Purple Heart given after 53 years

By Abby Morris-Frye
star staff

  BRISTOL -- In a moment more than 50 years in the making, one area Korean combat veteran finally received his Purple Heart.
  In a special ceremony held Tuesday morning in Bristol, Robert "R.B." Jones received his Purple Heart for his service in the United States Army. He also received the National Defense Medal, a Combat Infantry Badge and the South Korean Presidential Unit Citation. Jones was also formally inducted into the Military Order of the Purple Heart following the ceremony.
  After three years of service in the Army, Jones made several attempts to receive his medals, and all of them were unsuccessful. In September 2003, Jones was introduced to Michael Murphy, Commander of the local Chapter 623 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Murphy worked with Jones to get his military records corrected and the Purple Heart he was entitled to receive.
  One year after their initial meeting, Jones received a letter from the Army authorizing the award of the Purple Heart and the National Defense Service Medal. At that time, Jones wrote Murphy a letter to thank him and said that it would "mean the world" to him if a military officer would pin the medal on him. Murphy then arranged for the award ceremony which was held Tuesday morning at the Tennessee National Guard Armory in Bristol.
  During the ceremony, Maj. Jerrald Pigg of the 278th Armored Calvary Regiment pinned Jones' Purple Heart and National Defense Service Medal on his jacket. After the ceremony, Murphy administered the oath of the Military Order of the Purple Heart to Jones and officially inducted him into the organization.
  After receiving his awards, Jones held back tears as he spoke to family, friends and members of the media. "There is no way in the world I can explain it (what getting the medal meant to him)," Jones said. "It's not a dream come true because I never thought it would ever happen. If my deceased sister hadn't saved the letters I had wrote her, it wouldn't be possible because they are my military records now."
  Letters Jones wrote to his family while he was hospitalized for combat injuries played a vital role in his quest to receive his Purple Heart because they helped Army officials discover his records.
  "I was never decorated in Korea and they didn't make no records of it at the time. And when I tried to get my records, they said they burned up in a fire in St. Louis. Then I started trying to get these letters. It took me about 10 years to get the letters. After my sister died, my brother-in-law remarried and the lady never would let me come get them," Jones said. "I kept calling her and writing her and one day my younger brother wound up with them and called and told me he had them. I brought them to Johnson City to the VA Hospital and met Mr. Murphy and he started working on it and within a year he made this day possible."
  Jones, who is originally from Spruce Pine, N.C., and recently lived in Kingsport, is now residing at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Johnson City.
  Despite the fact that his injury that won him the Purple Heart occurred 53 years ago, Jones still clearly remembers the events of that day, Oct. 6, 1951.
  "I remember all of it real good. We were taking this hill, and it kinda had a swag in it, and we got in this swag and there was another little hill going up and there was a North Korean command post right in front of us. It was so far away that we couldn't throw a grenade in it. I jerked blood blisters on my fingers from trying to get a grenade in the door," Jones said. "The only thing we had left was to shoot that grenade off with an M1 rifle. You're supposed to put the butt of the rifle on the ground when you pull the trigger, but that wasn't working; we were just wasting our grenades.
  "I told my buddy; I said, 'If you'll support me some fire I'm going to jump up and put it (the grenade) in that door. I did, and when I pulled the trigger, I thought the world had blown up. I didn't know anything for a little while but when I did come to, he was on top of me congratulating me; telling me I had gotten it. Then he hollered for a medic and I told him to let it go I'd be all right, and he said 'Hell no you won't.' I looked down and the blood was running off my left hand."
  Jones' heroic move of shouldering the M1 rifle to fire the grenade paid off; he had destroyed the enemy command post on the hill, but, in the process, was struck twice in the left arm by enemy fire from another direction, leaving him badly bleeding and with a broken arm. Jones was evacuated from the battle field and transported to a Swedish hospital where he received treatment for his arm before he returned to combat on the line around Christmas 1951. In November 1952, he was discharged from the Army with the rank of Corporal, but still had not received his Purple Heart.
  On Tuesday morning, Jones said he was at a loss for words to describe his feelings about finally getting his medals. "If you're going to ask me how I feel, I don't know if I can tell you," he said. "It's really hard to explain. It's something that I never thought would ever happen. It means the world to me to get this after waiting for so long a time."