In Memory of John R. Jones
By: George "Sonny" Hoffman


Name: John Robert Jones

Rank: E5/US Army Special Forces

Home of Record: El Paso Texas

Date of Birth: 20 February 1949 (Louisville KY)

MIA: 05 June 1971  


John R. Jones (Wo Fat Pudgy) is, was, and always will be my best friend. I didn't care for him when we first met in Phase One of SF training. He did not fit my image of what a soldier should look like, much less a paratrooper. Green Beret? Give me a break.

John Jones was short, fat (actually, stocky--he just looked fat), and wore Army issue glasses that kept slipping down his cherubic nose. Often, he'd simply tilt his head back to look at you rather than push them back in place. If told to push his glasses up, he'd do so with his middle finger.

Jones didn't make friends very easily. He stood alone quite a bit. One sergeant asked Jones if he knew his name in Chinese. Jones tilted back his head and squinted. The sergeant said, "Wo Fat Pudgy!" We laughed our asses off. Jones pushed his glasses up and smiled his inscrutable smile. Jones had a handle that would stick--Wo Fat. I don't think anybody liked the idea of Jones wearing a green beret, and I was one of them.

The toughest part of SF training comes in Phase One. Phase One is Ranger school compressed into four weeks, with the last week set in the swamps of Camp McCall. Some called it Hell week, but in early February, the North Carolina swamp bears no resemblence to Hell--Hell on ice, maybe. More than half of SF training dropouts occur during the McCall survival week--Hell week. You parachute in with no food and try to survive in the swamp for a full week while conducting combat operations.

You don't have to go alone, though. Before starting out, everybody was assigned a buddy. Guess who I got? Good guess--Wo Fat. I knew I'd have to drag his fat ass all through that swamp. I think my first words to him were, "If you're the reason I fail this course, and we end up in the 82nd Airborne Division, I'll kill you."

Jones pushed his glasses up and smiled. I wanted to knock those glasses off and wipe that smile on my boots, but he was my buddy by order of the Commander in Chief.

McCall was hell, pure and simple. There is absolutely nothing to eat in the swamp in winter. I have never been so hungry. The class hunted a German sheppard. I used a sixteen penny nail shoved down the bore of my M-14, propelled by a double-loaded blank round. If I had hit it, we would have fought over the rectum. That dog had been shot at before.

Surprisingly, Jones held his own. We bagan working together. We had to. There was no fat on that butterball soldier. He had big bones covered by hard muscle. Before long, I was wishing he were all fat. Bones and muscle are heavier than they look, and we often carried each other.

The worst part of Hell week was the night navigation course at the end. Until that part, individuals dropped out. The night nav course took buddy teams out. A blizzard blew in that day, freezing everything. Temperatures dropped into single digits with wind. Luckily, wind chill had not been invented back then.

To make this ten click (10 kilometer) swamp crossing, we each had one canteen of water, a poncho, a rifle, and the clothes on our back. Between us, we had three blank rounds which Jones carried in his pocket. These were to signal the support teams stationed on the boundry road. The three shots indicated that a buddy team wanted out. They'd triangulate the position and come in after the team.

Our strategy was to keep one of us dry as long as possible. We flipped a P-38 can opener. I lost, and had to carry Jones over every water obstacle, crunching through ice and getting wet past my knees. I was numb before eight and couldn't move an hour later. I have never known such pain and discomfort, nor been that tired and hungry. We rested on a dry mound. Jones piled up swamp litter around me to break the wind. I couldn't feel my feet. He took off my boots and socks, rubbed my feet, then placed them in his arm pits, inside his shirt. That's a buddy.

His was a noble gesture, and probably saved me from frost bite. I could see I wasn't going to make it and began talking about the 82nd Airborne Division and what a fine outfit it was with a glorious past. Jones kept working. I said, "Stateside paratrooper duty ain't bad, Jonesie."

He put his dry socks on me and put my wet ones on his feet. That was our plan, but that wasn't to happen until after the midpoint. We were far from the midpoint. I said, "We'd make good paratroopers, eh Jones? John R.? Wo Fat?"

"Maybe."

"Jones, let's end this. Fire off those blanks."

"Can't."

"Give them to me. I can."

"I threw them away."

"You what?"

"We didn't need to carry extra weight."

"What weight? Three damn rounds? We can't get out of this swamp without a map, you idiot."

"We've got a heading and a distance. Seven more clicks that way, and we're out."

It is amazing what you can do when you have no other choice. Jones dragged me through that swamp, and I only spelled him a few times. He was outstanding. From there on in, SF training was a cake walk. It was me and John R. after that. We were buddies through and through, and he never told anyone about dragging my ass through the swamp. To him, a buddy team went in, and a buddy team came out. That was all SF wanted or cared about, and that's all that mattered to John R..

