when he enlisted in the military following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; and he completed officers candidate school, paratrooper training, and advanced military training with  the Marine Corps and was recognized as a distinguished officer with considerable potential; and

WHEREAS, his fearless leadership, great personal valor, and  unrelenting devotion to duty in the face of extreme danger  contributed substantially to the success of his division in  capturing a vital stronghold; and his courage and determination upheld the highest traditions of military service; and

WHEREAS, he enjoyed nature and had a strong attachment to the region in which he had spent his youth exploring the rivers, forests, and wildlife; and he often expressed his dream of returning to the Alapaha River in his letters home to his family; and

WHEREAS, it is most fitting and appropriate to honor this  outstanding young officer who so gallantly gave his life for  his country.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF GEORGIA that the bridge on Georgia Highway 37 that crosses  that portion of the Alapaha River in Lanier County be  designated the Captain Henry Will Jones Bridge.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Commissioner of  Transportation is authorized and directed to place signs at  appropriate locations along the highway designating the  bridge over the Alapaha River as the Captain Henry Will  Jones Bridge.

        A Henry Will Jones chapter of the Future Teachers of America was established at Dexter High School.

       Jones was inducted into the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013.