James Tilford Jones
James Tilford Jones was born in Arkansas in 1927 but was raised and attended school in Texas. Upon graduation from Texas A&M in 1948, he and all of his classmates were put on active duty. James Jones explains that, at that time, military science was a mandatory part of the Texas A&M curriculum and he graduated as a Second Lieutenant in the army. His military service was carried out from June 1948 to May 1954. During his service period, James Jones went to Pusan, Korea, and was stationed at Daejon from August 1950 to November 1951. He served as the 2nd platoon leader of G Company, 35th Regiment, 25th division as a 1st Lieutenant, and as a Captain before his discharge. He was the Platoon Leader (ASST 5-3, S2 Battalion) and participated in 5 major battles. He was wounded when a Chinese hand grenade exploded in his face. He received the Combat Infantry Badge, Silver Star, Bronze Star for Valor, Purple Heart, National Defense Medal, Korean Theatre with 5 battle stars, the UN Ribbon, and the ROK Medal for his commitments. After the war, James Jones worked in quality control for Pillsbury. He went to revisit Korea in 2007.
James Jones very succinctly states what he perceived, at that time, as the objective of U.S. soldiers being sent to Korea. He believed the mission was to unit Korea into one nation.
Cold and Hunger
James Jones describes his plight when the Chinese overran US forces at the Yalu River. He describes times when his unit went days without c-rations because their kitchen could not "find" them. He figured out that he could go into a rice paddy, shred rice with his bayonet and pop it over a fire to make popcorn.
Fighting against the Chinese
James Jones has vivid memories of how Chinese battlefield tactics were distinctive. They had unique sounds and smells, as well as unique military strategies. His platoon would dig in each night, fight, retreat and then dig in again as the Chinese kept coming.
00:00:00 [Beginning of Recorded Material]
James Tilford Jones: James Tilford Jones, I was born in Harrison, Arkansas and lived there a month and we moved to Texas. And so I was raised and educated in Texas. At the time the Korean War broke out, I was stationed at Fort Ord, California. They had called my college class to active duty in 1948 when we graduated.
00:00:30 So in 1950 when the war broke out I had three days to get my car home and get back out and catch an airplane through South Korea.
Interviewer: When were you born?
James Tilford Jones: Born in Harrison, Arkansas.
James Tilford Jones: Oh, May 27, 1927.
Interviewer: May, what?
James Tilford Jones: 27, 1927 – May 27
Interviewer: So, you were in college when the Korean War broke out?
00:01:00: James Tilford Jones: No, I was already out of college.
Interviewer: Out of college?
James Tilford Jones: I had graduated in 1948.
Interviewer: What did you study?
James Tilford Jones: I was studying – I was majoring in biology and a minor in chemistry.
Interviewer: Whoa. So what did you want to be at the time after your graduation?
James Tilford Jones: Well, I was thinking about maybe becoming a doctor, a medical doctor.
00:01:30 But . . . things were pretty rough then. See, when you would graduate from Texas A&M at that time, you took military science for four years, and so therefore when you graduated, you graduated as a Second Lieutenant in the army.
Interviewer: Oh, it’s like the ROTC program?
00:02:00 James Tilford Jones: Yes, that’s exactly what it is.
Interviewer: So you were in the ROTC program at Texas A&M, right?
James Tilford Jones: Right. When we graduated, my entire class got called to active duty, and I was sent to Fort Ord, California, and there I was a platoon leader for a while and then I was on the regimental instructor class, or instructor group.
00:02:30: And then I was on the post-instructor group. I was teaching swimming and first-aid and field sanitation, so I had the post swimming pool as part of my responsibility.
Interviewer: That’s great.
James Tilford Jones: But then when the war broke out in Korea, they gave me three days to get my stuff home and then to get back.
00:03:00: They put us on the Pan American Airways airplane and flew us to Japan, and in Japan we went through Camp Drake and received our supplies. Then they put us on a train to Osaka, and put us on a boat in Osaka, and we went at night and landed in Pusan.
Interviewer: Do you remember when you left the United States for Japan?
