Throughout the years, so many children have dreamed about a career in aviation. In the case of local veteran Francis “Bud” Jones, circumstances born of the Second World War helped transition such a dream to reality. Shortly after his graduation from Vienna High School, Jones began attending the University of Missouri in Columbia during the fall of 1941. A couple of months later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Jones realized his educational pursuits would likely be delayed.
“I knew I would be drafted,” explained Jones, “but I didn’t want to be in the infantry.”
Seeking to satisfy his duty to the nation while also taking advantage of an early interest he had developed in aviation, Jones traveled to Ft. Leonard Wood for three days of aviation cadet testing. Nearly a week after the completion of the testing, he was informed of his acceptance into the U.S. Army Air Corps (which later became known the U.S. Army Air Forces and eventually the U.S. Air Force), but he would have to wait for a training slot to become available.
In May 1942, Jones was sworn into an enlisted reserve status and soon embarked upon the extensive training regimen required to become a military aviator. Completing several phases of flight instruction during which he progressed to larger and more powerful aircraft, the fledgling pilot received his first introduction to the P-40 Warhawk—a ground attack aircraft used by the Allied powers—while stationed at Luke Field, Arizona.
“In our final phase of training (at Luke Field), we spent ten hours flying the Warhawk,” Jones said.
Successfully finishing almost a year of training, Jones graduated with his “wings” as a second lieutenant in August of 1943. He then traveled to the Army airbase in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he and other aspiring aviators spent about seventy hours familiarizing themselves with the P-40 under combat-style simulations.
With the war raging in Europe and the country in dire need of air support for the ground forces, Jones and several new pilots were soon on their way overseas. Eventually, Jones was transported to an Army airfield near Cercola, Italy and assigned to the 324th Fighter Group.
“While in training, we were told that the P-40’s we trained on would be obsolete,” Jones recalled. “But when we arrived in Cercola all we saw were P-40’s lined up on the airfield.”
With bombs situated under the wings and the belly of the plane, the squadron Jones was part of would lead airstrikes against integral enemy targets such as railroad systems, troop staging areas and gun emplacements. On other occasions, their aircraft were simply outfitted with machine guns with which to engage enemy objectives.
During the latter part of the war in Europe, while the Germans were being pushed out of France, Jones remarked that the enemy began to “throw everything they had at us.”
Eventually, Jones’ squadron made the transition to the newer P-47 Thunderbolt—a heavily armed, single engine fighter aircraft—on which he flew his final twenty-five missions.
“I got shot up pretty bad in my last few missions,” Jones stated. “On one run I got hit by four 20mm cannons. It ended up cracking the cylinder and cutting my oil line.”
As a testament to the durability of his new P-47’s, Jones was able to make it 180 miles back to the airbase before the engine on the plane seized up.
“The plane had an oil tank of 32 gallons,” Jones remarked. “By the time I got back all of the oil was either on the outside of plane or all over me,” he quipped.
In September of 1944, Jones received orders to return to the states. After 117 successful missions his combat career came to a close, but not before being awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses, four Air Medals and numerous other decorations. Spending several months in Arizona and Alabama training new pilots in the combat tactics he had himself learned and employed while fighting in Europe, Jones was separated from active duty in June 1945.
Continuing his military career, Jones joined the Air Force Reserve—retiring as a lieutenant colonel on May 12, 1981. On the same date as his military retirement, he also retired as a major from an extensive post-military career with the Missouri Highway Patrol.
“I couldn’t have done it without my wife, Dee (whom he married in 1951),” Jones said. “She’s been my best friend and loyal supporter through it all.”
Though Jones notes that the circumstances of the war played some factor in his opportunity to take wing, he asserts that the experiences drawn from service in a combat zone only helped to forge his resilience.
“Don’t tell me I can’t do something…I’ll find a way,” he stressed. “That’s the spirit of determination the service gave to me.”
In recognition of his service in support of the liberation of France during the war, Jones was presented the French Legion of Honor by Gov. Jay Nixon during a ceremony in 2012.
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.