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David Jones, 4-Star General

6/21/2005:

General David Jones was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on this date in 1978. He was from Minot, where a winter storm helped him choose his life’s path. It was during the late 1930s; Army Air Corps planes were flying through on their way to Alaska, when they had to make an emergency landing in Minot because of a snowstorm. David went with a group of other students to talk with the pilots and observe their planes. The planes’ instruments and controls were impressive enough. But when Jones actually sat in a pilots’ seat, destiny called.

Jones always said growing up in North Dakota was one of the best things that ever happened to him. He came of age during the depression and learned the value of work by delivering papers and shoveling snow for spending money. In the summer, he caught gophers, for which the township paid a bounty of five cents each. David stretched his profits by using snares, rather than wasting money on bullets.

During the summers, his father would take him along when visiting grain dealers, and Jones became fond of the prairies landscapes, especially the towering grain elevators. Of his education, his teacher named Miss Shepard said, “David Jones was the type of young student a teacher would remember. He was a normal high school student but inwardly he had many distinctive characteristics. To him grades were incidental. Yet he always received high marks. He was studious, blessed with a photographic mind. He never complained.”

World War II was looming on the horizon when David graduated from high school. Still intent on flying for the Army Air Corps, he went to UND where he could be part of the ROTC program. Later he said, “My year at UND was not very distinguished. It was my first time away from home and friends. I did not use my time wisely.”

The following year, he transferred to Minot State, where he got serious about learning, both in the classroom and in the air. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, David enlisted in the Army Air Corps and received his wings in less than a year. He was commissioned a second lieutenant but was disappointed when his skill led not to action but to an assignment as a flight instructor.

Jones eventually saw action in WWII, but it was in Korea that he distinguished himself. There, he took command of the 19th Bomb Squadron, which was dubbed “Jones’ Bridge Busters.” By 1971, Jones was a 4-star general commanding the Air Force in Europe. Seven years later, President Jimmy Carter appointed him chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country’s highest ranking military officer; President Reagan re-appointed General Jones to the same position when he took office two years later.

Through it all, Jones kept his home in ND. “No other place has really felt like home,” he says. “My family roots grow deep in the state, and the values and attitudes that I live by were formed during my youth spent among the rugged, hard working, unpretentious people of that state. My boyhood was spent during the depression and dust storms, and those memories stayed with me, for back then survival meant a lot of hard work and originality. I am convinced that much credit toward preparing me for my chosen career in the Air Force was due to having spent my boyhood and young manhood in North Dakota.”

Indeed, almost any person who rises to the highest rank in the military has done so by attending Annapolis or West Point. General Jones did it by distinguishing himself through perseverance, hard work and the passion to become an Army Air Corps pilot.

Source: Irving Wallace, North Dakota Horizons, as entered into the U.S. Congressional Record on Legislative day of March 14, 1983.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm