Paul Wilburn Jones Interview
Morgan Jones, granddaughter of Paul Wilburn Jones, May 27, 2002, conducted the following interview.
Many of the men from the United States served in Iran and in areas around Iraq, to the South of the Soviet Union during World War II. In May 1941 the British took control of Iraq to secure their oil resources, even though Iran had claimed neutrality from the beginning. Men, such as Paul Jones, were stationed in Iran and surrounding areas to serve by building bridges, roads, and buildings and work on the Russian supply line. A vast majority of materials that the Russian army used were shipped through the area of the Persian Gulf.
Paul Wilburn Jones was born on September 27, 1920 in Forsythe County, North Carolina. He was the oldest of his three surviving siblings. His mother gave birth to six children: five boys and one girl. Three of the boys died at very young ages of disease. Gladys, born in 1923, and David, born in1925 were his two surviving siblings. David later died of leukemia, shortly after he returned from World War II where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Paul Jones attended a school for grades one through seven that was about 9/10 of a mile from his home. His high school was twelve miles away, in Lewisville, North Carolina. Due to a lack of finances, Paul did not attend college but received a plumbing job from a friend of his father. He maintained this job until he was drafted into the army in 1942, at the age of 21.
When did you leave for war and how old were you?
I left in August 1942 and I was 21 years old.
Did you sign up to serve or were you drafted?
I was drafted at Ft.Bragg, North Carolina. I stayed there two or three weeks. I received basic training in a real nice place in Virginia. I was one of twelve to be offered officers training school, but I thought you had to be a “Greek God” to do that (That’s one of my grandfather’s many sayings). One reason I refused was because I hurt my ankles, and I wouldn’t be able to do the 20-mile hike, which kept me out of combat. I described to them that my ankles felt like a rusty hinge. This is the only thing that went on my service record.
What was your position and where were you stationed?
I was in Iran in the Persian Gulf area. I was called a “tech corporal”. We built hospitals, officers quarters, roads and bridges. All the buildings were made out of dirt. They would make a big mud puddle and form bricks out of the mud and straw. It must have been 130 degrees. Sand was used to cure the bricks.
What was the trip overseas like?
The trip overseas took 54 days, and there were about 20,000 – 30,000 people on the boat. We left from San Francisco on a captured Italian luxury liner that was captured in South America. The US captured the liner and used it as military transport. We went to Wellington, New Zealand and then to Melbourne, Australia. After Melbourne, we went to Bombay. Most of the boys went to Burma to fight the Japanese. The rest went to the
Persian Gulf on a cattle boat, that had a ceiling that was only six feet high. For meat on the cattle boat, they used old, stale kangaroo. Then the American officers dumped it overboard once it was too stale, and used canned goods instead.
What were living conditions like?
It was hot. The British made heavy quilted tents to keep the heat out. We slept in these with wooden crates as flooring. We slept on army cots for all three years. There was
no rain for ten of the twelve months of the year. We got there in June and didn’t see a drop of rain until November. The buildings that were made of dirt didn’t wash away since it was so dry out.
What was the food like?
It was dehydrated. I ate so much canned corn beef that I thought I’d never want to eat it again. We did have good tea though. It was shipped straight from India, and it was just normal tea, but it was fresh. We didn’t have any meat for about the first year. There was a place called the “Russian Dump”. We sent all kinds of supplies to the Russian army: anything from toothpicks to tanks. The ships that sent the supplies came to where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers met and emptied into the Persian Gulf. A lot of times the Russians wouldn’t accept “defective” supplies like some oil, gas, cow hides for boots, and dented food cans. If you had a friend working in the Russian Dump, sometimes they could slip you some food.
What were you able to bring with you?
We could just bring our rifle, clothes, and little shaving kit. I had to get my camera sent over to me.
So you were all issued a rifle although no combat was taking place where you were stationed?
Yes, we each had a rifle, and later I was issued a pistol. They gave me this when we were going up to the camp Hamadon, near the Russian border. This is where we heard about the first atomic bomb, and we had a celebration that night.
How well did you maintain communication with friends and family at home?
I wrote tons of letters and got all kinds of letters. I was writing to Helen (his future wife, my grandmother) at the time, and she wrote me about three or four times each week. She sent me a real nice letter book. My mom had ten brothers and sisters, so I would write to my grandparents and my mom’s siblings would take turns reading the letters to my grandparents.
Were injures common where you were stationed?
We lost a lot of boys in accidents, and it was so hot. You had to sleep under these nets to keep away mosquitoes. Some boys would get drunk and forget to put up their nets, and then they got malaria.
How long were you there?
What was your return home like?
We got on the boat on Thanksgiving of 1945 and picked up some boys in Pakistan that had been in the Burma fighting. We landed in New York on New Year’s Eve. I was discharged on January 1, 1946 at Ft. Bragg.
What other interesting things occurred during the three years?
We visited a lot of Biblical places like Daniel’s tomb. They took some people across the desert to Palestine to visit places. Something else that impressed me was the Russian women who were in the service. They would stand between the cars of the trains with guns to guard them, keeping the Arabs from doing things like shooting the train engineers. The day we went to the Garden of Eden, I saw weigh scales that were alongside the Tigris River. They were only a piece of wood, like a stick, with straw baskets on each end that they would put pebbles in to weigh items. Once when the American beef went rotten, they dumped it into a hole out in the desert of Iran. The Persian women would collect the meat, until it was covered with sand by the Americans. The Arabs had stronger stomachs than the Americans. For our first Thanksgiving dinner, we had chicken. The Arab boys gathered the leftover chicken after our dinner. In the village, they would put fish on clotheslines, which were always covered with flies. There was no refrigeration.
Toward the end of the interview, when asked what effect the war had on his life, Paul Jones explained that he pretty much just tried to forget it all. Despite his desire to forget it, he did not mind sharing information about his experiences. He mentioned how his son, Stephen, had come back from Vietnam and asked his father never to question him concerning it or mention it again. Contrary to this, I think my grandfather tried to forget it at the time in order to proceed with his life the way he had left it.
Beyond emotional effects, my grandfather still displays physical effects from his experiences in World War II. While in Iran my grandfather had a heat stroke. He was in the hospital for two or three weeks where he lost a lot of weight and spit up blood. In addition, Paul was bitten by an insect known as the tsetse fly. Paul was later diagnosed with narcolepsy, which is partly attributed to the heat stroke and tsetse fly.