At 96-and-a-half years old, Christine Jones still remembers well that day in 1972 when she learned her son was missing in action.
Maj. Bobby Jones, a 29-year-old doctor who had recently completed an internship, had volunteered to enlist in the military to avoid the possibility of the draft interrupting his work as he was trying to establish himself. A Macon native, he had been gone just two months and was on a mission to Vietnam as an air flight surgeon.
Christine Jones woke up that morning crying. She felt something was terribly wrong. It was the same feeling she had had decades earlier when her husband, who served during World War II, was in the Battle of the Bulge.
Later that day, men came to her house to deliver the news: Bobby was missing in action. They told her not to tell anyone, but she didn’t listen.
“I thought, ‘That’s the craziest thing I ever heard,’” Jones recalled. “We told everybody.”
Family members are still telling Maj. Jones’ story. While neither Jones nor her daughter, Dalton resident Jo Anne Shirley, are holding out hope that their soldier is still alive, they still lack answers. Maj. Jones continues to be classified as missing in action.
It’s his story and thousands of others like his that select groups of individuals continue to try to keep alive. On Tuesday, nine motorcyclists broke off from their group of 700 riding to Washington, D.C., as part of the annual Run for the Wall event — in which they ride together to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the nation’s capital to remember the veterans’ sacrifices — and converged on the Royal Oaks assisted living facility in Dalton.
They all came to meet Christine Jones.
Feeling the weight
Trent Crewe, the mayor of Wytheville, Va., was among those who came to visit Jones. He has participated in the Run for the Wall for more than 10 years. In 2011, after learning about Maj. Jones’ story, he decided to wear a bracelet commemorating Maj. Jones the whole way. He hasn’t taken it off since.
During that ride, Crewe said, he carried a paper bearing a photograph of Jones and a story about what had happened to him. Investigators eventually determined the plane Jones was in must have crashed into Bach Ma Mountain in Hue, Vietnam. In 1997, after pressure from the family, investigators excavated the lower part of the slope of the mountain but found no remains or personal effects. In 2008, they returned to investigate further, and while in the jungle, they found Jones’ blood chit — a paper bearing the soldier’s identification number and a message in numerous languages — out in the jungle in plain sight. Family members believe someone planted it there, wanting them to find it.
“Obviously, he’s not on that slope,” said Shirley, Maj. Jones’ sister and a long-time past president of the National League of POW/MIA Families. “I think somebody recovered his remains, had compassion, and said, ‘I’m not going to just leave him out there, I’m going to bury him.’”
It may sound like crazy talk to some people, Crewe said, but he felt the weight of the paper getting heavier as he rode east from California before finally placing the paper at the Vietnam wall.
Like the other bikers who rode up to Royal Oaks, Crewe wore a leather vest bearing the words, “We ride for those who can’t.” He said that during the trip in 2011, he heard what he believed to be Maj. Jones’ voice telling him that “what we were doing was right and proper and should be done and needs to continue.”
“I’m here today because I think somehow I’m a link between the past and the future,” Crewe said as he and others enjoyed homemade cookies, spiced nuts and chocolate candy that Christine Jones prepared for them. The riders said they were speaking as individuals and not on behalf of the Run for the Wall organization.
Crewe promised that at least among himself and his now 21-year-old son Tyler Crewe, who has participated in Run for the Wall for 13 years, he wouldn’t let Jones’ and others soldiers’ memories die. He never enlisted in the military, he said, but many of his friends and family members did, and he honors them with his work, too.
‘Bobby rides with me’
Phillip Andrade, of California, said he considered the visit an “honor” and was glad to be able to meet with Maj. Jones’ mother.
Karoni Forrester, an Austin, Texas, resident who serves on the board of directors for the National League of POW/MIA Families, said the stop in Dalton was one of many emotional meetings on the trip. Shirley said some of the riders had invited Christine Jones to visit them at one of their stops, but when they learned she couldn’t, they decided to come to her.
One of the riders, Brian Floyd, wanted to come after learning of Maj. Jones’ story, but he was unable to because of work obligations. He sent his regrets to Christine Jones in an email.
“You may not realize it, but the whole idea of having RFTW (Run for the Wall) visit MIA family members off our normal route is because of you!!!” he wrote, explaining Shirley urged the riders to visit at Royal Oaks instead of having Jones come to them. “With that, the idea of reaching out to MIA family members in communities near our travel path was born. Because of you, we have been able to reach out to dozens of MIA families and ensure that they know they are not alone in their fight for answers.
“Please know that Bobby rides with me every time I get on (my) bike. His picture hangs in my home, and his bracelet is on my wrist. I assure you that me, and many others just like me, will be standing behind you, supporting and fighting with you, until they all come home.”
The Run for the Wall began May 15 in California and is scheduled to conclude on Sunday. There are still 1,048 unaccounted for in Vietnam, Shirley said, and the government over the years has become more diligent about not leaving anyone behind as families have pressed for closure. She only wishes she could learn what happened to her brother.