It’s been 77 years and Johnnie Jones still sees the German sniper who tried to kill him as he came ashore on Omaha Beach for D-Day.

“I remember it all,” he said. “Sometimes reminiscing is a terrible thing. I close my eyes at night and still see him. I lay down at night and as soon as I close my eyes, I relive the whole D-Day invasion.”

Jones almost never made it to the beachhead that day. His ship hit a mine and he was blown from the second deck to the first. The explosion, “blew me sky high into the air,” he said. “I was flying like a bullet.”

Later in the war, Jones got hit with shrapnel when he didn’t hit the ground fast enough during a bomb attack.

“The doctor told me it would really hurt in 75 years, but I wouldn’t have to worry about that. I fooled him. It hurts, and I’m still picking it out of my head and arm. A piece came out just above my left eye yesterday.”

He never got the Purple Heart for any of those battle injuries.

Now 101, he finally received the award Saturday at the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Jones, a civil rights icon, still lives on his own and gets home-based primary care from the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System in Baton Rouge.

“Like a lot of my Veterans, he is so real and been through so much, but he is so humble,” said VA social worker Keith Horcasitas, who checks in regularly. “Here I am, before a living hero who put his life on the line – not only in military service, but otherwise making some much-needed changes in our country.”

Johnnie Jones at his birthday party

Johnnie Jones dressed in style for his 100th birthday party last year. “I’m doing OK for a young man,” he said. “I’ll make it to 125.” He was instrumental in starting civil rights boycotts and protests in the 1950s.

Jones grew up in a farming family. His parents insisted he go to school. He graduated from Southern University and was drafted into the Army in 1942. By 1943, he rose to the rank of Warrant Officer Junior Grade.

Though he fought for freedom overseas, he wasn’t given it when he came back home. While driving in 1946 to New Orleans to get shrapnel removed from his neck, he was pulled over by a white police officer.

“He knocked me down and started kicking me,” he said. “Things weren’t right. ‘Separate but equal’ was unconstitutional and I wanted to fight it and make it better.”

Jones got his law degree. Just 15 days out of school, the Rev. T.J. Jemison recruited him in 1953 to help organize the United Defense League’s eight-day bus boycott in Baton Rouge and defend the participants. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King used that event to plan his larger bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, two years later.

Jones defended students in drugstore sit-ins and others as civil rights protests spread throughout the south. His car was bombed twice.

“I was in the car and got out as it got blown in the air,” he said. “We had to take a firm stand. You only live once, but when you die, you die forever, so I wasn’t going to rest until we could fix things.”

His daughter-in-law, Mary Louise Jones, said it never made him bitter.

“I think that’s because of his ability to make a change,” she said. “He just tried to work within the system. He has had so many civil rights cases that set a precedent, and he just knew it was right to get those things done.”

His friend, Russell Kelly, knew it also wasn’t right that he never got the Purple Heart. He spent the last 18 months collecting as much paperwork as he could find to prove Jones’ story and get him the award.

“He knocked me down and started kicking me. Things weren’t right. ‘Separate but equal’ was unconstitutional and I wanted to fight it and make it better.”

— Johnnie Jones, describing how he was treated after coming home from World War II.

“So many records were destroyed or lost,” Kelly said. “The fire in St. Louis (in 1973), and then Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Gustaf.”

But Jones had proof he served in the 494th Port Battalion that stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, and fought in other parts of Europe. Medical records from VA detailed treatment for war wounds.

Jones was honored March 9, 2020, by the French government when they presented him their country’s Legion of Honor for his World War II service. That’s where Kelly brought up his story with Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, who helped expedite the case. Cassidy presented the Purple Heart at the ceremony.

“He is so real and been through so much, but he is so humble. Here I am, before a living hero who put his life on the line – not only in military service, but otherwise making some much-needed changes in our country.”

— Keith Horcasitas, VA social worker from the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, who checks in on Johnnie Jones regularly.

The Army also sent thanks, along with the award.

“I want to express our deepest respect for your distinguished service, and long overdue recognition of your wounds received during the invasion of Omaha Beach on D-Day,” wrote Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville. “We owe you a debt of gratitude, both for your sacrifices during World War II and for being a role model for African Americans aspiring to serve. We serve to honor your legacy.”

Mary Louise Jones said her father-in-law’s influence was felt throughout the family – two sons, a daughter and granddaughter became attorneys.

Jones said it’s an honor to be recognized, in honor of those he served with. But he’s more focused on telling his story after the war.