We went our separate ways when we landed in Vietnam, but met up shortly before our tours ended. We had a great reunion, and made plans for after the war. We both planned to get out after our hitches were up. My grandmother was a permanent address we both knew. He visited her with me on three-day passes. He remembered the address, but wrote it down again at my insistence.

Jones had a girl in El Paso that he was getting serious about. He talked of marriage. He was quite surprised by my decision to return to Nam for another tour with SOG. He thought it was suicidal and out of character for me. I laughed this off, then launched into my SOG sales pitch. "SOG is where it's happening, man. It's the biggest show in Nam. You don't have to chase gooks with SOG, buddy; they come to you."

He said something like, "Yeah, by the truck load. Well, I can see I won't be needing this address."

When I got out of the Army in April of '71, I checked frequently with my grandmother, expecting word from John R.. Nothing ever came. I grew despondent that he would trash our friendship without so much as a "so long, pal." I became angry when a year passed. I said, "Piss on him" after two. Still, every time I passed through El Paso, I stopped to call Joneses. I had no other way, but never found a Jones that knew John R..

In 1987, while working in Phoenix, I picked up a book called, "Green Berets at War." I read most of that book. I read until I got to the part where a SOG radio relay site on Hickory Hill was overrun on June 5th, 1971, a few weeks after I left Vietnam and the Army. Sgt John R. Jones of El Paso was listed as Missing in Action at Hickory Hill. I read it twice, then a third time before throwing the book against the wall.

I can only surmise that things did not go well for John R. back in El Paso. He had to re-enlist to return to Nam. He had to volunteer for SOG to return with SF. I suppose he figured I'd still be there, but I got a four month early out. He was a new guy, a newbie, and I knew how SOG treated newbies. What you did before meant nothing at SOG. A man remained a newbie until he proved himself by SOG standards. Knowing John, he was not well received. It took time to appreciate John R. Jones.

What happened at Hickory Hill is well documented. This is the report I got:

Task Force 1 Advisory Element [SOG's CCN] was forced from its Hickory Hill radio relay site at Dong Tri in early June 1971. The Hickory Hill post had existed on strategic Hill 953, in northwest Quang Tri Province at the edge of the DMZ since June 1968. On June 3, heavy North Vietnamese artillery began battering the bunkered Hickory Hill defenses.

On June 4, five wounded Special Forces and ten indigenous commandos were medically evacuated, leaving SSgt. Jon R. Caviani and Sgt. John R. Jones with 23 commandos defending the mountaintop. At about 0400 hours on June 5, Jones and Caviani were in a bunker when a hand grenade was dropped through the air vent, wounding Sgt. Jones in the leg. Jones left the bunker, and was seen shot in the chest by an NVA soldier.

An NVA battalion stormed the summit and captured Hickory Hill on June 5 in adverse weather which prevented air support. In the bunker, Caviani played dead as NVA soldiers came in looking for survivors. As his bunker was set on fire, Caviani ran, burned, to another bunker. He spotted a helicopter and attempted to signal it, serving only to alert the enemy to his position. Caviani was captured as the last positions fell.

Later searches failed to turn up any sign of John R. Jones, dead or alive. He is among nearly 2,500 Americans still missing in Southeast Asia. There can be little question that the enemy knows his fate, yet the Vietnamese deny knowledge of him.

Sgt. Jon R. Caviani was released by the Provisional Government of Vietnam on March 27, 1973. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his attempt to defend Hickory Hill.

In the glorious CMH write-up, Jones is referred to as, "The other American." In the after action reports, he is likewise treated as a non-entity. The above MIA report mentions him, but that's because the report is about him.

I know John R. is dead. His spirit was at The Wall. John stayed on Hickory Hill and died defending it. The enemy paid a high price for that hill, far more than they expected, and far more than it was worth. They were enraged when they finally breached the wire and stormed in only to find that most of the defenders got away. Before any officers could stop them, John's body, along with those of the Chinese Nung and Yard commandos who died, were ripped to shreds in a victory blood orgy. The pieces were carried off and discarded in the thick jungle to hide the atrocity. That's why the Vietnamese say they know nothing about a John R. Jones. That's the impression I got at The Wall.

Cavaini was not captured as the last position fell, nor was he trying to signal a chopper at four in the morning, in adverse weather, with the enemy inside the wire. He slipped away, as did thirteen of the twenty-three final Nung and Yard defenders. Cavaini was captured days later, near Khe Sanh, by an old man with an ancient bolt action rifle. I didn't get that from a ghost in a wall. That was in Caviani's report after his return.

To defend Hickory Hill for as long as they did took courage and heroism of epic proportions. SSG Jon R. Cavaini earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. I have no qualms about that, but SGT John R. Jones earned nothing less. I'd stake my life on it.

George "Sonny" Hoffman
July 12th, 1995