00:03:30: James Tilford Jones: August of 1950 – or the first of September of 1950. The North Korean soldiers assassinated the Korean civilians in Taejong, and we had to do mass burials. And we have a series of pictures on that.
Interviewer: What was your rank?
00:04:00: James Tilford Jones: At that time, First Lieutenant.
Interviewer: How many soldiers were you in charge of?
James Tilford Jones: Well I had a platoon, which is supposed to be about 39 men, and usually it was closer to 29 to 30 men.
Interviewer: Were you aware of Korea before you left for Korea?
James Tilford Jones: Oh, no.
Interviewer: You didn’t know where Korea was?
James Tilford Jones: I had no earthly idea.
Interviewer: But you were highly educated, you graduated Texas A&M, one of the best universities, and you didn’t know where Korea was?
00:04:30: James Tilford Jones: No.
Interviewer: So not many of your colleagues either, knew where Korea was?
James Tilford Jones: I would doubt it.
Interviewer: How did you feel about being assigned to a country where you’ve never been and don’t have any idea about what this Korea was?
James Tilford Jones: Well, I knew what we were trying to do.
Interviewer: What was that?
00:05:00: James Tilford Jones: We were trying to move the North Koreans back up north and get them out of South Korea, and then our objective, I thought, was to proceed on up to the Yalu and make one country out of Korea.
Interviewer: So you were highly motivated about that?
00:05:30: James Tilford Jones: Well, we were, I’d say. When we got over around in the Yalu, all I had on my back was a pair of what we call “long johns” — you call thermals nowadays — and a pair of fatigue pants, a fatigue shirt, a pile jacket, and a field jacket and here it is minus 20, minus 30 degrees.
00:06:00: And you’re living in that and you go two and three and four days with no food, because your kitchen didn’t know where you were.
Interviewer: Well you had the C-rations?
James Tilford Jones: We didn’t have them. When we could get them we loved them. I’ll give you a good example:
00:06:30: One of my men when we were pulling — I called it a strategic withdrawal, [unintelligible] said you retreated, I said no, we didn’t retreat, we had a strategic withdrawal — and one of my men one day, found a half a can of C-ration beans and franks, and it was frozen, naturally, and so I told him it’s time, I said, “well, you’ll never eat those.”
00:07:00: And he said, “Oh yes, I’m going to build a fire and I’m going to have them, I’m going to enjoy them.” I said, “You’ll never eat ’em.” And sure enough, he sold a little half a can of beans and franks for $550. And people say, “Oh, my Lord, that’s a lot of money,” and I’m saying no, you got to think about where you were and what you were doing.
00:07:30: You hadn’t had food for two or three days, you may not be alive tomorrow night, money means nothing.
Interviewer: So there was no supply for C-rations for a while?
James Tilford Jones: No. Well, we would get ’em every once in a while. Another example is we had — it’d been, oh, at least three days we hadn’t had any food and —
Interviewer: How did you survive?
00:08:00: James Tilford Jones: Well, I found out that if I go in the rice field and shred rice into my canteen cup and build a fire, I can pop it just like popcorn.
Interviewer: So, you’d eat that?
James Tilford Jones: Oh yeah — well anyways — our kitchen found us, and we said, “Oh boy, we’re going to have some hot food,” and sure enough it had been two days of them trying to find us.
00:08:30: When they opened it, instead of hot pork and gravy, it was frozen solid. And so we took our bayonets and chopped it out and . . .
Interviewer: You found rice paddy and rice in November in North Korea?
James Tilford Jones: Yeah, we found some.
James Tilford Jones: Well, it was scarce, but that’s why we couldn’t depend on it, you know.
00:09:00: James Tilford Jones: You never knew what you might have, and generally we spent more time without than we did with.
Interviewer: Right, right.
James Tilford Jones: The one thing I could figure was — I tried to figure it out — and the only thing I could figure was maybe between the armies going back and forth they didn’t have a chance to harvest it or something, I don’t know.
Interviewer: Right, yeah, maybe. That makes sense. So from Daejeon you went to Seoul, right?
00:09:30: James Tilford Jones: From Daejeon, actually no, we went around, so we went up by Incheon, and then on up towards the Yalu, all along the west coast there.