“This is for my children, and my grandchildren, and any young people who want to listen to me,” he said. “I love talking to young people, because you cannot hide the past. You have to deal with the past, and you have to deal with history. You have to read and understand so we don’t repeat the past.”

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44 Comments

  1. G.O. Moore July 12, 2021 at 2:57 pm

    Thank you for your service, Mr. Jones, and happy belated birthday.

    Army Veteran
    Air Force Retiree

  2. G.O. Moore July 12, 2021 at 2:54 pm

    Thank you for your service, Mr. Jones.

    Army Veteran
    Air Force Retiree

  3. E-4 S. Hall July 3, 2021 at 4:09 pm

    Thank you Mr Jones for your bravery and civil right work in LA.
    Happy Fourth of July! Thank you for your service Veteran.

  4. Ms. S Hall July 3, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    Thank you Mr. Jones. My great uncle served in World War II and was always proud of him and the rest of family members that served. Your story was interesting and informative. “At last you received recognition for your bravery and injuries.

    I glad the Lord allowed you live and that you for your service to this country and Thank you for your civil right work.

    So Happy Fourth of July!! God Bless you Mr. Veteran Jones!

  5. Thomas Alva Abernathy July 1, 2021 at 10:01 pm

    God was looking out for Johnny Jones during his worst experiences. His service to his Country
    should never be forgotten. God Bless You, and many more Birthdays! As a Vietnam Veteran, I
    I can relate to some of your experiences. I got wounded in Vietnam 1968, running from a Rocket Attack,
    Cut my Buttox as Forest Gump said (Smile), but I never got a purple heart (never reported by me).

    As General McArthur said “Old Soldier’s Never Die, They Just Fade Away.”

  6. JAMES LEO WILLESS July 1, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    Such a shame the Mr. Jones was treated the way he was for all those years after serving his country in combat to free Europe from a demonic tyrant (Hitler), then becoming a lawyer and activist for freedom and equality in the United States of America. Many have already provided laudatory remarks about Mr. Jones’ life of service to others, so I will just acknowledge on that fact and thank him for all he has done in his remarkable life. He earned the Purple Heart and should be more widely recognized for not only that fact, but also all the good he has done after his military service. I was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in the Vietnam War, but unlike Mr. Jones I received my award within months after I was wounded. For it to take 77 years to award Mr. Jones his Purple Heart is shameful. Mr. Jones, Sir…I SALUTE YOU!

    • Doug prunrr July 5, 2021 at 3:40 am

      Mr Jones was not the only one, of course.

      Discrimination and racism are bad for society, even though they seem right to the practitioners. Imagine the benefit to his home town if he had been, say, a staff lawyer at City Hall all those years.
      We – regardless of background – who practice discrimination are hurting ourselves.

  7. Eric Zellars July 1, 2021 at 11:28 am

    AMAZING Story, and he is a true example of what Americans should aspire to be!

    I want to expand the shallowness of Gen. James McConville’s compound comment, “We owe you a debt of gratitude, both for your sacrifices during World War II and for being a role model for African Americans aspiring to serve. We serve to honor your legacy.” We owe him a debt of gratitude because he is the living personification of what an American citizen should be, know, and do for their country (WE SHOULD RENAME AN ARMY INSTALLATION AFTER HIM). Mr. Jones stands for service before self, and he fought for justice and fairness for ALL – while being denied that very justice in his own country. Gen McConville’s statement is more comprehensive and inclusive when written this way: “…and for being AN EXAMPLE AND A ROLE MODEL FOR ALL AMERICANS ASPIRING TO SERVE.” Not just African Americans. I know, “we are just way too sensitive.” Maybe it’s because it takes 77 years to recognize an American hero who happens to have more pigment in his skin than others who were recognized for much less; we even named Military installations after them. We must never stop fighting for inequality.

    • Doug Pruner July 5, 2021 at 3:41 am

      Agreed, Mr Cellars. Well put.

      • Doug Pruner July 5, 2021 at 3:44 am

        Sorry. Zellars. The spell checker doesn’t know you.

  8. Robert L Wood July 1, 2021 at 10:30 am

    And we fight on….

  9. Chad Magwire July 1, 2021 at 8:43 am

    “You have to deal with the past, and you have to deal with history. You have to read and understand so we don’t repeat the past.” Probably one of the best pieces of advice an older person can give a younger generation! This let’s tear down everything and try and forget it will lead us to repeating it all over again! A true warrior both on the battlefield and the streets! Thanks to Everyone who did the legwork to get the man his recognition!

