By Jonnie Melillo Clasen /
The oldest remaining original World War II Merrill’s Marauder, John M. Jones, died peacefully July 26 in Greeneville, Tenn., surrounded by his family. Jones was 101.
Friends and family gathered from throughout the United States to fill the historic St. James Episcopal Church for his July 30 funeral, officiated by the Rev. Chris Starr. His widow, the former Arne Susong, also 101, was not able to attend the ceremony.
Several Ranger instructors from Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega, Ga., Master Sgt. Jason W. Wistoski, Sgt. 1st Class Jayson Johnson and Sgt. 1st Class Damien Vanlaningham, participated with the Greene County Honor Guard during the graveside service at the Oak Grove Cemetery. Wistoski presented the flag to the eldest of Jones’ five children, also named John Jones.
Long-time publisher of the “The Greeneville Sun,” the elder Jones led an extremely productive life largely centered on the newspaper where he had been a key figure since 1945 and publisher since 1974. His extensive public service ranged from the local to national level.
Born in Sweetwater, Tenn. in 1914, the year that World War I began, Jones weathered family financial setbacks during the Great Depression and attended Washington & Lee University, graduating in 1937.
After receiving a U.S. Army Reserve second lieutenant commission, Jones was called to active duty after the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing at Pearl Harbor.
He was on staff at Fort Benning’s U.S. Army Infantry School in 1943 when he responded to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s call for volunteers for a “dangerous and hazardous mission somewhere in the world.”
Jones volunteered and served as a captain in the “super-secret” Infantry unit, the 5307th Composite Group Unit (Provisional), which became known as Merrill’s Marauders, fighting in the little-known China-Burma-India Theater.
The unit’s objective in its almost 1,000-mile history-making march through Japanese-held territory was to capture Burma’s all-weather airfield at Myitkyina, laying the foundation for retaking that country and reopening the vital “Burma Road” between India and China.
Jones was a senior intelligence officer for Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill, commander of the unit, which now carries his name. Jones “kept an informal journal that was one of the very few contemporaneous accounts” of the original 5307th mission.
After the war, that journal became an important documentary record of the campaign for both the Army and as a source of first-hand information for authors writing about the Marauders.
The journal has been formally published by the Merrill’s Marauders Association and is available for sale at Amazon.com as “The War Diary of the 5307 Composite Unit (Provisional).”
Decades later, Jones collaborated with the late Dr. James E.T. Hopkins, who served as a battalion surgeon with the Marauders, on a detailed book, “Spearhead,” considered by many to be the “Bible” of the Marauder campaign.
The 740-page book, originally published by Dr. Hopkins at his own expense in 1999, sold out of its original printing and was out of print for years. It was re-published in 2013 and is now also available through Amazon.com.
Jones said in later years that he did not expect to survive the war. But, “by the grace of God,” he did.
Along with his lengthy newspaper career, Jones served on the boards of numerous press organizations including multiple terms as a board member of the Associated Press. He was an original member of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and is widely regarded as the unofficial “father” of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).