Interviewer: Oh, west coast. So, do you remember any city of battle in that journey up to the Yalu?
James Tilford Jones: Well, we had a few very small battles.
Interviewer: Otherwise it was smooth?
00:10:00: James Tilford Jones: Well, it wasn’t difficult. Like, for our division I was the lead platoon in Pyongyang, and I didn’t fire a shot. So through Pyongyang . . .
Interviewer: When you entered Pyongyang, Pyongyang was already occupied by the allied forces, right?
James Tilford Jones: Yeah, it was supposed to have been, yeah. But they said that it wasn’t but we had no opposition, so it had to have been. Somebody had to have preceded us.
00:10:30: Then the night before we got overrun, I couldn’t talk to my company commander on my radio, and they said, “Well, those are low frequency radios and those people are probably in Beijing.” Well, they weren’t, they were just on the other side of the hill.
Interviewer: You mean Chinese?
James Tilford Jones: Yeah.
Interviewer: And you didn’t recognize any kind of symptoms that the Chinese were there? You didn’t know anything?
00:11:00: James Tilford Jones: Nobody – no – because we had just gone down, we had been dug in, and we went down and had breakfast. Well, I was making sure my men had their ammo and making sure that they – we were defending and making sure that none of the Chinese got through.
00:11:30: And see, we started our withdrawal then. And we’d go so far every day, and then we’d dig in — because don’t forget, when they attacked us, when they hit us at the Yalu, they were already 31 miles behind us, because MacArthur . . .
Interviewer: Yeah, but you were not attacked from behind, right?
00:12:00: James Tilford Jones: Well, we had to fight our way through some of them at one time, yeah.
Interviewer: You were attacked from behind?
James Tilford Jones: Well, primarily from the front, but then we — I don’t know how to describe it, how do I describe it? —
00:12:30: We would primarily, like, we would retreat all day, and then we would dig in and we’d make a big show of digging in. And then . . . then we would as soon as night fell, start again and we would walk further south. We wanted them to think that we were going to defend there, and maybe we would, maybe we wouldn’t.
00:13:00: But you always knew when they were coming, you could smell the garlic. And then they would start blowing their little horns and going in to attack. See the first two waves a lot of times would not have anything but sticks and stones. They wanted you to use all your ammunition on those, and then they would come, the third wave normally would be the first wave that had rifles and so forth.
Interviewer: You killed many Chinese soldiers, right?
00:13:30: James Tilford Jones: Well, we tried to.
Interviewer: How many men did you lose at the time?
James Tilford Jones: Well, I was very fortunate.
00:14:00: I only lost maybe one or two the entire time. We must’ve had probably ten or fifteen firefights coming back south, and I didn’t lose any. Except, we did lose our company commander, but I didn’t lose but I think maybe two men. But then when we stopped at Suwon, and then Ridgway came, and then we started back up, north of Suwon . . . oh it wasn’t too far north of Suwon that I lost most of my men . . . on one battle. And then we . . .
Interviewer: What battle was that?
00:14:30: James Tilford Jones: Well, we had taken this hill, and there was a ridge coming off of this hill to the next hill.
James Tilford Jones: Oh, well I don’t know how far, just north of Suwon.
00:15:00: And they wouldn’t let us take this other hill off of this ridge, because they said that was for the Turks to take. And the Turkish guys came up and they got there about noon. We were waiting on them, and finally they got there, and they went out and they shot a bunch of ammo and they said, “Well, we’ll come back tomorrow, there’s too many,” and I said, “No, no, no,” he said, “We’ll come back tomorrow.”
00:15:30: That night, I lost, wounded, and killed close to half my men, I guess. That night I called our own artillery on my position because that’s the only way I could get the Chinese off of me. There were, well, we counted 12-13 dead inside my little perimeter, my men.
00:16:00: I had to pull back and make a smaller perimeter, and that’s when I asked the artillery, I told the artillery forward observer, “Do you remember where my left flank was tonight?” and he said, “Yes,” and I said, “Give me battery of five or six rounds.” He said, “Well they’ll kill every one of you.” I said, “Well if you don’t, the Chinese will.”