  10. Dennis Watts July 1, 2021 at 8:15 am

    Just another “Feel Good” story about a man who lived through something 99.99 % percent of us will never experience or even more sad, “Understand”. Just the fact that it took 77 years to acknowledge this man tells volumes about the United States of America and what’s important and what’s not. As I read the story several things really stood out to me ! It mentions the word “Expedite” and ” Congressman in the same sentence ! Sorry those two words should NEVER be used together. Nothing the Congress does is Expedited, NOTHING ! As I read this story I just kept shaking my head. Not out of pity or disbelief that this could ever happen to any Human Being but because of the Sadness I felt ! I tried to visualize what the story was telling me but could not. How could anyone who has never been in Combat? I am a Veteran and enlisted in the United States Air Force after High Schoo. Then went to College and have a life that others would be so grateful to have as I am.
    But you know what stood out more to me in this article and proves that somethings never change. That we still are fighting Wars both abroad and here in the United States of America. The ones abroad are one thing and maybe are just a fact of life and the Evil Human Beings in it. ie, Putin / Kim Young Despicable / Donald Trump and on and on. They’ll always be people like them and even worst people who enable them. ie Republican Cowards !
    And here’s the Saddest thing said to me: Just another Black Man being pulled over by a Deranged Cop and then beaten for being Black and nothing else. Oh I’m sorry there is something else. This man is not only Black, He’s a True Hero in every sense of the word. But that means nothing to Cops coming are streets looking for Black people both then and even more today. And why didn’t the article mention what happened to this Cop? Because the answering is “NOTHING”. Many, Many Cops are also the Enemy but even more dangerous because they have a license to Kill. And to the ones who actually help keep we Americans safe, God Bless everyone of you for what you do! And for the ones who don’t You know who you are and “SHAME ON YOU”. And finally: Thank you Johnny Jones and all the other Hero’s who never are even mentioned ! God knows who you are !!!

    • louis a nieves July 1, 2021 at 8:56 am

      to johnie jones i salute you as a fellow vet and as a decent human being. you did so.much! may god bless you!

      • Mayda McFadden July 1, 2021 at 11:37 am

        This write-up is the most real heartbreaking truth of fellow human beings that live along side us yet treated with such midevil, vile treatment ..its about time the laws caught up with what they boast to be in the US as politicians. Turning a blind eye is turning your back on your country & to ones you draft into these horrible situations.

    • Michael Pavlick July 1, 2021 at 4:43 pm

      Dennis, though you make some good points in your comment, you lost me with the partisan rant. By any measure, Warrant Officer Jones was treated dishonorably by our military and our Country, which he so proudly and faithfully served, in both war and peace. I’m certain this is not an isolated case, because we are not perfect. If we were, race would not be a factor in this story or any other. I believe the Country is better than it was in 1946, but we’re clearly not there yet. I also think the “wokeness” pendulum has swung so far the other way that people are going to start ignoring attempts to make improvements because they are too radical and “in your face” like BLM in the past. We do need to press forward, but let’s not burn the country down in the process. And by the way, it was Senator, not Congressman, Cassidy, a REPUBLICAN, who assisted in this effort to right the wrong.
      This has gotten off topic, but I want to say Mr. Jones is an inspiration to ALL Americans. If you want to do something, say a prayer for him and his family, and while you’re at it, say one for the Country.
      Respectfully,
      Commander, US Naval Reserve, Retired

  11. Staff Sgt Caren Beety July 1, 2021 at 8:10 am

    I was impressed with your story. I don’t usually send comments, however; to have such a full life -the good and the bad…to be a part of history and to have done such wonderful things that people will remember you for. I’m sorry the bad memories still haunt you, but the great things you accomplished must make you feel great. I’m sorry you had to deal with the time period in the American history that we all had to grow and learn from. Thank you for your part in history.

  12. Eric Williams July 1, 2021 at 7:48 am

    It’s so sad when these men earn these awards at a young age, but never get them until they are in their 90’s or beyond. How stupid is that?! There is no excuse for that. Yes it takes time to write an award and it is hard in war time, but you have to honor those who deserve it – no matter what race or color! This man is a hero and the fact that a piece of shrapnel came out about his left eye the other day proves it!!! He paid his dues for our FREEDOM!

  13. Carney Jackson July 1, 2021 at 5:57 am

    I salute you Johnnie. Thanks for your service.

