The last time I saw Sgt. Maj. William R. "Stump" Jones, he had tears in his eyes over the death of a close friend - one of his heroes. "Stump" always did have a soft spot in his big heart for old soldiers.

We stood together in front of the funeral bier of the late U.S. Rep. G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery. "Stump" and "Sonny" were close. Soldier to soldier, they shared a great admiration for each other and a great deal of laughter and camaraderie.

Back on the night of May 16, I watched "Stump" bid his old friend a somber farewell.

Montgomery had been a major general in the Mississippi National Guard and served 30 distinguished years in the U.S. House.

Jones was a man you wanted to call "sir" - for every fiber of his being, his demeanor and his steady good humor seemed to cry out for that expression of respect.

But his legion of friends and admirers didn't call him "sir" - Jones said frequently - because "I work for a living." That was the code of the enlisted men that Montgomery loved and that Jones served so faithfully

Jones, 60, a longtime member of the Mississippi National Guard public affairs staff, died Saturday, Nov. 4, of an apparent heart attack at his home near Lena in Leake County.

"Stump" had retired from the Guard a little over a month ago.

Jones, as had been Montgomery six months earlier in Meridian, was buried with full military honors at the McDonald Cemetery in Lena. Mississippi National Guard Lt. Col. Tim Powell said more than a 1,000 people - many current or retired Guard personnel - came to pay their respects to "Stump."

So what makes a retired public affairs photographer for the Guard draw a crowd that large to his funeral? It was in many ways like the attributes that made Montgomery a legend in the Guard.

Jones loved his God, his country, his family and the Guard. Those were his priorities 365 days a year and 24-7.

Ever-present patriotism

His patriotism was sincere and ever-present. More than that, "Stump's" patriotism wasn't canned or reserved to military dog-and-pony shows.

Back in 1965, Jones joined the U.S. Marine Corps and reported for basic training at Parris Island - all 5 feet, 4.5 inches and 155 pounds of him. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment and immediately sent to Vietnam.

"Stump's" battalion was sent to Da Nang, about 100 miles from the DMZ (demilitarized zone) - the line that separated North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

Jones was a combat infantry machine gunner. He recalled his experiences in an interview I did with him shortly after Montgomery's funeral in May.

"I did a year in Vietnam. On Valentine's Day in 1967, I got shot across my back during a daylong battle at the village of Minh Pan Tu. We were surrounded all day long and there was nothing to do but fight," Jones said.

"My outfit went in after another one had been unable to take the village. I think I know what Gen. Custer must have felt like. At the end of that day, we had pacified' the village - which was what they called it back then when there was nobody left on the other side shooting at us."

Jones' experiences in Vietnam taught him a respect for the men and women of the armed forces that served him all of his life.

When Montgomery and other congressional leaders and Guard brass wanted to take the temperature of the rank-and-file, they sought out Sgt. Major Jones.

"Stump" probably lobbied more often and more effectively for Mississippi soldiers than anyone of his generation. He spent his life serving his country and serving it well.

A Purple Heart winner, "Stump" was most comfortable in a circle trading stories over a cup of coffee and a smoke. His smile was effervescent and infectious.

Like so many Mississippians, I will miss this grand old soldier.

Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com

Recommended for you

comments powered by Disqus