00:16:30: I said, “You just tell me when it’s on the way and I’ll get my men down.” That’s the way we finally got them off of us, is bringing our own artillery on us.
Interviewer: After the battle north of Suwon, what did you do?
James Tilford Jones: We proceeded on up back north again. And that picture in Life magazine was just north of Suwon.
00:17:00: It was north — that was before our bad battle — and then we moved on up back up north, and then we had to wait in Seoul to let the R.o.K. come and retake Seoul, and then we went on north of Seoul and started on up.
00:17:30: And then it was one day there that, well, it was March the 29th to be exact, 1951 . . .
Interviewer: March 29th?
James Tilford Jones: Yeah, I was trying to take a hill and I told the people that brought our food, I said, “You don’t need to bring food to me tonight because I’m not going to be here. The Lord’s already told me I’m not going to be here.”
00:18:00: And so when I started in to the attack, when I was crossing this river band, a machine gun cut my binoculars and my first aid pouch and my ammo off of my belt, and I thought, “Well, this is it,” you know? I felt and I looked and I said no, I didn’t – there was no blood, so I guess I was wrong.
00:18:30: So then we tried to take this hill, and I tried on the left side and they had me in crossfire machine-gun, and I tried the right side, and it was crossfire machine-gun, so then the only thing I can do is go up this finger. Well up that finger of the hill — what else would you call it? I can see you don’t understand what I call a “finger of a hill”, in other words, where the hill kind of comes down — and you could see there was a foxhole up there.
00:19:00: They could throw four hand grenades at a time. So I would wait until they go up and then we’d move on up some more. I had a tank, food and so forth, and I had a quad fifty of what they call armored infantry, which were half-tracks with four .50 caliber machine guns on them.
00:19:30: And I kept telling them, “hit that.” And they would hit it dead on with their tank fire, and then we’d start up again, and here would come the grenades again. Right before we got to there, they threw four hand grenades and I had my men get down, and three of them went off and the other one gave off a green puff of smoke.
00:20:00: So I thought it was a dud, and instead, when I started to get up, it went off in my face. The company commander couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t understand me on my radio, and then I looked down and my mouth piece was full of blood. I threw my radio to my radio man and said, “Tell the old man we’re almost there and we’re going to take it.”
Interviewer: You were wounded by the grenade?
00:20:30: James Tilford Jones: Yeah, it went off in my face. That’s why all the blood was in my radio.
Interviewer: So you were wounded, or not?
James Tilford Jones: Yes
James Tilford Jones: In my face.
James Tilford Jones: Yeah, the shrapnel went through all kinds of places here and came to rest on top of my teeth.
Interviewer: Whoa. So you were back to the hospital?
00:21:00: James Tilford Jones: Yeah, after we finally took the hill. And the company manner already ordered me off the hill three times.
00:21:30: So anyway, I got down, and found out that our battalion aid station had been hit with mortar fire, so they threw me on the back of a Jeep and took me back down to Seoul where they put me on a train down to Pusan, and we got to Pusan about two-o’clock in the morning. Then they put me on a hospital ship.
00:22:00: On the hospital ship they just knocked the bone out of my face and took an electromagnet and got all the shrapnel out. So then they marked me duty. So that’s when I went back up . . . the battalion commander asked me to be his assistant S3, and I said, “Great.”
00:22:30: And then that night, we got overrun again.
James Tilford Jones: It was in [Chango Reeves] — the name of the place — it’s North Korea. Then we retreated back to Seoul, and actually our battalion headquarters was in an orphanage there on the north side of Seoul. Then we went back up again.
Interviewer: How long were you off of the frontline service because of the wounds?
00:23:00: James Tilford Jones: With the navy, after a week — because it took them three days to operate on me — they marked me duty after a week, and then I went back to the army and they told me — because I still had all the stitches in my head — they told me to go and get on a bed.
00:23:30: Then about three or four days – a week later, they sent me back up. So I was gone about two weeks.
Interviewer: Did you get any medals for that one?