  14. Yolanda S Wilborn July 1, 2021 at 3:05 am

    The more you read the more you learn. Now that you have read something that you didn’t know of, you can dig a little deeper. Do some research and you’ll be amazed at what you can find. I’m a retired Air Force veteran. I’m more than inspired and grateful to have read this article. WO Jr Grade Johnnie Jones will receive his rightful reward when he stands at the gate. His long life so far speaks of why he’s still with us today. His story hasn’t been told, a documentary needs to be made so he himself can tell the story. Every year during black history month churches have programs and the children come and speak of the same blacks year after year. The schools post the same old posters of the same people. Since Johnnie Jones lives in Louisiana I pray that before this article was published that every person had heard of him. Not because of his age, but his steadfast charge to see that changes that all people are entitled to came to fruitation.

  15. Jean Handy July 1, 2021 at 1:32 am

    I enjoyed reading this article. What a man and what a history! I served 8 1/2 years (03) in the late ’80s. I was brought up as very racist and I was able to leave that mindset pretty quickly. Rank is rank, period. SO I do not care if you are black, white, purple with polka-dots, you treat everyone with decency and respect. So glad I got out and away and got educated in my early service years.

  16. Kristy July 1, 2021 at 1:13 am

    Congratulations!

  17. Víctor Cabrera July 1, 2021 at 1:12 am

    How can I get my Air Medal awarded? I met all the requirements for it when I was part of OIF 06 and 07. My Commander said it was a clerical error and pretty much “too bad”. All others received their Air Medals except me. I did contact my old Commander and my Congressnan and they pointed me in the direction to try to get it awarded. Basically contact my COC from back then and get them to sign off on it. The attempt was made but all have either retired and they simply don’t want to sign anything or just don’t care. I deserve my Air Medal, I earned it. That’s all I want. I don’t want to get awarded it when I’m dead. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

    • Joseph Naporac July 1, 2021 at 9:24 am

      The Air Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the armed forces of the United States, shall have distinguished himself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight. Awards may be made to recognize single acts of merit or heroism or for meritorious service. Award of the Air Medal is primarily intended to recognize those personnel who are on current crew member or non-crew member flying status which requires them to participate in aerial flight on a regular and frequent basis in the performance of their primary duties. However, it may also be awarded to certain other individuals whose combat duties require regular and frequent flying in other than a passenger status or individuals who perform a particularly noteworthy act while performing the function of a crew member but who are not on flying status. These individuals must make a discernible contribution to the operational land combat mission or to the mission of the aircraft in flight. Examples of personnel whose combat duties require them to fly include those in the attack elements of units involved in air-land assaults against an armed enemy and those directly involved in airborne command and control of combat operations. Involvement in such activities, normally at the brigade/group level and below, serves only to establish eligibility for award of the Air Medal; the degree of heroism, meritorious achievement or exemplary service determines who should receive the award. Awards will not be made to individuals who use air transportation solely for the purpose of moving from point to point in a combat zone.

      If you feel that you meet the award criteria, then take the following action:
      1-Submit a letter request with supporting documentation (if available) to Air Reserve Personnel Command
      See https://www.arpc.afrc.af.mil/Services/Recognition-Formerly-Awards-and-Decs/
      2-If disapproved, you can file an appeal to the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records (AFBCMR) – Is a statutory board of civilians considering applications for correction of military records submitted by Air Force members (Regular, Guard, and Reserve), former members of the Air Force, or persons with a proper interest in the correction of a person’s military record.

  18. Stanley Walker July 1, 2021 at 12:20 am

    This is a story that needs to be on every news station. Not for the inflammation of todays society, but to show all how we can apply his actions and inactions to our lives and allow his life story to teach us all how to persevere, teach, and serve ( because we are all called to serve one another in good ways ). If you look at our society today, the role models and teachers are singers, exotic dancers, thugs, and liars. This is who we have our young people looking up to and mimicking. Here is a man who put it all on the line, for all. His life is proof that “EVERY” American can succeed if we apply ourselves. He is a real ” AMERICAN ” Hero and Role Model.

    CW3 Walker

  19. David Cope July 1, 2021 at 12:09 am

    You forgot to write where he went to elementary school and high school too. Maybe it’s not a slight error at all. Maybe it’s not important, maybe it has nothing to do with the story.

