The Greatest Generation has often described World War II as a romantic era in the midst of worldwide misery. Along with the suffering and carnage, the timeless spark called love refused the grasp of universal hate. The bombers and the bayonets lost; the birds and the bees won. After the bombs came the babies.
Wars end. Life continues. Ralph and Jane Jones proved cupid travels from war to war. The Vietnam War was a matchmaker, too. For Ralph, his part of the story began in the frigid skies over Korea.
After a Porterdale upbringing and schooling at Newton County High School, Ralph Jones joined the U.S. Air Force in 1951. His military career would be spent saving lives, not taking them, as a medical technician. Ralph's first port-of-call after training was the 801st Medical Air Evacuation Squadron at Tachikawa AFB on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan. He arrived in July 1952.
Ralph said, "We'd fly a C-47 into Seoul, South Korea to pick-up 12 litters of wounded GIs, six litters of ambulatory on one side, six litters of more seriously wounded on the other side. Only the cockpit was heated. Spilled coffee ran about three feet before freezing solid. I remember my first flight. As we landed at Seoul, I saw the bodies of four North Korean soldiers hanging from a bridge. I was told to get used to it because things got worse."
After three months at Tachikawa, Ralph transferred to Brady AFB at Kukuoka, Japan. "It was the same mission," he said. "We flew into Seoul to pick-up the wounded and dying and returned to the hospital at Kukuoka."
Another three months passed before Ralph called the war zone home. He said, "I flew out of Seoul to pick up wounded from all over Korea. The plane got hit from time to time but we always completed our mission. We'd bring the boys back to Seoul and another plane got them to Japan." Pausing a second, Ralph finally said, "The burns were the worst, black faces, the blisters. The guys suffered horribly. I was 20 years old. I wasn't scared, but I'll always remember how those boys suffered."
Ralph's combat tour of duty required 75 missions - he completed his 75th on the day the war ended. Future assignments included Lawson Airfield at Fort Benning to work in the flight surgeon's office and domestic air evac flights out of Pope AFB in North Carolina. In 1963, Ralph reported to Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Ala.
Ralph said, "One night, I walked into the class 1B area, that's the mental ward, and saw this 5'1" nurse reading the riot act to a 6'6" patient. She had the guy buffaloed. I thought to myself, ‘Yep, that's the girl for me.'"
The 5'1" bundle of dynamite was 1st Lieutenant Genevieve (Jane) Griffith of Onieda, N.Y. A graduate of St. Luke's Nursing School in Utica, N.Y., she had worked 11 years for a physician before joining the Air Force in 1962. When asked by the Air Force where she would prefer to be stationed, Jane said, "Any place that's warm!" Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Ala., was her first assignment, and her first exposure to Southern hospitality.
"I liked the South," she said. "The friendly people, warm climate and a new type of food, especially grits." Asked about fried okra, Jane said, "Okra is good too, once you build up a tolerance."
As their romance escalated, so did the conflict in a place called Vietnam. By 1966, Jane was on Okinawa caring for wounded warriors while Ralph served at Tan Son Nhut AFB in Saigon, Vietnam, flying the battered and bruised out of country. While tending the wounded, either in the air or on solid ground, the boy from Porterdale, asked the spitfire from New York for her hand in marriage.
Ralph took a four day leave, flew to Okinawa, and at some point as the couple gathered paperwork here and there in the capital city of Naha in April 1967, U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Ralph Jones and 1st Lieutenant Genevieve ‘Jane' Griffith became husband and wife. Jane said, "It took all day to collect all the necessary paperwork, and the U.S. consulate said at some point during the process to put the ring on my finger because we'd be married. By the way, our marriage certificate is in Japanese."
After a brief honeymoon, the war-couple returned to their duty, Ralph flying the wounded out of Vietnam, Jane helping to stabilize the soldiers for their homebound fight. Ralph evacuated the wounded during the infamous Tet Offensive in early 1968. He said, "It was like Korea but better planes, like the C-123 and C-130. We'd fly into Danang or Nha Trang, places like that to get the boys. One tech on the plane was wounded by ground fire and we had holes in the planes whenever we landed. We transported body bags too. I didn't like that job at all."
Ralph and Jane were reunited at Clark AFB in the Philippines. Both arrived the same month and continued their duties as a couple. They lived off base, but Ralph was still airborne most of the time evacuating the wounded while Jane, now a captain, worked in Orthopedics at the base hospital prepping the boys for surgery, trying to save limbs, trying to save lives.
Jane said, "We tried to save the limbs. I hated to see the triple-amputees, those really saddened me. I don't even like to talk about it."
Ralph said, "Jane is right. We saw so much; we just try not to talk about it. The burns were always horrible. I'll always remember the burns."
Asked if they experienced ‘burnout' during their war-related responsibilities, both answered almost in sync, "No, it was our job."
Ralph and Jane Jones did what they were trained to do: helping the injured and maybe making a wounded warrior's personal transition from a casualty to a civilian less of a struggle. They transported our boys and treated their wounds for four years, returning stateside in 1969. Both left the military when Ralph retired in 1972 and returned to Covington.
Ralph worked as district manager for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and spent a few years driving a school bus.
Jane worked at the Newton County Hospital for 11 years as a supervisor and in-service education director. She also found time to earn a bachelor's and a master's degree in education from the University of Georgia.
Pete Mecca is Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. Contact Pete at firstname.lastname@example.org Visit his website at aveteransstory.us.