00:24:00: James Tilford Jones: Well, let’s see. I got a Purple Heart, and then for that action I got . . .
Interviewer: Can you show the camera?
James Tilford Jones: Okay. I got the Purple Heart at that time, of course, and then also . . .
Interviewer: Which one is the Purple Heart?
James Tilford Jones: This one. And then I also got a Silver Star for taking the hill. And back when I lost half of my platoon with the Chinese back outside of Suwon is when I got the Bronze Star.
Interviewer: What was the most difficult time during that service?
00:24:30: James Tilford Jones: I’d say the most difficult time was coming back from the island because my boots had holes in them and we couldn’t get a replacement.
00:25:00: I would change my socks but then about ten minutes later snow had packed in there, so that’s why I have frozen toes today. But that was, I’d say, our most difficult time because we didn’t have food. We were walking miles every day.
00:25:30: We were freezing to death. We didn’t have clothes to keep up warm. I would say that’s the most difficult time.
Interviewer: When did you actually finish your service in Korea?
James Tilford Jones: November ’51. That’s when I came home.
Interviewer: What did people say to you when you were back home?
00:26:00: James Tilford Jones: Nobody here missed me, I guess.
Interviewer: Had you written to your family?
James Tilford Jones: Oh yes, I wrote to them regularly. And I had friends — I don’t know how they learned of it — but they found out that I had been injured and a couple of them came and visited me on the hospital ship and wrote letters to my parents that I was okay.
Interviewer: You mean Koreans wrote?
00:26:30: James Tilford Jones: No, no, American soldiers. They were stationed in Pusan because that’s where the hospital ship was, and they wrote my parents. Actually, my parents got my letters from them before they got the telegram from the War Department that I’d been hit.
00:27:00: The War Department – or the Department of Defense, would wire your parents that you were injured and so forth.
There were times when we would dig in, like the first night after they had overrun us that day, the first night we dug in, and that’s when I said my machine gun couldn’t . . .
Interviewer: But after you dug in you would have to retreat again, right?
00:27:30: James Tilford Jones: Yeah, then we would dig in and they would come, you try to get them off your back, and then the next day you pull back. The next day you pull back.
Interviewer: But Chinese used to engage in attack during the night, right?
James Tilford Jones: Oh yeah, but like I said, you knew it because you could smell the garlic. You knew before they blew their little horns that they were there.
00:28:00: You didn’t have to worry – wonder when it was coming.
Interviewer: Were you scared?
James Tilford Jones: Didn’t have time to be. You really didn’t have time to be. All you’re thinking about is trying to get them off of you. The North Koreans and the Chinese fought very differently.
00:28:30: James Tilford Jones: The North Koreans, if they got you, they would surround you – totally surround you, to where you could try to find the weak spot. The Chinese would leave one opening, and I found out why, because one of them told me . . .
Interviewer: One of whom?
00:29:00: James Tilford Jones: The Chinese. He said, “If we leave you one way out, you won’t fight as hard.” I never thought of it that way.
Interviewer: Did that really happen?
James Tilford Jones: Oh yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: So they always leave one way out, always?
James Tilford Jones: Always. You always have one way out. Now, they had it in crossfire and mortars, but you could get out.
00:29:30: The best thing – best way I remember, the night I got back from the hospital and they overran us — and they were already nine miles behind us then — I was given the task of getting all of our equipment out, and as we were going down this valley, on the hills on either side, the Chinese were yelling down, “No rotation [unintelligible], no rotation.”
00:30:00: I know one mortar round came pretty close, actually, it got the heal of my sergeant, and he said, “Why didn’t you tell me that mortar was coming?” I said, “When a mortar round comes in, you hadn’t got time to tell anyone, you’ve got to move.” That was about the way it worked.
00:30:30: Then I retired from the army in 1955 – ’54, I’m sorry. Then I went into industry, and I was quality assurance, or quality control — however you want to say it — starting with Pillsbury.
00:31:00: So I was in quality control for the food industry and I was responsible for the quality in my last job that I had for 19 years. Now, I’m in what they call a Tell America program, and we go to the various high schools and try to tell these young folks, “What is the reason for the Korean War?”