  20. J July 1, 2021 at 12:02 am

    Although it states records were lost, they were not lost prior to the hurricanes & fire. Mr Jones should have been awarded this Purple Heart long ago. It is shameful how these recognitions often go by unrecognized.

    The VA needs to step up!

    • Joseph Naporac July 1, 2021 at 9:14 am

      The VA does not issue military awards, so saying “the VA needs to step up!” is wrong.

      • J July 1, 2021 at 10:00 am

        No it’s not. They have records of every single person. I understand who does the nominating, which is another huge slap in the face to Mr Jones. He should not have had to wait to be honored.

  21. Eric Rearden June 30, 2021 at 11:57 pm

    Remarkable man. He had good reason to be bitter and turn out bad. He kept his eye on his dreams and being a voice for change. Congratulations Johhnie Jones on a life well lived.

  22. Evelyn Mangin June 30, 2021 at 11:41 pm

    I salute you Chief

  23. Alfred Henney June 30, 2021 at 10:39 pm

    Mr. Kunuch, Please tell Mr. Jones “Thank you very much for your service.”

    Regards
    Al Henney

  24. Gary J. Labriola June 30, 2021 at 9:20 pm

    It took as much courage and fortitude to not become bitter with his experiences at ” home” after having served his country when it called on him as it did most likely on the field of battle. Let others quibble about who should be recognized for getting this man his deserved recognition. Yes, it was good that they helped him get his overdue medal but HE earned it. He is the story and not them. Thank you, sir, for giving it your all!

  25. Russell L. Kelly June 30, 2021 at 8:58 pm

    The article had to be limited to a certain number of words. Gary and I talked about this and both of us wish more could be written.

    I noticed I was not mentioned in any local publications or credits and Cassidy’s people get the written kudos for doing this. Let me make sure ALL know this happened. Johnnie A. Jones files were destroyed in the fire in the achieves in St. Louis in 1973, his VA medical records were decimated in Hurricane Katrina, and most of his personal documentations were desteoyed in Hurricane Gustav. The Army could not find him and I pieced together information spanning 77 years for others to get credit.

    Does color make a difference? He was listed as WHITE for 75 years missing the 75th anniversary trip back to Normandy, because our government could not FIND him! I also led to this being corrected. But our government officials will not tell you this happened.

    I thank Senator Cassidy’s office for expiditing this but without my initiative to challenge, this would have resulted in nothing without the proof I provided to the Army in over 40 interactive emails. My request for America to apologize to him for this and so much more than this fell on deaf ears. So does color make a difference?

    I thank Welma and Marcia for providing critical information this could not have happened without. In fact I communicated with some very good people in and out of the military who exhibited more character than some.

    All need to take note and be very carefully on whose opinion YOU see value in . . .

  26. william Karp June 30, 2021 at 8:06 pm

    Changing History?

  27. Christopher Rushlau June 30, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    In Normandy
    The 494th Port Battalion was attached to the 6th Engineer Special Brigade and landed on Omaha Beach in the first wave of the Normandy invasion on D+1: June 7, 1944.
    http://www.longshoresoldiers.com/2011/11/short-history-of-494th-port-battalion.html

  28. Christopher Rushlau June 30, 2021 at 6:52 pm

    The four ninety fourth landed on the second day, “D+1”, June 7. Even the Chief of Staff doesn’t have the power to change that fact.

  29. Christopher Rushlau June 30, 2021 at 6:26 pm

    How could you see the sniper who shot you?

    • Hugh Jass July 2, 2021 at 6:37 am

      With your eyes.

  30. jim Amado June 30, 2021 at 6:20 pm

    Congratulations to you sir for going to war for our country, and for being the role model and defender you have been since then. God bless you!

  31. Joey Strickland June 29, 2021 at 11:03 am

    It was disappointing to see that the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs who worked hand in glove with Senator Cassidy’s office and the Secretary of LDVA even served as MC for the ceremony was not recognized in the article. It was not a federal effort alone that made this happen.

  32. George E. JONES, Jr. June 29, 2021 at 2:03 am

    Gary Kunich, you forgot to write where he received his law degree, “The Southern University.” Maybe its a slight error by a journalist with 34 years of writing experience.

    • LaRae Stoltzfus July 1, 2021 at 1:42 am

      You missed it, where he graduated from “Southern University” is in the paragraph under his 100th birthday photo.

      Awesome story about an awesome man. Very happy he finally received his Purple Heart.

    • Simon Pumpernickel July 2, 2021 at 6:38 am

      Do you know how to read?

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