Anna Mae Jones, 100
Residence: City of Tonawanda
Branch: Women’s Army Corps
Rank: Second lieutenant
War zone: Pacific
Years of service: 1943-45
Most prominent honors: Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, Women’s Army Corps Service Medal, two Overseas Service Bars
Specialty: Provost marshal’s chief clerk
By Lou Michel
News Staff Reporter
Anna Mae Jones recalls her commanding officer handing her a pistol and telling her to shoot any of the Japanese prisoners of war if they tried to escape.
“I do not know how to shoot this,” she whispered to him.
“Just pull the trigger and aim it to the skies,” he whispered back.
Then he said in a very loud command to everyone could hear: “Shoot anyone who moves!”
Her commander was a Maj. Stukes, she can’t recall his first name, the provost marshal at Finschhafen military base in New Guinea. She and the major had gone to the docks to oversee the arrival of some two dozen POWs. Stukes and the military police who had removed the prisoners from a boat were summoned elsewhere, leaving Jones to take on a job description other than chief clerk to the provost marshal.
“The MPs returned after what I thought was a lifetime, but I’m sure it was a short period and they relieved me of my duty. No one moved, thank goodness,” Jones says.
Even if she had not been given a pistol, Jones might have succeeded anyway in keeping order among the prisoners.
“I was a schoolteacher, and every teacher should know how to keep order,” Jones said.
After graduating from D’Youville College with a teaching degree, she had moved to Burlington, Colo., to teach in a one-room schoolhouse. That experience, she said, laid the foundation for her later becoming a local pioneer in special education.
But first, the patriotic young woman enlisted.
“I thought it was my duty,” she says.
After a 21-day journey across the Pacific aboard a luxury liner converted into a troopship, she arrived at Oro Bay in New Guinea.
“The soldiers called it ‘Bloody Bay,’ ” she recalls. “When the Americans had first landed, there was no protection, and the Japanese were able to shoot at will.”
Although now a century old, Jones does not forget those who spilled their blood for America.
Her job as the provost marshal’s top clerk was to keep records on the thousands of troops stationed on the island. Jones and other clerks constantly updated files to reflect when troops arrived and when they were shipped out for combat and if they were killed in action.
Yes, it was an office job far from the bullets and bombs, but she was not spared war’s horrors.
“My saddest day was the day Maj. Stukes and I went down to the docks to assist in any way for a huge barge that was entering the port. On that barge, there were countless numbers of blanket burials,” she says, referring to soldiers who had been killed in action. “I do remember the quietness and realization of what the war was costing us in American lives.”
There were good times, too. Like the day that a lieutenant by the name of John Joseph Jones II showed up at her office on company business, and the mutual attraction was immediate.
Dating was not encouraged, she explained, although it was permitted under certain conditions.
“If there was a date, it had to be five couples and someone had to have a gun just in case something happened. That was just the rules,” the former Anna Mae Robillard remembers. “The gun was never fired on any of the dates I went on.”
Speaking of rules, officers were not allowed to date subordinates, but the couple bent the rules a bit to nurture their romance, which would culminate in marriage.
And there were the parties thrown by the various units that also provided a diversion from the war.
“I was always amazed at the ingenuity of the American GIs. You would go to the evening event, and the place would be decorated to look like a nightclub you would find in the U.S. I don’t know where the soldiers would find the items to decorate,” Jones says. “There were bars and chairs and tables with candles and flowers.”
Other members of the Allied Forces also proved resourceful, she said in telling how Australian “flyboys,” stationed on the island, and much closer to their native land, were generous.
“They would always share what they flew in. They never took any money for the items. At their parties, there were always steaks, real eggs, and fresh strawberries,” Jones says.
But news of how the war was progressing was scarce, even though the military base had a newspaper called the Guinea Gold. Jones says that most of her war news arrived in letters from her parents, Anna Marie and Francis E. Robillard, who lived in the City of Tonawanda. But when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died, Jones recalls, there was no delay.
“We were called into formation at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. We were told of his death and that Harry Truman was now our president,” she says. “Everyone felt sad because most of us had lived through the Depression and felt that Roosevelt had done so much for the country.”
Another time, when troops were summoned into formation for a major announcement, the news was wonderful:
The war was over.
“I don’t remember the time of day, but it was a great feeling to know our GIs were victorious. I do remember that we all celebrated that evening,” Jones says.
One of the highlights of her return to the States occurred when the ship she was on sailed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day 1945. Two weeks later, Jones took the train back home, and her dad met her at the Buffalo Central Terminal.
“When I saw my dad, I just cried,” she says. “I was so happy to be home.”
Not long after that, on Feb. 2, 1946, she married John Jones, who had been promoted to captain and was making the Army his career. The Pacific sweethearts took their vows at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Tonawanda and soon began life as military nomads, assigned to bases in the United States and Europe, while raising three children.
When her husband retired in 1962 as a major who had supervised military recruitment in the Buffalo area, she was already working as a City of Tonawanda special-education teacher.
Back in those days, when education for children with developmental disabilities was not as mainstream as the current curriculum, Jones would take her students on camping trips and teach them about nature. She also started a summer school program in Tonawanda for those youngsters, and it still continues in the district.
When she felt that one of her students demonstrated enough ability to participate in the regular curriculum, Jones made sure the student was included, a policy that became known as inclusion.
After her husband died in 1966, Jones immersed herself in community and civic organizations, including membership in Post 264, American Legion, where she served as chaplain for 26 years.
So it makes perfect sense that a long life such as hers has not gone unnoticed. After turning 100 on Sept. 6, she was honored by the staff at the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where she receives her medical care.
“Anna Mae’s journey led the way for other women in the military,” says Jill B. Lamantia, local manager of the VA’s Women Veterans Program. “We have greatly benefited from her service and sacrifice, not just in the military, but also professionally and for her community after the war.”
Jones says she is grateful to both the VA staff and her family who help her to carry on these days.
“I am very proud to be an American and feel that I live in the greatest country in the world.”
Jones is also grateful for the simple things in life.
“It is still enjoyable,” she says, “to go to the Legion for a beer.”
And, she adds, an occasional Manhattan cocktail is also just fine with her.