00:31:30: “Why did we even fight it? Why did we even get over there and get bombed?” And even the teachers don’t know.
Interviewer: In Texas, right?
James Tilford Jones: All the schools that we’ve approached have welcomed us with open arms, the kids have been fantastic.
00:32:00: Like one school the other day, their teacher, came with a collage thanking us for coming and talking to them and explaining to them. Like I said, all we’ve had is just rave reviews from every school we’ve gone to. We have not had one bad thing from any school.
Interviewer: You are blessed in your state. There are many schools that are hesitant to invite Korean War veterans or any other war veterans and they are hesitant to talk about those issues in the classroom.
00:32:30: James Tilford Jones: Well of course, the history books there in Texas, most have a paragraph about that big on the Korean War, if they have anything.
00:33:00: A lot of them have nothing. And the teachers are saying, “Give us any information you can.” So we give them these little books that we get and we give them everything that we can give them. And the teachers are at least as interested as the children.
Interviewer: What is the main goal of the Tell America program?
00:33:30: James Tilford Jones: We want people to understand why we went to Korea and want to understand we stopped communism in Asia, because we know now — after finding some Stalin papers and Mao papers — that they wanted to conquer Korea, and their next step was Japan.
00:34:00: I wish there was some way we could get the textbook manufacturers — the people that make the textbooks — to know and understand and at least give us a half a page, or ideally, a couple of pages. But the people who are writing the textbooks don’t want to hear about it.
00:34:30: And yet they’ll give two pages to some guy — like this one that just shot everybody the other night — they’ll deal two pages to a fellow like that.
Interviewer: Have you contacted them?
James Tilford Jones: No, we haven’t. And we don’t know how to go about doing all of that.
Interviewer: That’s a very good point. I want to contact them and I wonder why they are not writing about the Korean War because the Korean War was the signal of the Cold War.
00:35:00: James Tilford Jones: Right.
Interviewer: That divided the whole country into two poles. One pole under the Soviet Union and the other pole under the United States.
James Tilford Jones: That is correct.
Interviewer: It’s one of the most important wars in the twentieth-century. So that’s a very excellent point that we need to contact these people who are writing history without knowing the importance of the Korean War.
00:35:30: James Tilford Jones: Well, there was one paragraph in one of the history books, it said it was “of no consequence” – “a war of no consequence that shouldn’t have been fought”.
I guess my biggest pleasure was my revisit to Korea.
Interviewer: When did you go?
00:36:00: James Tilford Jones: 2007, I believe it was, either 2006 or 2007. And to see those kids — I’m getting [unintelligible] — but to see those kids enjoying life, and laughing, I love to see them because it was where we went and I saw the young kids . . .
Interviewer: Where did you go in Korea?
00:36:30: James Tilford Jones: Of course they took us to the outdoor museum, and there I saw a bunch of them and I’ve got pictures of them and more pictures. I saw a group in the War Museum, and I got to talk to them a little bit, and they didn’t know some of the things.
00:37:00: I guess what I was so disappointed about in the War Museum was that my division was the second division into Korea at the start of the war, and they don’t even have our division flag in the museum.
Interviewer: That’s what we have to do, we have to scold historians.
James Tilford Jones: Well I did, because they – the curator for the War Museum, wanted these pictures — I made some copies and took them — I said, “Would you be interested in these?”
00:37:30: And he said, “Yeah, but I want the originals.” So I came back and made copies and sent him the originals, so the War Museum has the originals. But I told him, “Why don’t we have the 25th division?” “Oh, well that was a secondary division that came later.”
00:38:00: I said, “Nuh-uh, you need to read your history, we were the second.” In fact, after the 24th division lost their general, the 25th division commander took over the 24th and combined the 24th and 25th. And I’m surprised the curator to the museum didn’t know that.
00:38:30: Now I just want to say this too: The South Koreans – Republic of Korea, has done more for the U.S. G.I.s than any other country in the world. I have never received so much respect, be your Koreans in the U.S., or Koreans in Korea walking down the street. They thank you, and I don’t think you’ll find that in any other country.
00:39:13: [End of Recorded Material]